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Preparation for Master Leader Course Well Underway, Set To Launch Next Year

By Clifford Kyle Jones - NCO Journal

July 12, 2016

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Sgt. Maj. Brian O’Leary, Master Leader Course instructor, facilitates a class during the first pilot of the MLC at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo by David Crozier)

Training and Doctrine Command is making sweeping changes to many areas of the NCO Professional Military Education, but perhaps the most noticeable is a new requirement — the Master Leader Course.

“There’s been a gap for several years in our NCO Professional Development system between the Senior Leader Course and the Sergeant Major Course,” Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis E. Defreese, U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy commandant, said during TRADOC’s State of NCO Development Town Hall 2.

The MLC will be rolled out in October 2017, and pilot courses have been conducted.

“We’ve done the first three pilots. It’s an absolutely outstanding course,” Defreese said. “The feedback was unanimous as far as what they thought the course would bring to the Army.

“One, that it was going to make the Army immediately better once we fully field it,” he said. “It was unanimous that it was the first time that NCOs felt like the Army was investing in their education. And then the third part was that they actually felt like their time wasn’t being wasted going to the course.”

Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Huggins, USASMA’s deputy commandant, added, “We refined it over those three pilots with the feedback from all the individuals who attended the course to what we’re going to produce now for the Army.

“One of the things I was really taken aback by as the comments came in is that they felt they would be immediately impactful to our Army as soon as they got back to their unit, and I don’t think there’s another course that has that,” he said.

One commenter on the town hall’s chat wondered how much of an effect a two-week course could have. Defreese responded, “Go to the course and you’ll see.”

He suggested reading an entry on TRADOC Command Sgt. Maj. David Davenport’s blog, written by a recent graduate of the course, Sgt. 1st Class Janna Escudé.

“The subjects themselves didn’t seem all that intimidating: leadership, management, operations, joint operations, Soldier readiness, and of course, communications. Fairly easy stuff, right? Well, let’s not forget we are transitioning from a tactical to an operational viewpoint,” Escudé wrote. “What did that mean to me? It meant I was now trying to see and plan for a much bigger picture than just my previous actions on the ground with my Soldiers. I thought I had some understanding, but I was nowhere prepared for the depth at which we would break down the operational environment.”

The course is 15 days straight, Defreese noted.

“It’s hard to describe how much more challenging it is than a Senior Leader Course or the Advanced Leader Course of the past,” he said.

Defreese, Huggins and USASMA Director of the Directorate of Training Charles Guyette fielded questions about many changes to NCO PME, but the MLC is one of the most obvious changes, and its implementation will pave the way for other adjustments.

During the town hall’s online chat, retired Command Sgt. Maj. Dan Elder – who was himself instrumental in improving the NCO Educational System while he was on active duty – asked where the instructors for the MLC would come from. Would they be “internal TRADOC positions or borrowed installation manpower?” he wondered.

Huggins said it would “probably be a combination to start.”

Huggins said a program for selecting instructors was in the works. He said instructors would have to be graduates of the program and take part in a faculty development program.

He said the course uses the experiential learning model, which is the new Army standard for education.

“Instead of just sitting and looking at PowerPoint slides, you’ll be put into an environment where you’ll have to have some shared content and understanding with your classmates,” he said. “It’ll be facilitated by these instructors, who have been through it, so that they know how to steer generally where they want the outcome to end up so there’s a visceral, physical response to the training. That’s going to allow you to remember what we taught you, not just see the Powerpoints and then turn it off when you’re done.”

It’s a model that’s been employed for years in the Sergeants Major Course, and will be increasingly used at all levels of NCO PME.

The first pilot was conducted at USASMA, which is based at Fort Bliss, Texas. The next two were at the National Guard Regional Training Institute at Camp Williams, Utah, and the Reserve Training Center at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Reaching across components was done by design, Defreese said. Because graduating the course is a requirement, the pilots at the RTI and the RTC will create a solid base of instructors in the total force.

“The National Guard and Reserves, I think, will do just as well with educating their sergeants first class promotable as the active Army,” he said.

In the coming year, Defreese said, USASMA will conduct several initial operating courses to increase the number of qualified instructors and to validate the locations where the MLC will be taught.

A representative from TRADOC’s Institute of NCO Professional Development wrote on the town hall’s chatroom that the MLC would be taught at 10 locations in the continental United States using existing NCO academies, RTIs or RTCs and that mobile training teams would be used for MLC iterations overseas.

The rollout next year will coincide with a change to Structured Self Development: SSD5, which takes place after the Sergeants Major Course, will be renamed SSD6. The newly created SSD5 will take place between the MLC and the SMC.

“SSD5 and MLC will launch at the same time, but the first students probably won’t have to have completed SSD5,” Defreese said.

And don’t worry, sergeants major. Defreese said if an NCO has taken SSD5, his or her ERB will just repopulate with the renamed SSD6.

Huggins, Defreese and Guyette said one of the great benefits of the MLC is giving sergeants first class promotable an idea about what roles and responsibilities most master sergeants have. They said most Soldiers know what a typical first sergeant “looks like,” but other staff positions are a little harder to understand from the outside.

“There was a significant gap between sergeants first class coming out of their Senior Leader Course and them getting prepared to go to the Sergeant Major Course,” Guyette said. “And what it was was making that transition from the tactical environment — where they were pushing troops — and getting into strategic and operational thinking. …

“The other element of the course, though, is that it challenges them to be more critical thinking, problem-solving, do research and then put in application,” he said. “Because now you have to communicate effectively (in) writing, you have to communicate effectively (in) talking, briefing.”