MARIETTA, Ga. – More than 50 Georgia Army National Guard Soldiers participated in the Commander/First Sergeant and Platoon Leader/Platoon Sergeant courses in October at the Clay National Guard Center.
The courses, developed by the Georgia ARNG Operations and Training Directorate (G-3), provide company-grade officers and noncommissioned officers with a comprehensive introduction to programs, regulations, resources and key leaders and staff of the Georgia Department of Defense.
"The week-long course is like drinking from a fire hose, especially the Commander/First Sergeant Course, said Master Sgt. Vince Battaglia of the G-3. "There is just so much information available. ... The course will give them a great reference on where to find information and who they can call on for assistance."
The Commander/First Sergeant Course was developed in 2015 and has evolved with each cycle.
"We adjust the courses based on the previous class's evaluations to make it a better course each time, said Battaglia. "I try to express the gold nuggets to the students: the information, websites and points of contact that I wished someone told me about when I was coming up in the ranks."
The courses introduce company-level leaders to a full spectrum of topics from operations and logistics to training plans and public affairs. Subject matter experts, senior leaders and staff officers of the organization facilitate the instruction.
1st Lt. Darcy Arnold of the Fort Gillem-based 221st Expeditionary Military Intelligence Battalion participated in the Commander/First Sergeant Course. Arnold, who works as a deputy with the Cobb County Sheriff's office, was surprised at the course's scope.
Among the classes Arnold identified as most valuable were the personnel courses covering medical readiness, promotions, evaluations and education benefits due to her current role as a battalion personnel officer.
"I hope to attain a full-time position within the organization," said Arnold. "I believe this course allowed me to gain further information needed to become more proficient in my current role, as well as a future command."
Based on the success of the Commander/First Sergeant Course, the G-3 launched the Platoon Leader/Platoon Sergeant Course, which also introduces the systems and processes of the Army and National Guard to lieutenants and noncommissioned officers who form platoon leadership teams. Among the attendees in this course were 2nd Lt. Gerson Blaise and 2nd Lt. Stephen Morris, newly commissioned officers who graduated from the Georgia Military Institute in September.
Blaise, newly assigned to the Macon-based Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 148th Brigade Support Battalion, secured his seat before attending adjutant general branch training. A drug and alcohol counselor with a master's degree in psychology, Blaise learned about the course through his unit training NCO at his first drill.
"Officer Candidate School gave me a good idea of what would be expected of me once I got to my unit. However, once I got there, I was still a bit lost," said Blaise. "There was so much to learn that I felt this class would be a good opportunity for me to grow as a leader."
Blaise appreciated the instruction about the commander and staff organization, which he said gave him a better understanding of leading troops.
"This class will help me have a good understanding of all the things that go into planning and executing my role as a commander by giving me a solid groundwork as a platoon leader," said Blaise.
Like Blaise, Morris commissioned just weeks ago. But he entered the officer ranks after nearly a decade of enlisted service in the infantry, including a deployment to Afghanistan and an Atlantic Resolve rotation in Lithuania. Even with prior enlisted experience, Morris found a lot to learn in the course.
"I was surprised to learn the extent to which it takes to plan things like a small arms range or using DTMS," said Morris. "As an officer, I felt the best class for me was doctrine. It's important to learn where to find answers because as a leader, there are an unlimited amount of questions that I will be asked from my Soldiers, and that I will ask myself."
As a former NCO, Morris appreciated the opportunity the course provided to improve his skills as a leader to serve his Soldiers.
"The only way to achieve the highest level in anything is to continue to grow and learn, never allowing yourself to settle on where you are," said Morris. "If we, as leaders, aren't working for our Soldiers, then we have lost sight of the importance in leadership. It is my duty as a leader to serve my Soldiers, develop them by setting them up for success and maximizing their potential, and inspiring them to achieve their goals in the Army and in life."
In addition to platoon leaders just starting their military careers, such as Blaise, the Platoon Leader/Platoon Sergeant Course welcomed experienced NCOs who were about to accept responsibility for a platoon. Veteran Soldiers like Sgt. 1st Class Leander Williams of the Fort Stewart-based Georgia Garrison Training Center and Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Sollosi of the Marietta-based 122nd Tactical Support Detachment with multiple overseas deployments between them were a source of information to the newly commissioned leaders while they themselves were challenged by the course material.
Williams has served for 18 years in engineering, military police, logistics and infantry units in the Georgia Army National Guard and chose to attend the class to get a better understanding of how to be an effective platoon sergeant.
To be honest, I expected the class to cover drill and ceremony, counseling, evaluations and other tasks," said Williams. "I was surprised to learn all the different legal, SHARP and equal opportunity courses available."
Williams, the father of former Detroit Lions running back Antoine Williams, hopes to become a first sergeant and shape a unit of his own.
"I have had a wonderful career in the Georgia National Guard and I consider it an honor and a privilege to have served with some of the best officers and NCO's in the military," said Williams.
Sollosi, like Williams, has served in multiple units, including 11 years with the Cordele-based Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment, with whom he deployed to Iraq in 2005. A 22-year veteran of the Long County Sheriff's office, Sollosi was excited to attend the course.
"I expected to learn a lot about traditional platoon sergeant, platoon leader relationships, including pitfalls and best practices," said Sollosi. "The relationship between platoon-level leaders was reinforced, and that was good to see. The various instructors were excellent."
With all his experience, Sollosi still found unexpected nuggets of knowledge, particularly on how to document collective training tasks and the presentations regarding theater certification level assessments. Sollosi was most impressed by the opportunity to meet senior leaders of the Georgia DOD.
"It was profound to have Command Sgt. Maj. (Roy) Marchert and State Command Sgt. Maj. (Jeff) Logan speak to the class," said Sollosi. "The seminar with (Maj. Gen. Tom Carden, Georgia's adjutant general) and senior staff was a highlight. Interacting with these leaders made me feel more engaged with the Georgia ARNG."
After the week-long courses, the Soldiers received certificates and returned to their units armed with the knowledge to impact their Soldiers. Master Sgt. Battaglia summarized the holistic impact of the courses.
"If you really think about it, military leaders look out for all aspects of a Soldier's life unlike any other business or company," said Battaglia. "We teach about cultures, diversity, health lifestyle, nutrition, discipline, dress, marching, grooming standards, weapon systems, leadership, trades, weapons and finance."