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Sgt. Maj. Gary Smith, an instructor with the new seminar-based Sergeants Course, gives the graduating sergeants tips on being a leader during his address to the class.

Photo by Valerie O'Berry

Course Students graduate from first seminar-based Sergeants

30 May 2017 | Valerie O'Berry/Editor Marine Corps Base Quantico

Marine Corps Base Quantico is known for its contributions and innovations in war fighting and education.  In keeping with that theme, this year marked a first for Marine Corps University (MCU) when the first seminar-based Sergeants Course students graduated at ceremonies held at the National Museum of the Marine Corps May 19.


Taking the Sergeants Course is a requirement for promotion to staff sergeant.  Typically, the Sergeants Course is a four-week resident course taken at MCU or one of its affiliate sites located around the world.  It is a classroom- based course, with students attending Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.  The new seminar-based option, in which sergeants attend non-resident once weekly classes for 14 weeks, gives noncommissioned officers another option for completing required training.


Students in the seminar-based course work at their units during the day and attend class once a week in the evening for three hours.  In addition, the sergeant-students work throughout the week on assigned homework and participate in discussions with their peers, officers and junior enlisted throughout the week, then bring that knowledge back to the classroom and share it with the other students.  All the students volunteered to participate in the pilot class. 


“It went exceptionally well,” said Keith Carroll, course instructor.  ”They leveraged all the technologies, they would come in week in and week out and tell us about discussions they had with their officers, staff NCOs, peers and subordinates.  They all conveyed to us that we provoked critical and innovative thought within them, which is the intent of the Marine Corps.”


Sergeant-student Adam Lieberman, The Basic School, Combat Instructor Battalion, said that the seminar-style learning, which included a lot of self-paced computer-based learning, was ideal to him as he is currently enrolled in online college courses.


“This is my style of learning and right up my alley,” said Lieberman, who was also honored as the distinguished graduate of the course.  “It was different.  As opposed to being force-fed information from an instructor the instructor instead served almost like a moderator.  It was the peer learning portion that benefited me greatly because I could talk to different Marines from different units and MOSs (Military Occupational Specialties).  Being able to gauge the experiences of different people and take that back to my unit immediately and implement it there and teach my Marines. It helped me greatly, as opposed to having a month long class and possibly forgetting some of it.”


Sgt. Daniel Heiserman, Marine Corps Intelligence Activity, agreed that everybody in the unit benefits because the sergeant can come back immediately and share what they have learned on a weekly basis instead of waiting until the course is over.


“That’s one of the benefits of having the seminar,” said Heiserman.  “It is effective immediately and is definitely a good tool for the commander.”


He went on to say that the Marine Corps depends on their sergeants and with so many responsibilities that come along with the rank, it is beneficial to all to have the sergeant taking the course while still with the unit.


“Having the environment where you are able to go one night a week in an academic setting, then you are also able to come back and spit that knowledge out right away instead of having to wait a whole month to impart those skills and abilities gained during the course is beneficial,” Heiserman said.


During graduation ceremonies, Sgt. Maj. Gary Smith, an instructor for the course, gave the sergeants an

inspirational talk, which included citing the Marine Corps’ dedication to training and education of all Marines.

“You’ve got all these leaders in the room and we are going to continue to develop you and give you the tools that you need,” Smith said. “That is our role, that is our responsibility.  But, you also have a responsibility too because you’ve got to bring something to the table too.”


He went on to say that leaders should have several traits including confidence, energy, clarity, endurance and humbleness.


“You can see confidence in a leader a mile away.  When a leader shows up everybody knows a leader is present,” Smith said.


Marines must have the energy and the endurance to hang on those five extra minutes to finish the task at hand, according to Smith.  Being able to communicate with clarity is also important because NCOs must make decisions and then be able to communicate their thoughts logically and effectively to other Marines. 


Perhaps one of the most important points that Smith made was that Marine leaders must be humble.


“You must stay humble to serve.  You must realize that a setback is no more than taking a step back and then making your comeback.  As a leader you must realize that you make the rank, the rank does not make you,” said Smith.


    Faculty and staff hope that the new delivery method of the class is successful and that it becomes a permanent part of the curriculum for Professional Military Education.  The class will be evaluated through student feedback and commander’s input.

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