Greetings from the Association of the United States Army (AUSA), our Army’s association for education and professional development, and a major supporter of the Army’s Soldier for Life efforts.
On June 17, at Fort Bliss, Texas, Class 66, with 476 students from 33 countries as well as members of the Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard, graduated from the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy (USASMA).
This annual event is one of mixed emotions and bittersweet memories as members of the graduating class who have studied, debated, analyzed and worked together in preparation for the leadership challenges they will face, say farewell to each other as they move on to lead the Army of tomorrow.
All of the graduating students and their families, the staff and faculty of USASMA, and a number of distinguished guests filled the Abundant Living Faith Center in El Paso to complete the final chapter of their 10-month-long learning experience.
Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Defreese, commandant of the academy, hosted the large audience with a welcome and a congratulation to the graduating class.
“What a beautiful morning for a graduation,” Defreese said.
Adding, “This may have happened before, but not recently and not in my memory, despite the fact that I increased the complexity and rigor of this course – we did not have a single academic failure.”
Defreese also said, “The last class allowed the Air Force to win two of the three writing awards and there were only three airmen in the class.”
He noted, “The soldiers of Class 66 reclaimed some honor this year and swept all three awards, so good job.”
The graduating class collectively selected, “Driving the Force!” as their motto, and used the Route 66 road sign as the model for their class coin.
The distinguished guest speaker for the graduation was Warrant Officer 1 Donald Spinks, the 10th regimental sergeant major of the Australian Army and a graduate of USASMA Class 51.
“Fifteen years ago this month I graduated with my fellow classmates of Class 51,” said Spinks
Adding, “I do feel privileged to return here to witness the graduation of this class. Today we join the 474 members of Class 66 to celebrate their achievements and recognize their hard work.”
Spinks challenged the graduates to be the best example they could be for their troops and to live by the service values.
He also gave special recognition to the international students for their accomplishment.
“I offer you special congratulations for your achievements; for many of you English is a second or third language. The doctrine, the policies, the military function may also be very unfamiliar,” Spinks said.
Adding “Together these factors have made your year a little harder and you should take great pride in accepting your scroll here today.”
Spinks concluded by saying, “Your journey starts tomorrow; USASMA has given you the skills, the knowledge and the attitude to go forward. The rest will be up to you.”
Joining Spinks and Defreese on stage for the presentation of the distinguished awards and diplomas to the class was Sgt. Maj. of the Army Dan Dailey, and Command Sgt. Maj. David Davenport, Army Training and Doctrine Command command sergeant major.
Distinguished class awards were presented to:
- Sgt. Maj. Thea E. Ray – AUSA Award for Military Writing
- Sgt. Maj. Deflin J. Romani – AUSA Award for Military Excellence in Leadership
- Sgt. Maj. Marissa M. Cisneros and Sgt. Maj. Ramon Baca – ULTIMA Physical Fitness Excellence Award
- Sgt. Maj. John C. Black – Military History Award
- Sgt. Maj. Diane G. Cummings – Ralph E. Haines Jr. Award for Research
- Sgt. Maj. John J. Knight – William G. Bainbridge Chair of Ethics Award
- Sgt. Maj. Anazia Andrus-Sam – Na- tional Association for Uniform Services Award
- Master Sgt. Andre Torre of Italy – International Student Excellence Award
In addition to these awards and graduation diplomas, 150 advanced degrees were awarded to students during the Black and Gold Ceremony on June 13.
In a ceremony the day prior to graduation, Spinks and Sergeant Major of the Montenegro Armed Forces Vladin Kojic were inducted into the International Military Student Hall of Fame.
Many of the international students who graduate from USASMA return to their respective countries where they make significant contributions to the lineage of their own NCO Corps and education systems.
But from these international graduates, only a few have assumed the position of their respective country’s or armed forces’ senior enlisted advisor, a position similar to the U.S. Army’s Sergeant Major of the Army position.
Defreese said, “Our international program has a lot of importance to us for a few reasons. It helps us form partnerships with countries from all over the world and it helps broaden our sergeants major and our officers and it does as much for us as it does for the international students.”
While Kojic could not attend the ceremony, Sgt. Maj. Miodrag Jokanovic, a Class 66 graduate from Montenegro, read a letter on his behalf.
Kojic wrote, “It is a great honor for me to be a member of the International Student Hall of Fame for the United States Army Sergeants Major Academy. In my opinion this is a reward for all noncommissioned officers of the Armed Forces of Montenegro.
“At this academy I got the opportunity to get a broader perspective and a better understanding of modern warfare. I also got a chance to become more familiar with cultural diversity and meet friends from different continents, various religions and nationalities. The unique knowledge and experience I gained from this academy made me the leader I wanted to be,” Kojic wrote.
As part of this ceremony, Defreese recognized all 47 international students from the 33 different countries by awarding them the USASMA International Military Student Badge to signify their successful completion and graduation.
USASMA serves as the Army’s premiere culminating enlisted professional military education institution.
For both the annual resident Sergeant Major Course (SMC) and the multiple nonresident SMCs with their two-week resident phase that graduates each year, there is a focus on learning the skills needed to develop critical reasoning, creative thinking and decision-making skills.
Senior leaders attending the 10-month-long course receive a focused education designed to enhance their character, self-expression, and strengthen their teamwork abilities.
Additionally, the SMC assists in the development of logical, practical and original reasoning abilities necessary for problem solving.
Students analyze problems based on available information, arrive at logical solutions and decisions with reasonable speed, communicate reasoning and decisions orally and in writing, and supervise to ensure proper execution.
The SMC contains over 1,484 instructional hours packaged within a small-group learning environment.
These professional development events are occurring every day all around the Army and across the nation.
If you are interested in any of the discussions in this article, in this publication or in social media on our webpage, then you need to be part of the team and a member of the Army’s professional association.
There is no substitute for the knowledge and wisdom gained through experience, and when you are a young up-and-coming Army professional, associating with other members of your profession with varied experiences creates a unique opportunity to learn through the eyes of others.
Now more than ever America’s Army needs AUSA, and AUSA needs your membership support.
Membership is the volume knob to ensure your voice is amplified many times over and heard throughout the halls of Congress, from sea to shining sea across this country, and throughout every small town and community in-between.
Keep America’s Army Strong!
Take a Stand!
Still Serving, Still Saluting!