The Case for an Enlisted Leadership University

usasma | The Case for an Enlisted Leadership University

Has the time come to retitle a revered institution with a name that more accurately reflects the breath and scope of what is going on at the Sergeants Major Academy? The US Army Sergeants Major Academy (USASMA) was established by General Order 98 in July 1972 and began educating selected noncommissioned officers in January 1973. According to their first Command Sergeant Major  (and later Sergeant Major of the Army) Bill Bainbridge, he stated that “the Academy’s mission is to prepare selected senior noncommissioned officers to assist future commanders at the division level and higher.” Over time USASMA has gained a significant role in the the career progression of enlisted solders and I submit they have outgrown their 1972 name, and here is why.

Mission creep formally began for the USASMA staff in June 1981 when they became the proponent for developing the Common Core portion of the Advanced Noncommissioned Officer Course and then in October 1981  the Sergeants Major Academy was given operational control over the First Sergeant Course.  They eventually  became proponent of the newly created Primary Leadership Development Course (now the Warrior Leaders Course) as it was transitioned in throughout the Army. USASMA is also  responsible for the Common Core portion of the Advanced and Senior NCO Courses, the creation of and oversight for Structured Self Development (SSD), and they conduct Battle Staff NCO Course. They manage distance learning programs, The NCO Journal, the United States Army Museum of the Noncommissioned Officer and the Othon O. Valent Learning Resources Center. The last two are both historic repositories in their own right and well-respected research centers on critical noncommissioned officer knowledge. And recent changes moved all of the former Division and post NCO Academies from the Forces Command to under their watch. USASMA hasn’t “only” prepared sergeants major for more than 30 years, yet their name has not reflected those changes. 

A name change should reflect their modern responsibilities and to do that one must understand their core purpose. According to their website the USASMA mission is:

To provide professional military education programs that develop agile, versatile, and broadly-skilled noncommissioned officers and enlisted Soldiers capable of meeting the challenges of an increasingly uncertain and complex strategic operational environment.”

To me, the name Sergeants Major Academy does not encapsulate that message and may likely confuse people inside and outside of the Army. With the creation of the Institute of NCO Professional Development to provide oversight to the Academy after the selection of a Command Sergeant Major as Commandant this is a natural maturation of the importance of the facility and its awesome capability. I propose a new name  and in my view Enlisted Leadership University (ELU) works, and here is why.

Enlisted – Why not Sergeant or Noncommissioned Officer? Merriam-Webster defines Enlisted as “serving in the armed forces in a rank below the rank of officers.” Though USASMA clearly is involved across the full spectrum of the noncommissioned officer education system, the bottom line is not everyone they touch are NCOs. Yet. We should be inclusive, especially considering SSD 1 and WLC attendees may have not yet achieved noncommissioned officer status. Plus, as the Army refines its definition of lifelong learning it may choose to include professional development training earlier and earlier in a soldiers career and if so this name remains relevant well into the future.

Leadership – You can argue the course material until the cows come home but I would think we all can agree that what is ultimately being taught through all levels of enlisted professional development courses is leadership. Just as at a traditional educational institution you take courses across a broad spectrum and a student eventually degrees in a major, noncommissioned officers should probably major in at least in Leadership. Not Business Administration, Human Resources or Criminal Justice, but Leadership. In these times of scare tuition assistance dollars we need to ensure a balance between individual desire and Army requirements. Army Chief of Staff GEN Ray Odierno states in the opening of  ADP 6-22 Army Leadership that “Leadership is paramount to our profession.” To that end enlisted soldiers and noncommissioned officers should strive to master leadership and our military educational institution should reflect that ultimate goal. Though branches and career training centers should provide the foundational technical training that would typically result in an Associates degree, beyond staff sergeant the noncommissioned officer becomes less technical and starts moving toward a generalist. Leadership is the common thread, and as such the capstone institution should espouse quality leadership as the ultimate in education.

University – Back to Merriam-Webster, they define Academy as “a school that provides training in special subjects or skills.” This works perfect for our Noncommissioned Officer Academies (NCOA) and the branch-specific service schools, but in the new environment of USASMA and especially considering the overhaul of the course material, the Sergeants Major Course as an example is a rigorous environment that encourages critical thinking . Websters also list a University as “a school that offers courses leading to a degree (such as a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree) and where research is done,” which is clearly happening there. The American Council on Education awards credit for every noncommissioned officer education course from WLC up to and including the Sergeants Major Course, and when linked with educational institutions like those affiliated with the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges they tie in to a a variety of degree programs. 

The Sergeants Major Course (SMC) still remains a major part of what they do, but the times have been changing for 3o years. The creation of the Institute for NCO Professional Development was a milestone in the management of NCO Education and USASMA is their operational institution

This aint my first rodeo. Like usual I make a suggestion that is on the board but missed somebody’s bullseye, so it wont hurt my feelers if we agree to a name change if is something other than ELU. Fine, pick your own name. Tell me in the comments below why my suggestion blows and what you would rather it be called, but I ask that as you think through the main issues that we can agree that the name Sergeants Major Academy does not adequately reflect the current roles and mission of the commandant and staffand that the name needs to change. I hope to spark further the discussion both in and out of the Army, so tell me what you think about this topic.

