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Marine Corps leaders are pressing forward with the development of a new course for freshly minted sergeants major that stresses leadership and professional ethics as they prepare to oversee an entire battalion or squadron of Marines.
The second iteration of the Sergeants Major Course convened April 29 at Quantico, Va., and was scheduled to run through May 10, Marine officials said. Forty-seven senior staff noncommissioned officers attended, and they spent part of that time working alongside Marine officers attending the Commandant’s Commanders Program, a course required for all lieutenant colonels and colonels who are selected for command.
Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Mike Barrett said the reaction from the first 41 sergeants major who went through the new course in January was mostly positive, but they recommended overwhelmingly to allow more time for breakout discussions.
“This course provided newly selected sergeants major with the unique perspective necessary to fulfill their roles and responsibilities as a senior enlisted leader at the battalion or squadron level,” Barrett said in a statement to Marine Corps Times. “The course is designed to accelerate the effectiveness of a new sergeant major, identify the highest priority areas [and] where to invest their time, energy and resources.”
About 100 lieutenant colonels and 40 colonels will attend the commanders’ program at Quantico from May 6 to May 17, said Col. Sean Gibson, a Marine spokesman. The schedule is coordinated so that the second week of the sergeants major course and the first week of the commanders’ program overlap.
The sergeants major course includes sessions on “inspirational leadership” and communication, Marine officials said. The communication session touches on public speaking, nonverbal communication and getting messages across as a leader. It includes insight from sergeants major currently serving at the Marine Expeditionary Force level, and regimental sergeants major who have been serving for at least five years, Marine officials said.
The course addresses not only job responsibilities, but what a sergeant major is, according to a Marine Corps news release published in February.
“Sergeants major are our historians and our leaders,” said Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Trudell, a curriculum manager for Marine Corps University, in the news release. “They’re the ones who are going to make sure the Marine story is being told. They make sure the heritage and philosophies are being passed down, not only to the junior enlisted, but junior officers also.”
Barrett told Marines at the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Symposium last July there is a “real, true gap going from first sergeant to sergeant major.
“You wake up one morning, and you are in charge of 180 people,” he said. “The very next morning, you walk into a battalion and you are responsible to and being held accountable for 1,800 to 2,000.”
Attendance at the Sergeants Major Course is mandatory for all first sergeants who have been selected for promotion. Barrett said during the symposium that new sergeants major must be ready for their job from the moment they get it.
“A first sergeant learns some pretty basic stuff. You become a sergeant major, and it is a totally different world. And there was an awful gap,” he said.
“You know what a battalion commander deserves? A battalion commander deserves to wake up one morning, go into work and have a full sergeant major making sure the command is run properly, not a brand new sergeant major who walks in and [doesn’t] even know what the indicators of effective leadership are.”
Staff writer James K. Sanborn contributed to this report.