So, Sergeant Majors or Sergeants Major? Despite being a postpositive pair (noun-adjective), The Cove has found that the approved pluralisation in British tradition is Sergeant Majors.
When I first heard about the United States (U.S.) Sergeant Major Academy (SGM-A), I never perceived it would be a feasible option for me … I was so wrong! Throughout my career, I have followed various paths, achieved designated gateways, and gained experiences that have allowed me to progress and remain competitive with my peers. However, I always perceived that the SGM-A may have been somewhat out of my reach. It was not because I did not think I was good enough, but more that there are limited international Warrant Officer Class One (WO1) professional military education (PME) positions available for a large group of aspiring, talented individuals.
With this in mind and having completed the last 12 months as a student of Class 72 on the U.S. Sergeant Major Course (SMC), it is vital to reflect and give feedback about my experience and ascertain if Australian sergeant majors are adequately academically trained senior leaders. Moreover, are they critical and creative thinkers who can hold "their own" on an international stage, such as the U.S. SGM-A?
The U.S. SGM-A was founded in July 1972 as a unique preparation source for the Army's senior enlisted leaders, with the Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) Leadership Center of Excellence (NCOLCoE) being officially raised on 22 June 2018. Consequently, NCOLCoE assumed the responsibility for all NCO professional development systems, inherently becoming the leading organisation responsible for driving and delivering PME development for enlisted leaders.
Since its inception, NCOLCoE has rapidly become an accredited academic institution that military and civilian organizations widely consider one of the world's premier establishments for educating soldiers. It also has a long proud history of training NCOs of other U.S. services and international allies. This is particularly significant as 28 Australian sergeant majors have graduated from the SGM-A since 1976, with 22 becoming instructors upon graduation.
The SMC encompasses various academic components designed to provide soldiers with the tools to develop critical reasoning, creative thinking, and decision-making skills to prepare them for being a sergeant major in dynamic, multifaceted organisations. This process aims to elevate them from the tactical level and expose them to an operational and strategic perspective, thus preparing them for leadership positions in organisations executing unified land operations across multinational joint domains.
The course achieves this via five departments conducted over five semesters: the Department of Professional Studies, the Department of Joint Interagency, Intergovernmental and Multinational Operations, the Department of Army Operations, the Department of Command Leadership, and the Department of Force Management. The criteria covered in the departments mentioned above assist in developing logical, practical, and original reasoning abilities necessary for problem-solving.
Students analyse problems based on available information and arrive at analytical solutions, often communicating reasoning and findings through verbal or written assessments. The SMC contains nearly 1500 instructional hours, underpinned by intellectual honesty, integrity, and professional values and standards.
Before commencing the course, I admit I was concerned about the academic requirements. Having only a high school certificate and no degree, I was a little apprehensive about whether I could represent the Australian Army and the Australian Defence Force (ADF) appropriately and achieve the required academic standards. Upon arrival, the SGM-A pre-course was the initial educational component, designed to prepare and expose internationals to the necessary academic writing benchmarks. Although I was concerned about my ability, I was initially frustrated that I had to complete this course, thinking about what benefit it would be to me.
After receiving instruction on the required standards and going through the process of writing an essay in a U.S. style, I soon realised that contrary to my arrogantly preconceived notions: I needed the pre-course. It was extremely beneficial and gave me exposure to an alternate view of academic writing; more importantly, it enabled me to build a solid foundation and set the educational conditions for my progression into the SMC. At this point, I became comfortable with my writing ability while also acknowledging that I did have some previous (albeit minor) exposure to writing throughout my career through professional development.
Even though I did progress through all components of the SMC with some form of distinction and held “my own’ on an international stage – graduating on the Commandant’s list; the Australian Army currently has an education gap within the soldier career model in that there is not a specific course that targets education alone. In the past, the Australian Army used to have a Subject 3 for Education that assisted in developing soldiers in specific education components, such as maths and English. If this was still the case today and had I completed an equivalent education course at the WO1 or WO2 levels, I believe the academic rigours of the course would have been less strenuous.
Subsequently, to fix this perceived capability gap, an education course should be introduced at all milestone enlisted ranks, such as Corporal / Bombardier, Sergeant, WO2 and WO1. Since our people are our asset, providing them with more opportunities to develop professionally through an educational platform can only benefit the Australian Army's and ADF’s long-term capability. It would assist in generating influential, critical, creative thinkers and leaders who can analytically problem-solve situations in the operational environment.
An additional benefit of being selected to attend the SGM-A is the ability to generate a broad professional network. As with most professional military courses, and particularly for the SMC, networking is a substantial bonus in that students become exposed to various military and civilian people with varying backgrounds from multiple countries. This alone is worth the enduring historical relationship the Australian Army has with sending Australian sergeant majors to the SGM-A. It is also important to acknowledge that the sergeant major’s function worldwide is similar in that we are enablers for our respective organisations. Consequently, the networking, integration and experiences gained are priceless and highly relevant as we continue to form alliances and operate as partners in multinational domains.
When determining future aspirations, it is essential to be realistic; however, it is also just as important to back yourself and strive for anything you want to do. If the SGM-A is somewhere you want to aim for, then make every effort for it. Many of us are not good at setting achievable goals and striving for them. Undoubtedly, luck can play a part in getting to the desired end state; nevertheless, applying yourself and communicating your intent is the best course of action. The lessons I have learned from the SGM-A and SMC have been life-altering, professionally and personally. I will be forever grateful and indebted to the Australian and U.S. Armies for the opportunity afforded to my family and I. I hope I have upheld my part of the bargain and represented it well, positively contributing to enduring global professional and personal relationships that will transcend into the future.