BNCOC, phase one of NCO training, teaches sergeants skills that apply across the Army, including combat arms, combat support and combat service support. Students are required to conduct physical training classes, conduct a military briefing, complete a risk assessment, conduct an after action review, as well as complete all maneuver and drill commands. Phase two, the Advanced Noncommissioned Officer Course (ANCOC) teaches job-specific materials for sergeants 1st class and staff sergeants up for promotion.
Staff Sgt. Warren Finch, a new graduate of the Army's first Basic Noncommissioned Officer Course for Warriors in Transition Unit (WTU) Soldiers and their cadre, stood on the Joel Auditorium stage and talked about his classmates. "I'm proud," he said. "We all had certain milestones, and we all overcame them, so I'm pretty proud." Finch, who was twice rushed to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) emergency room during the training, called the course a personal challenge.
Finch is assigned to the WRAMC Warrior Transition Brigade (WTB), and graduated BNCOC March 28, along with fellow Wounded Warriors, Staff Sgt. Renee Deville, Staff Sgt. Dorthea Hooper, Staff Sgt. Eric Sundell, and WTB cadre members Staff Sgt. Billy Brashears and Staff Sgt. Shad Lorenz.
Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth O. Preston, the guest speaker at the graduation ceremony, told the capacity audience this BNCOC class was part of the evolution of the Army's noncommissioned officer education system. Preston told the six graduates, "You helped set the tone and the precedent for the future of noncommissioned officer education…. If I had to describe these Warriors and the challenges they overcame throughout this course, they really epitomize our Warrior Ethos," he said.
SMA Preston wants to capture the insights learned in this first WTU BNCOC class and share it throughout the Army. "To bring the cadre in, as well as the students themselves, and then to work through, step-by-step, through the completion of the course - it was a huge learning experience," Preston said. "When you look at the Soldiers that went through training, all of them have different challenges to overcome, different wounds they are recovering from that they received in battle," Preston said.
One student, Deville, completed the course from a wheelchair. Preston explained the challenges involved in conducting drill and ceremony - maintaining pace count, tempo, and calling commands - while seated. Preston said he asked her how she conducted a left face maneuver, during which the formation turns left and moves toward the leader. "I asked her, 'How did you do getting out of the way and moving with the wheelchair?' She said she did O.K., they helped her out."
Another Soldier, Hooper, was recovering from surgery and tore stitches during training. She, Finch and other students who had medical emergencies or appointments made up any missed assignments with after hours study halls.SMA Preston said cadre and Wounded Warriors helping each other through the course sets a path for other WTU Soldiers who need to continue their professional development. "This, I think, will help them have the confidence that, even though they're going through receiving treatment, receiving physical therapy for wounds received in combat, they can also complete their professional development and move on with the future."
Col. Terrence McKenrick, WRAMC WTB commanding officer, said holding the course here is an opportunity to hold professional development courses for WTU Soldiers throughout the Army. He called the class a first step. Setting the Plan of Instruction, the standards of accommodation for Warriors in Transition during their treatment and rehabilitation is critical, according to McKenrick. It ensures the 10,000 Soldiers currently serving in WTUs the opportunity to improve themselves and their careers while receiving medical treatment.
"That way," McKenrick continued, "They can stay focused not on their injury, but on their future. For the two-thirds of them who will return to active duty, it helps make sure they're better prepared to lead our Soldiers day-to-day and in combat."
Finch said after the ceremony that the course was run like any typical Army school, without any reduction in standards. "Some people may have thought that being here at Walter Reed, it [the class] was going to be watered-down or wouldn't be up to standards," Finch said. "But we kept to the standard and drove on."
Sgt. 1st Class Barry Nelson of the Judge Advocate General Legal Center and NCO Academy in Charlottesville, Va., senior leader for the BNCOC class, said it was important because it helped people looking for a way to assist Wounded Warriors through their transition. "We challenged this class to prove what abilities they had, versus disabilities," Nelson said. "They not only met that challenge. In many ways, they redefined it."
Sgt. Major of the Army Kenneth O. Preston stands with Basic Noncommissioned Officer Course graduates March 28 following the ceremony in Joel Auditorium. (Photo by Craig Coleman, Stripe)