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.
We are missing a beat. I think it can be done online over an 12-18mth period. With up to three 10 day residential packages, similar to the Reserve ACSC. I will say, unlike the ACSC(R) it has to be linked to tertiary qualifications.
Food for thought.
The experience that I had on my course was indeed a letdown from what was expected. Whilst it would be hubristic to think that little was learned on the course there is certainly room for improvement. We do not think critically enough and we like to throw the term around at conferences however it is not taught.
We have made improvements to our learning continuum however these have been incremental rather than monumental. The inclusion of the leadership component in promotion courses and the good work of CAAL is an example however I think we could do more. Spending a semester on Command Leadership on the SMC rather than the three day seminar I experienced, whilst excellent, displays the gap between E9s of the different nations.
Adequate - satisfactory or acceptable in quality or quantity.
Can it be said, is any rank Adequately Trained ?.
I remember the same drum beat question being asked of the Army’s Sergeant's during a decade of debate in the Late 80's and 90's that they/we were not up to a standard.
We need to ensure there is a balance of promotion courses for OR's and that they are spread out over a course of time and not smashed at the last moment to fill positions, I remember the old education courses for each rank level, it was numbing !!!, but fully agree that education never stops and the need for ongoing enlightenment to the next rank level and position, well done on your success.
There have been personnel other then "Teeth Arms" attend the SGM-A and hold their own with the best, sure SWOMS will be able to confirm with inquiry's.
We are proud to have you on our team. Be well. It is the same but different, as your famous saying goes.
Thanks for sharing your recent experience and thoughts on SGM-A and whether members are adequately trained. In particular, you highlighted education as a key factor and one facet the Australian Army may need to consider.
Like you, I come from an Artillery background and would agree with your comments that having or building greater knowledge in education creates critical and analytical thinkers. I started an education degree for self-improvement and career progression a few years ago. The educational process has undoubtedly improved my holistic approach to thinking and responding with reasoning.
However, most of us would agree that going back to school is the last thing on our minds. Finding the balance or gap between what is required and what is not would most certainly add to improving the outcome. Nevertheless, incorporating some educational components into promotion courses will only improve the person's ability to formulate an appropriate response.
Additionally, as you would be aware, times are changing. Soldiers coming through the system are exposed to different circumstances and challenges that better prepare them for society. Educational institutions are now better prepared to provide adults ready for a competitive technological society. As SNCOs and mentors of these soldiers, I strongly believe we should take them to the next level. We can do this by encouraging self-improvement, PME and opportunities for higher education supported through DASS and other schemes.
After all, creating a smarter workforce enhances our ability to perform better on the international stage.
Finally, congratulations on completing SMC. It is a formidable achievement, noting the numbers graduated since 1976. I wish you the best for the remainder of your career and look forward to crossing paths again. Take care.