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Training the Gunny

1 Nov 2012 | Gunnery Sgt. Stephen Traynham

Training Marines can be adifficult and painful task. There are many in­tricate details which go into any training plan. Communication, sup­plies, manpower, and most importantly time; are just a few consid­erations which go into making a solid training plan.

Now, let’s say the Ma­rines being trained are a mixed bunch. Some are grumpy and disgruntled, while others aremoti­vated and hungry. Some are a little older edging toward the monumen­tal 20-year mark in their career, while others are young lions just passing the ‘do I go or do I stay’ mark in their career. They all have an opin­ion on every topic and will fight tooth and nail to be heard. Welcome to Advance Course 6-12, Staff Noncommissioned Officer Academy, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

MARADMIN 391/07 announced the require­ment for all gunnery sergeants, regardless of promotion preference formaster sergeant or first sergeant, to attend the resident advance course at oneof the Staff Non­commissioned Officer Academies to be fully considered Professional Military Education com­plete. This message made Advance Course6-12 unique as it was the last class prior to the first sergeant/master ser­geant promotion board convening.

The expectation was for every seat to be filled in this class, according to Master Sgt. Damon P. Sonnier, advance course staff noncommissioned officer in charge, but this wasn’t the case. He attributed the seats being empty to two reasons.

“A majority of gunnery sergeants havecompleted their required [Professional Military Education],” stated Sonnier.“It has been mandatory for four years now, and I believe we may have caughtup.”

His second reason deals directly with promotions.

“With the increased time in grade required to earn gunnery sergeant or master sergeant/ first sergeant in most[military occupational specialties], Marines may view attending the advancedcourse as insignificant,” explained Sonnier. “Some Marines plan to serve 20years and transition to the civilian sector.”

There are also a few myths about SNCOA which may have aided in some Marines not considering the challenge. The biggest of these myths is SNCOA is a mask for a Physical Training Academy.

“The SNCOA is sometimes confused as being a PT Academy due to the flexibility in our schedule,” said Sonnier.“Since we do not deploy or conduct training exercises like WTI, we have the opportunity to incorporate PT in our schedule. I am not stating that units donot conduct PT, but with most busy units the responsibility is placed on theindividual Marine.

“When Marines get to the Academy and find themselves in a progressive PT program they may view it as a significant change compared to what they normally do,” Sonnier explained. “The idea is todemonstrate different types of physical training sessions and how to properlyconduct a PT program. It may also kick-start the Marines to introduce a programupon their return back to their commands.”

Another problem plaguing the SNCOA isMarines shrink in height, gain a few pounds, lose some upper body strength orget a little slower in between the time their screening checklist is signed andthey check in.

“Marines checking into the course out ofheight and weight standards or unable to pass the physical fitness test areissues we see here,” said Sonnier. “This sounds like a simple task but every class, every deck we have PFT failures or Marines out of height and weight standards. The best thing commands can do to better prepare their Marines for the Academy is accurately fill out the Command Screening Checklist. A current height and weight should be conducted; not the one the Marine performed four months ago. If they have to be taped for body fat, it needs to be conducted per the order. The PFT we conduct at the Academy is no different than the ones conducted in the fleet. We read the order verbatim; demonstrate proper form, and supervise the execution.”

Just as these may be reasons for thelack of attendance, there are a multitude of reasons Marines attended the course. Some gunnery sergeants were conscious this was the last class prior tothe promotion board convening, and knew they needed the class to be consideredPME complete. For others, the timing of the board wasn’t a factor, but the time away from work was.

“It can be hard as a gunnery sergeant to step away from the office, especially for weeks at a time,” said Gunnery Sgt.Roxane L. Branz, supply chief, Marine Corps Engineer School, Camp Lejeune, N.C.,and graduate of Advance Course 6-12. “I wasn’t able to attend the two previous classes since my shop was in the middle of personnel turnovers, and I needed to be there for that. The timing was never going to be perfect, so I just went. It was what I needed to do for my career progression.”

Career progression is the intended endstate for graduates of advance course. Aside from the motivating, re-energizing physical training, the course supplies students the tools to advise senior and junior Marines in matters of personal administration, stress management, the performance evaluation system, and financial planning. They will also be able to evaluate and develop the unit’s physical readiness program, conduct briefs, and coordinate a unit’s training requirements. The course provides students with the knowledge and skills necessary to request close air support, develop a casualty evacuation plan, function as a staffmember of a battalion operations center, and effectively apply the fundamentalsof war fighting tactics in offensive and defensive operations at the companyand battalion levels.

Just as important but seldom mentioned is the peer- to-peer learning which occurs.

“The biggest take away from the course is interacting with your peer group,” said Sonnier. “In my experience, students in any environment, learn more from each other than from one person standing in front of the class. Students are able to network and discuss how their units conduct certain events. What methods work and which ones do not. Students are able to compare themselves to their peers to have a better understanding of where they ‘fit-in’ as leaders. The course allows Marines to take a step back from their units and focus on themselves for a short period of time and get re-energized.”

“I see myself as being able to go head-to-head with the best of the best,” Branz said. “I am stronger mentallyand a lot more confident in my performance as a Marine after being surrounded by my peers. The course helped me put into perspective where I stand as a leader—a gunnery sergeant of Marines.”

For more information on advance courseor Staff Noncommissioned Officer Academy visit