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August 12, 2011


Final First Sergeant Course held at McCoy

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.
PHOTO: Soldiers in the final First Sergeant Course to graduate at Fort McCoy receive their graduation certificates. Photo by Rob Schuette
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, Mich.

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 Course.”

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 success.

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 said.

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. Drive on.”

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 sergeant.”

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