On Feb. 22, 19 NCOs and a Coast Guard chief petty officer graduated from the third cohort of the Benavidez Leader Development Program at the U.S. Military Academy. The program is named in honor of Medal of Honor recipient and Green Beret Master Sgt. Roy Benavidez, who devoted his life to education and service to others.
The Benavidez Leader Development Program (BLDP) is a three-week executive education program for senior NCOs intended to improve integration between tactical officers and tactical NCOs at West Point. Tactical officers attend a yearlong program called the Eisenhower Leader Development Program where they study the same concepts in greater depth.
Execution of the BLDP partners the faculty at West Point and the faculty at Teachers College, Columbia University, N.Y. Over the three weeks, NCOs study organizational leadership, adult development theory and organizational change management.
BLDP culminates with each NCO conducting a change initiative brief to the commandant of cadets and other West Point senior leadership. The brief is aimed at improving the leader-development system at the academy. Upon graduation, NCOs receive a certificate in organizational psychology from Teachers College as well as 10 Continuing Education Units they can apply toward an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.
Psychology and Science
The first week of BLDP takes place at West Point with instruction from behavior sciences and leadership faculty where students learn the foundation of organizational psychology. The remainder of the program is in Upper Manhattan where NCOs receive instruction from Teachers College faculty.
Through traditional lectures and engaging practical exercises, NCOs learn the science underpinning leader development, adult development and organizational behavior. Throughout the course, the NCOs reflect on their operational leadership experiences and newly attained knowledge by turning in writing assignments and receiving feedback. The structured periods of reflection help NCOs draw leadership lessons from their personal experiences and apply them to frameworks of adult and leader development theories.
BLDP also consists of two broadening experience trips to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Conn., and the New York financial firm S&P Global. From these excursions, the NCOs gain exposure to a sister service academy and a small glimpse into how the finance industry conducts leader development. By studying and applying the principles of leader-development organizational change, NCOs are equipped to serve as change agents in their formations.
With their newly gained knowledge, the cohorts brief their integrative change proposal to key West Point leadership. This year’s presentations included initiatives to create a course that aims to develop leadership abilities sooner, a recommendation to modify the execution of current leader-development summer experiences, a plan to restructure the corps of cadets to provide more leader-development opportunities and a way to evolve cadet leader-selection criteria to enhance future cadet development. The presentations provide an opportunity for bottom-up refinement to organizational processes that contribute to West Point’s pursuit of being the world’s pre-eminent leader institution.
Company tactical NCOs serve a critical role in the growth of each cadet at West Point into a commissioned officer. Similar to the role of a company first sergeant, the tactical NCO serves as the primary leader developer for the cadet NCOs who train the first-year cadets on the basics of soldiering and leadership. They also advise and assist their officer counterpart in administrative chain of command functions and leader development within the formation. Tactical NCOs bring invaluable and relevant leadership experience to their cadet companies while also serving as role models, counselors, coaches and mentors.
BLDP affords tactical NCOs the opportunity to advance their capacities in coaching, counseling and mentoring by equipping them with the tools necessary to assess, challenge and then support cadets along their developmental journeys. Leader development and adult development are inextricably linked. The study of adult development helps tactical NCOs facilitate each cadet’s development with the goal of becoming a “self-authoring leader” upon graduation.
Army senior leaders have stated that the future of warfare will require small units to operate for periods of time without communication or the ability to receive guidance from their headquarters. To be ready for this environment, the Army needs leaders who can make decisions in situations they have never faced. It is impossible to develop scenario training exercises to prepare adequately for this future. Education and leader development will mitigate the effects of this gap in training for future conflicts.
Senior NCOs will have an increased role on the future battlefield, and it is critical they receive investment in their education comparable to Army officers. BLDP is West Point’s investment in the senior NCO corps stationed at West Point, the same NCOs who will be first sergeants and command sergeants major in the conflicts of the next decade.
BLDP is funded through 2023 and will continue to serve as a premier educational experience for West Point tactical NCOs. Short-term focus for the program includes pursuing constructive credit for the Army’s Master Leader Course for BLDP graduates as well as nominating program graduates with a bachelor’s degree and a supportive timeline to attend the yearlong Eisenhower Leader Development Program.
The long-term vision for BLDP includes an accredited graduate-degree producing option, matching the rich experience officers receive through the Advanced Civil Schooling program. As the emphasis on NCO education continues to evolve, BLDP will strive to keep pace in helping educate future strategic leaders for the Army.