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Beginning this winter, senior enlisted Marines newly selected for sergeant major must attend a two-week course at Marine Corps University in Quantico, Va.
The Sergeants Major Course is designed to better prepare senior enlisted advisers for the demands of leadership at the battalion and squadron level, according to Marine officials.
"There was a real, true gap going from first sergeant to sergeant major," Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Micheal Barrett told those attending the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Symposium in July. "You wake up one morning and you are in charge of 180 people. The very next morning, you walk into a battalion and you are responsible to and being held accountable for 1,800 to 2,000."
Attendance at the new Sergeants Major Course is mandatory for all first sergeants who have been selected for promotion, according to Marine administrative message 639/12, signed Nov. 6.
In all, 82 Marines are expected to complete the course during the first two classes, scheduled for Jan. 20-Feb. 13 and April 28-May 10.
Barrett is a strong proponent of the new course, saying during the symposium that sergeants major must be ready to assume full responsibility as the senior enlisted adviser in a battalion or squadron from day one on their new job.
"A first sergeant learns some pretty basic stuff. You become a sergeant major and it is a totally different world. And there was an awful gap," he said. "And you know what a battalion commander deserves? A battalion commander deserves to wake up one morning, go into work and have a full sergeant major making sure the command is run properly. Not a brand new sergeant major who walks in and [doesn't] even know what the indicators of effective leadership are."
Unlike master gunnery sergeants — the Corps' other E-9 paygrade — who have career courses sprinkled throughout their career progression, sergeants major had nothing, Barrett said.
The course will largely be characterized by guided discussions in small groups to "permit a frank exchange of observations, ideas and methodologies," according to the MARADMIN. In the first week, sergeants major will hear from a wide array of presenters, including senior officers, current sergeants major and instructors from the university. The second week will be held in conjunction with the Commanders Course for command-slated lieutenant colonels. That will help enlisted leaders better partner with battalion or squadron commanders.
"Every Marine deserves to be in a good unit led morally, ethically and professionally. And that is what this particular thing is going to do for us in the future in the 8999 community," Barrett said.