Army NCO Academy first to launch new training model
By David Moore/ASA Fort Dix Dix Staff Writer
JOINT BASE MCGUIRE DIX LAKEHURST --The United States Army Noncommissioned Officer Academy Fort Dix recently made history for the U.S. Army Reserve when it completed the first Warrior Leader Course containing more days, new curriculum and Soldier training mandates recently.
Students of the U.S. Army Noncommissioned Officer Academy Fort Dix Warrior Leader Course leave a simulated Afghanistan Village after gaining information about security and a village elder.
After more than a decade of war, the evolution of the Army NCO Academy has returned to some fundamentals of standards and discipline in the wake of curtailed budgets, where Soldiers wanting to be retained need to attend the leadership training to be competitive among their peers.
The WLC course, formerly a 15-day training period to develop higher leadership skills for sergeants and specialists climbing the Army career ladder, is now 22-days. As part of the updated program land navigation, a successful Army Physical Fitness test, extended tactical field experience, and completing a Structured Self-Development (SSD) course before arriving at the schoolhouse are some of the major academy changes.
The first course was held in April, but a second course fine tuned the model in May, according to academy staff.
The advanced SSD computer training sets the foundation for Soldiers attending their first leadership course. One module focused on basic map reading skills. “Once they arrive here it’s time to hone their leadership skills,” Sgt. Maj. Peedo M. Pituk, the academy deputy commandant, said.
Pituk said the 15-day training period was not as conducive to retaining the information. Basically students started the day at “0500 and went to 2200,” he said. “Now the course operates like a normal duty while there is still the opportunity for a study hall after dinner.”
New Jersey Army National Guard Sgt. Wilfredo Ortiz; at left, of the Somerset; N.J. based 50th Chemical Co. and Sgt. Bi Chen; of the; 113th Infantry Bn. headquartered in Jersey City; check their azimuth during the Warrior Leader Course on May 21 before setting out on a land navigation course as part of the U.S. Army's Noncommissioned Officer Academy Fort Dix revised program. Spc. Edgar River, 145th Surface Maintenance Company, New York Army National Guard, provides security with squad automatic weapons while classmates of the U.S. Army NCO Academy Fort Dix Warrior Leader Course conduct a security presence patrol inside a simulated Afghanistan Village.
While the active-duty WLC model is the same 22-day training cycle, active-duty Soldiers get 30-days to complete the course since they may be attending it at home station. They have weekends off to take care of business at home, Pituk said. But active duty Soldiers who do not have an academy close to their duty station can also attend Dix academy program.
“Make no mistake the standards are the same,” he added.
Students no longer carry a couple of three-ring binders loaded with field manuals and pads. These days, WLC students are issued a laptop by the academy staff so they can do all their research, homework and course block testing.
Tactical simulation training is a part of the course normally conducted at the Joint Training and Training Development Center, where troop leading procedures and communications is the focus.
Academy staff said each student also has to serve in some sort of leadership position as part of the student’s assessment.
What is taught in the classroom is then taken to the field for five days of crawl, run training that that culminates into a tactical exercise that focuses on communications, tactical skills, and cultural sensitivity in a foreign country.
Staff Sgt. Angel Quiles, a small group leader, said the land navigation training portion of the old NCO program was removed since the task was considered Skill Level I. Home station training may not have occurred in the wake of constant deployment cycles.
In wooded training areas, students will first walk with their instructors, then students get pace counts, orient the map, shoot the azimuth with their compass, and navigate an academy staff predetermined course.
“Soldiers are taught the right way here and they can bring back this perishable but necessary skill to train the Soldiers in their unit,” Quiles said.
Sgt. 1St Class Patrick Downing, an academy senior small group leader, said the Soldiers field experience replicates the lessons learned from oversea deployments to contingency operations around the world. The academy staff serves as the opposing force operating inside a simulated Afghan village.
“Students are required to make a plan and then execute the mission. The idea is to test the students’ leadership skills under pressure,” Downing said.
The scenario, Sgt. 1st Class George Askers, a senior small group leader, said the students will attempt to rescue a village elder. First students must conduct a reconnaissance. Second, link up with local villagers to gain intelligence, and then rescue the elder.
“Soldiers’ communication is vital. The left-hand has a need to know what the right hand is doing. The synchronization of the force is an important factor. This is a real-world situation. If you practice this mission and find yourself in the real-world with this situation then the training will take over and they will do the right thing,” he said.
The payoff to the successful tactical experience was noted by Sgt. Ryan Beaulieu, of the Rhode Island Army National Guard’s 861st Engineers.
“This is great realistic training from the music in the village to the scenarios that unfold,” Beaulieu said. “From the self-development training to the academy training, it’s good to know when you get back home how to request things such as a range and other tools to provide realistic training.”
Presently, the NCO Academy is located in U.S. Army Support Activity’s Military Schools 5500 area, while its former campus location that includes three buildings undergoes renovation.