|Story & photo by Rob Schuette, Public Affairs Staff
Forty-five Soldiers — Reserve, National Guard and active duty —
comprised the final First Sergeant Course at the Staff Sgt. Todd R.
Cornell Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) Academy at Fort McCoy.
Sgt. Maj. Paul Sharp, First Sergeant Course manager, said the 15-day
course, which ended July 22, included a pre-resident phase and has been
instrumental in helping senior NCOs learn leadership roles.
Soldiers in the final First
Sergeant Course to graduate at Fort McCoy receive their
graduation certificates and congratulations from, right to left,
Command Sgt. Maj. M. Kevin Dubois, NCO Academy commandant; Fort
McCoy Garrison Commander Col. David. E. Chesser; and Sgt. Maj.
Paul Sharp, First Sergeant Course manager.
“The most important role of the course was the networking the
Soldiers did,” Sharp said. “They learned what other people are doing and
what they’re going through. Sometimes it opened their eyes.”
In addition to learning from other senior NCOs, highlights of the course
included organizing and attending a dining-in and learning techniques to
pass unit colors during change of command/responsibilities.
Material from the First Sergeant Course will be assimilated into the
Advanced Senior Leader Course, Sharp said.
Three senior NCOs who were in the final class — 1st Sgt. William Merrow,
a National Guardsmen; Sgt. 1st Class Justin Kelly, an Active
Guard/Reserve Soldier and Master Sgt. David Tollefson, an Army Reserve
Soldier — all said the key part of the course was meeting and
interacting with fellow Soldiers and attendees.
“We talked about the lessons learned inside and outside the classroom,”
said Merrow, who is with the 1460th Transportation Company of Midland,
Kelly, who is with the 2nd Battalion, Army Reserve Careerist Division of
Coraopolis, Pa., said he will share the information from the course with
other Soldiers in his unit.
“This gives us another channel,” he said. “We rely on our peers a lot.
You listen to what everyone else has to say, and you’re challenged by
your peers to better yourself.”
Tollefson said the course doesn’t only teach lessons-learned, but the
class members are available to talk with immediately.
“If I have questions, I can reach out to them,” he said. “They’re first
sergeants, and we’ve all gone through those experiences.”
Command Sgt. Maj. M. Kevin Dubois, NCO Academy Commandant, said he was
pleased to have Fort McCoy Garrison Commander Col. David E. Chesser as
the final guest speaker for the First Sergeant Course.
“He is a great role model for all Soldiers,” Dubois said. “He left a
lasting impression on the graduates of this, our final First Sergeant
Chesser shared some of the leadership knowledge he has accumulated
during his nearly 30-year military career. Transformational leadership
will be important in defining success for the Army in the 21st century,
he said. While authoritative leadership produces performance at the
satisfactory level, transformational leadership has the potential to
produce performances at the excellence level.
“Transformational leadership is the style of leadership where the leader
motivates the Soldiers,” Chesser said. “The leader does that through
charismatic leadership, by creating a shared vision in the organization,
talking to his subordinates, and asking their opinions — ‘What do you
think about this? Where do you think we should go with this?’”
This creates a vision of where the organization should be in one year,
five years or 10 years, and creates a buy-in mechanism, he said.
Transformational leadership will be an imperative to Army Reserve
When Chesser came into the military he said he saw many poor examples of
leadership. One of the first things he did was talk with other people in
the organization about how to lead from the front and create an
environment of demonstrated excellence.
“When you go take the (Army Physical Fitness Test) you should score one
of the highest scores,” Chesser said. “Leaders should have the goal of
earning the APFT Excellence Badge.”
“You must lead from the front and be that role model. You must show your
platoon sergeants, your squad leaders, what excellence looks like,” he
The one-third rule and 10-man rule also are important, he said.
One-third of the unit will love its leaders, one-third will hate them
and one-third will be indifferent.
“Don’t worry about trying to make everybody love you,” Chesser said. “Do
your job. Complete the assigned mission. Take care of your Soldiers.
The 10-man rule is to continue to do things correctly, he said. Even if
Soldiers discover they are not the biggest, fastest, strongest or
smartest Soldier in their current organizations, a sustained performance
over time will win, he added.
Regarding the final First Sergeant Course, Dubois said, “I have heard
across the Army Reserve that the course will be missed. There is concern
that senior NCOs no longer will have a structured course to attend prior
to assuming the important role of first sergeant. If Soldiers enroll in
the Army Structured Self-Development program and follow the program of
instruction, they should be prepared to successfully perform as a first