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‘Whole Soldier concept’ heart of WLC

At the NCO Academy, Soldiers learn ‘basic doctrinal principles’ to be applied in leadership situations

19th Public Affairs Detachment

Published: 03:23PM September 6th, 2012
‘Whole Soldier concept’ heart of WLC

Sgt. Jennifer Spradlin

Soldiers in the Warrior Leadership Course conduct a simulated patrol at JBLM Aug. 23 in the tactical portion of a comprehensive curriculum.

Operational environments change, but skills and values taught at the Warrior Leadership Course remain concrete.

As the drawdown in Afghanistan continues and new fiscal responsibilities emerge, senior leadership throughout the Department of Defense has acknowledged the need to create a fluid, agile and responsive fighting force for any mission.

At the Henry H. Lind Noncommissioned Officer Academy, Soldiers in the WLC are trained on the tenants of leadership through a comprehensive curriculum which emphasizes the whole Soldier concept.

“WLC was not designed to specifically teach Soldiers how to fight in Afghanistan. Our goal here is not to train Soldiers to fight in specific environments, our job is to teach them the basic doctrinal principles which they can use and apply no matter what situation they are in,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Matthew Shepardson, I Corps NCO Academy commandant.

Throughout his 26-year career, Shepardson witnessed the mission transition from preparing for conventional warfare, to supporting peacekeeping missions and finally to the current landscape of counterinsurgency fighting.

His message; change is inevitable, but the way to account for change is to build from a strong foundation of proven practices and methods. WLC is an important first step, but it is only one step in the process. The commandant compared it to football camp; students will learn to play football, but they aren’t going to reach the pinnacle of the sport unless they work hard and devote the necessary time and effort to improvement.

“Warrior Leadership Course provides them with the basics of leadership. In order for them to become strong leaders, it’s something they are going to have practice on back at their units, and it’s a continual process,” Shepardson said. “An NCO has to constantly dedicate himself to being a better NCO, a better leader, a better warrior.”

At WLC, improvement begins with a curriculum that pushes Soldiers beyond their comfort zones to perform tasks expected of a well-rounded leader. For example, an infantry sergeant must still know how to write a memorandum and a supply specialist must know how to conduct tactical movements in a squad formation.

“WLC has been one of the best things that have happened to me since I became a NCO. I have learned how to be a better leader, how to train Soldiers the right way,” said Sgt. Erika Campos, an automated logistics specialist with 4th Squadron, 6th Attack Reconnaissance Squadron, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade. “WLC allows me to use different skills that I don’t get to do on a regular basis and train on because of my job.”

Soldiers are repeatedly called upon to lead from the front. To graduate, Soldiers lead their peers through Army Physical Readiness Training, inspect and march a squad, brief a class on important historical contributions made by NCOs and teach an individual warrior task or skill.

“A lot of these Soldiers are used to working in their sections, and they are not used to being out front and having fifteen sets of eyes staring at them — while being evaluated at the same time. It brings a new level of stress to them and takes them out of their comfort zone. It helps them see if they do have weaknesses, those weaknesses can be improved upon,” said Staff Sgt. Christina Holcomb, an instructor at the academy. “(WLC) expands their horizons so they understand that there are so many aspects to being a Soldier.”

As a former drill sergeant, Holcomb said it has been a unique experience to see how the civilians she once taught to be Soldiers, are the Soldiers she’s now empowering to be leaders. Her biggest hope is that the multi-MOS training environment helps Soldiers build a network of subject matter experts to assist them in tackling leadership challenges.

In following with the whole Soldier concept, making sound and moral choices are emphasized as a necessary trait of a good leader and pivotal in the Army’s overall success. In Shepardson’s opinion, it is what distinguishes us from our enemies.

“The most important thing they need to take away from WLC is to understand the set of ethics and values that we have as Soldiers. Who they represent, why they are here and what they fight for,” Shepardson said.