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NEWS | Feb. 28, 2024

National Guard Enlisted Leader Speaks to Sergeant Major Students

By Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Pena, National Guard Bureau

FORT BLISS, Texas - Senior Enlisted Advisor Tony Whitehead, senior enlisted advisor to the chief of the National Guard Bureau, spoke to the Army’s latest class of graduating sergeants major at the United States Army Sergeants Major Academy Feb. 23, focusing on the essence of enlisted leadership.

“Your journey to this point has been guided by those who encountered you where you stood and molded you into who you’ve become,” Whitehead said to the more than 1,000 attendees. “Service members want to hear from you and where you are; if you do, they will follow you to where you are.”

During his visit to the NCO Leadership Center of Excellence, Whitehead delivered remarks in two sessions. He spoke to the graduating class 001-24 of the Sergeants Major Academy’s distance learning course and participants in the 10-month resident course. These classes welcome enlisted students from all military branches, including National Guard members and international students.

“When we see what’s happening in the news today,” Whitehead said, “it’s interesting to think about where we find ourselves as leaders. Some of you have already deployed; you have those scars, those bruises, but there are a lot of service members who have not.

“They are going to trust your leadership,” he said. “When they look at your bio and read that you have graduated from the United States Army Sergeants Major Academy, they will trust that you are well equipped, well informed, and battle-tested.”

The Sergeant Major Course is the apex of the Army’s NCO Professional Development System, designed to equip master sergeants and sergeants major with the skills to support commanders in mission accomplishment. The academy offers resident and distance learning options and supervises the Distributed Leader Course V curriculum, a required step before attending the course to ensure a thorough preparatory journey for senior NCOs.

Whitehead encouraged the assembled leaders to focus on future-oriented leadership, emphasizing the importance of preparing their teams for success and openly expressing appreciation. He highlighted the inevitability of change, noting, “One day, they will stand where you are, and you will not. Ensure they are ready for that moment.”

Whitehead also underscored the significance of family members, some of whom attended the graduation ceremony. “You joined the armed forces, and for all of us, your family came along with you, or in some cases, you picked them up along the way, but they have a commitment that is just as great as yours,” he said. “Say thank you to your support system as well.”

Among the graduates was Sgt. Maj. Krista David, a 22-year veteran who works at the National Guard Bureau headquarters as the operations sergeant major in the Strength Maintenance Division.

David acknowledged the influential role of mentors who shaped her success.

“Some of my most significant mentors have been female, retired now, but they both sewed a lot into me from early on in my career until I was an E-8,” she said. “They were the ones to tell me I would be a sergeant major one day. Even though I never believed it, they believed in me.”

Another graduate was Sgt. Maj. Collin Wickware, director of training sergeant major at the Finance and Comptroller School, Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Wickware has served for 24 years.

“I joined for an opportunity to find myself and better myself from where I currently was,” Wickware said. “I knew the Army could take me further and help me find where I wanted to be. From the day I went to reception in 1999, I saw someone walking around the reception battalion, and he had a bunch of stripes and a star, and I said, ‘That’s where I want to be.’

“As a young private, I was motivated to become a sergeant major,” he said.

Reflecting on the meaning of graduation day, Wickware said: “We talk about success and how we measure it. And many individuals will tell you that obtaining the highest rank and pay grade is an excellent measure of success, which is part of it. But today is about the impact I can have on others, such as junior Soldiers, subordinate leaders, and the organization.”

In concluding his remarks, Whitehead highlighted the National Guard’s pivotal role in the Joint Force and National Defense Strategy.

“Since its inception in 1636, the National Guard has participated in every major conflict and will maintain its omnipresence,” Whitehead said. “In any Joint Force operation, rest assured that a Guardsman will be at your side. Your reserve component Soldiers and Airmen integrate seamlessly into your ranks. This is the essence of our motto, ‘Always Ready, Always There.’”



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