By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Leisa Grant
National Guard Bureau
ARLINGTON, Va., Aug. 12, 2011 – Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Chris Roper is the first Air National Guard member to graduate from the in-residence Sergeants Major Course at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas.
Roper, security forces manager with the Oregon National Guard’s 142nd Fighter Wing, graduated June 18, one of 327 graduates.
Roper said he now has a better understanding of how senior military leaders make weighty decisions.
“Now I see the ‘bigger picture’ at the operational and strategic level,” he said.
The bigger picture changed after the 9/11 attacks against the United States.
“Since 9/11, the necessity for the National Guard to operate in a joint environment with active duty forces has never been more important,” said Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Denise Jelinski-Hall, senior enlisted advisor to the chief of the National Guard Bureau.
“The more opportunities we have to train and learn together,” Jelinksi-Hall said, “the more efficient and effective we will be at home and abroad in accomplishing the mission.”
The Air National Guard’s leadership encourages senior enlisted leaders to attend joint professional military education courses like the Army’s Sergeants Major Course. The course educates Army master sergeants and sergeants major, as well as senior enlisted members of other services and components, in full-spectrum operational and strategic operations to prepare them to be successful leaders in any environment, according to the course’s mission statement.
Roper’s class was the first go through an extended 10-month curriculum. The course had been nine months long since 1995.
“The Sergeants Major Course underwent a major transformation last year, with a tougher curriculum heavy on critical thinking and problem-solving, intense college-level reading and challenging writing assignments,” said Army Command Sgt. Maj. David L. Yates, director of the Sergeants Major Course.
Roper said the Sergeants Major Course was the first professional military education course he has attended as a resident.
“My biggest mistake was not attending other academies in-residence,” Roper said.
While other Air Guard members have completed the Sergeants Major Course as nonresidents, some senior enlisted leaders believe there are benefits to attending in-residence.
“In-residence attendance is an important element in the development of our future leaders,” said Air Force Chief Master Sgt. James Hotaling, command chief of the 142nd Fighter Wing. “Although I recognize our unique citizen-airman culture does not allow everyone to participate, we must make every attempt to ensure we give our airmen a chance to attend at least one resident course in their career.”
While Roper had the support of his wing, the process also involved the very top enlisted leaders of both the Air Force and the Air National Guard. His selection began with a nomination by Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Christopher Muncy, the Air National Guard’s command chief.
Muncy said Roper was selected out of six other Air Force members, both active duty and Guard. The process for selections begins in the office of Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Roy, who believes the Sergeants Major Course benefits all airmen, regardless of their component.
“We are a nation at war,” Roy said. “Our success depends on the Total Force engagement. Any education that enables our airmen -- be they active duty, Guard or Reserve -- to better perform their mission is an example of a joint service solution. Simply put, the better educated and trained we are, the better we perform. It makes sense to develop all of our airmen to the best of their abilities.”
“It’s huge for force development for the Air Force and for us -- and that ‘us’ isn’t just the Air National Guard,” he said. “It’s the big ‘U.S.’ -- the one on our uniforms that stands for the United States.”
Roper said his experience at the Sergeants Major Course brought this to light.
“No matter what branch of the service,” Roper said, “it’s no longer [just] your branch you should be concerned with.”
Understanding the Army’s culture and soldier development process better prepares senior enlisted airmen for future joint operations, Roy said.
“Attending the Sergeants Major Academy provides our senior NCOs with critical operational and strategic perspectives in terms of the profession of arms,” he said.
However, learning goes both ways.
“It also presents an opportunity for the active component to better understand the National Guard, and vice versa,” Jelinski-Hall said.
Roper’s attendance at the Army Sergeants Major Academy as an Air National Guard representative was an opportunity for him to work alongside coalition forces and to highlight the missions and ideals of the Air National Guard, said Air Force Col. Michael Stencel, commander of the 142nd Fighter Wing.
“As an Air National Guard ambassador, Senior Master Sergeant Roper returned home with a wealth of knowledge that he will be able to share with the entire Oregon National Guard,” Stencel said. “In a time of tight budgets and shrinking forces, it seems that now, more than ever, these cross-cultural experiences will pay huge dividends well into the future.”