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U.S. Army Recruiting and Retention College

By By 1st Sgt. Michael Hartzell and U.S. Army Recruiting and Retention College

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The Army’s Recruiting and Retention College achieved an historic feat when a record number of 526 recruiters graduated from the Senior Leader Course recently.

Until these graduations, U.S. Army Recruiting Command had one of the largest backlogs in the entire Army of sergeants first class requiring SLC.

“I was getting passed over by staff sergeants because they said I was not a priority,” Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Workman said.

Implementation of the Select Train Education Promote system, or STEP, in 2016 created a massive problem — course seats were being given to staff sergeants required to graduate prior to becoming eligible for promotion.

Workman had been grandfathered into the old system while in North Carolina. Despite formally requesting a seat at SLC two years prior, he couldn’t get into the course.

Across the command, more than 500 sergeants first class found themselves in the same predicament in 2017. USAREC’s leadership recognized they had to do something before the senior noncommissioned officers, some of whom had never been scheduled for SLC, faced the possibility of being forced to leave the Army through the Qualitative Management Program.

STEP is a policy that represents the Army’s investment in Soldiers’ professional military education through a deliberate, continuous and progressive process. Starting in 2008, the Army required all master sergeants to graduate the Sergeants Major Course before being eligible for promotion. In January 2016, the Army expanded this standard for promotion eligibility to sergeants through sergeants first class. Staff sergeants must complete SLC to become eligible for promotion to sergeant first class. NCOs already promoted to the rank that had not attended SLC prior to January 2016 became part of the backlog.

In May 2017, the commandant of the NCO Academy, Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph Multunas, briefed Command Sgt. Maj. Anthony Stoneburg, USAREC command sergeant major, on a plan to train the leaders and eliminate the backlog by the end of January.

“Let’s get it done,” Stoneburg said after the briefing.

Dubbed the “surge,” Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow, USAREC commanding general, approved the plan a week later. The goal was to bring 576 USAREC NCOs to Fort Knox to attend SLC.

Leaders faced several challenges in the next six months, the first of which was convincing the Army to permit USAREC to add 36 additional classes to the FY18 course load. After approval, they conducted detailed analysis and coordination of the training mission requirements and related resources to enable the creation of 576 training seats, scheduling and notification of students.

Recruiting and Retention College leaders identified, selected, trained and certified instructors from the Army Recruiting Course to serve as small group leaders, tasked with teaching SLC while continuing to teach their current ARC classes.

Multunas said they had to use careful consideration while making logistical and technical coordination to support the huge influx of students.

“This has never been done before,” said Multunas. “We have to ensure that we account for anything that could cause a degradation to the quality of the course to guarantee we are graduating senior NCOs that are ready to lead in a complex world.”

Soldiers and civilians from across the RRC, USAREC headquarters and U.S. Army Human Resources Command channeled resources and energy to the cause. On Nov. 27, 2017, their hard work paid off as 240 NCOs from across the command reported for the first course.

The fast-paced senior NCO course included classwork and exams, student-led instruction, participation in volunteer service projects, collaboration with peers, PRT sessions and fitness tests to include the “Hill Challenge” — a 10k run that has students traversing the arduous hills known affectionately as Misery and Agony. The goal is to better equip them to lead platoon sized elements.

When the course concluded Dec. 15, 229 students graduated.

The instructors then had three weeks, during the holidays, to prepare for an even larger class. Preparation included resetting classrooms, preparing student folders, inventorying student housing and communicating with prospective students from the second class to ensure they had everything they needed prior to arriving.

On Jan. 7, 304 students stood in formation in the center courtyard, ready for class.

The students occupied 19 classrooms throughout the college. On Jan. 26, three weeks after they had begun, 295 senior leaders crossed the stage as SLC graduates.

According to Workman, some students raised concerns about pushing so many senior NCOs through each course.

“People were worried about the quality of education we would get because of how many people went through, but it was outstanding,” Workman said. “They maintained the standards throughout the course.”

Having eliminated the largest training backlog in USAREC history and increased senior NCO morale for those that participated, officials declared the surge a success.

“There were people that were in danger of being QMP’d. Getting us through the class as quickly as possible saved careers,” Workman said.

Besides the sergeants first class, a number of staff sergeants also attended. The significance of the event was not lost on them.

“I had a great time,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Galardo, from Tucson, Arizona. “I was humbled to be a part of this historic class.”

Pictures and videos from the surge may be found on the NCO Academy’s Facebook page at facebook.com/79RSLC/.

(Eric Pilgrim contributed to this article.)