CSM (Ret.) Dan Elder

6 thoughts on “The Case for an Enlisted Leadership University

  1. Paul Edwards

    Interesting thought… Off the cuff, I’d disagree with changing the name of the Academy but likely endorse a more comprehensive naming convention. Perhaps the Enlisted Leadership University (or or other name) should encompass a broader campus than just USASMA. Wouldn’t all the NCO Acadamies be part of this university system? Each WLC, each branch specific Academy should be considered a campus of the university. USASMA would be the “home” campus. The Academy maintains the traditions of training and education and is a significant part of the history of NCOES. I’d say keep the name, at least for the portion that trains SGM selects and apply the university title to the portion that oversees and develops curriculum for all the campuses.

    This is off the top of my head so I’d like to hear others thoughts as well.

    1. Allen V. Cheesman

      I concur with the concept and the timing, however I also agree with the follow-on comment.The Academy name does not capture nor portray all that the USASMA is responsible for. Furthermore, since we are becoming more “purple,” why not establish the “ELU” as “THE” Enlisted Leadership University for ALL services, much like we have done with establishing the medical training for ALL services? This would facilitate standardization of NCOES across DOD.


      Allen V. Cheesman
      CSM, US Army Retired
      Class 55

      1. CSM Cheesman, thank you for the thoughtful response and I do agree that the exact title should in fact be up for debate. The bottom line is it sounds like we agree that the name USA Sergeants Major Academy is not a good title to portray to all who interface with that institution the depth and breath of what they really do. Thanks for engaing in the dialog, regards.


  2. Scott R. Wilmot

    Hello Everyone,
    If I only had 10-seconds to explain to someone where NCOs receive training products, I will spend more time explaining how the “Sergeants Major Academy” develops Warrior Leader Course Material, and why, simply because of the name. If you begin the discussion with “our Enlisted Leadership University provides us with….”, now you have product placement and you will be able to spend all your time going over the critical details of the discussion.
    I thank Dan Elder for starting this discussion. There is an ongoing effort called “NCO 2020”…when you google search “NCO 2020” you’ll find the SMAs priorities and a video from the TRADOC CSM, and many other open source informational sites. When you read and listen to the dialog, it sounds like they are looking for topics just like this.
    We have the word leadership in course names for Warrior Leaders Course (WLC), Advance Leaders Course (ALC), and Senior Leaders Course (SLC). You already know USASMA develops those common core materials. Right here in El Paso, where you would think many understand the other missions USASMA has, in addition to teaching sergeants major, well they don’t, because they didn’t read the small print on the web-site.
    Naming conventions serve as product placement, and everything else that follows after supports the name.
    SGM Scott R. Wilmot

  3. Dan,

    I have always enjoyed reading your thoughts and believe it may very well be time for a name change given the contemporary operating environment of leader development. Conversely though, I also am not an advocate for change simply for the sake of change. I’ve read in more than one place a name change would likely enable more civilian credit for the curriculum delivered at the Academy. If a simple name change will effect that action, we have the wrong advocates presenting our case for credit at our secondary institutions. I recently completed my Master’s receiving only nine credits for my time at the Academy while my Captain’s Career Course contemporaries received fifteen. Is that simply because the officer’s course NAME is held in higher regard? Not according to the schools I have talked to. They are convinced our USASMA curriculum (and the American Council on Education doesn’t refute it) is not as challenging or impacting as officer instruction. I am saying here that a name change must be entertained to create a tangible desired end state. I am all for a name change that truly captures the essence of what it is the Academy actually performs. I am less supportive of that same change to only potentially change abstract perception that lacks substance, and is largely dependent on human favor.

    CSM(R) John Dorsey

    1. Thanks John, good to hear from you again. I agree, we should not change a name just for the sake of change. I also do not believe a name change alone will yield any additional credibility, nor any tangible, transferable credit. It will take a change to the curriculum, as well as the credentials of the staff, that will impact that. My understanding is an ACES re-eval is very close to happening, and the significant changes to the SMC curriculum should be noted in future recommendations, as well as an “opportunity” to earn more credits.

      My primary point is that the command and staff of the US Army Sergeants Major Academy does so much more as an organization than facilitate a course for US Army Sergeants Major. In my original article I listed a number of things unrelated to JUST SMC, but important to the overall health and welfare of the Army NCO Corps as a whole.

      Since I have written this blog post and heard a number of views on the subject I have refined my thoughts. I think the creation of the Institute of the NCO Professional Development (INCOPD) may have been the way to go, but not as another layer of bureaucracy to add to an already bureaucratic TRADOC. I now believe that INCOPD is performing the true roles of the command and staff at USASMA. That is saying specifically in the functions and role of the people at what we currently call USASMA.

      As the Army looks to to cutting HQs during downsizings ahead this should be one of the first places of duplicity to look to flatten out, it is time to fold INCOPD in to USASMA Command Group on East Ft Bliss. Then the INCOPD remains the Institution, and the different functional sections, SMC, SMC-NR, HQ, A Co, B Co, DOT, NCO Journal, NCO Heritage Center, Valent Learning Center, et. al, answer to the INCOPD, and allow the CSM to lead the whole shebang as the Commandant.

      To me the future name is secondary. Though I did throw in a red herring and fueled the fire by offering a name, my major point is that USASMA as we know it is much more than an institution that manages a course for sergeants major, they are executing the activities of training, education and developing an entire noncommissioned officer corps.

      Thanks again for weighing in.

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