NEWS | Aug. 10, 2020

20 Future NCOs Graduate from Distance-learning Basic Leader Course at Camp Zama

By Noriko Kudo

CAMP ZAMA, Japan -- Twenty Soldiers graduated from a distance-learning Basic Leader Course (BLC) held here July 7 through 31, and are now ready for the next step toward becoming a noncommissioned officer.

Soldiers in Japan normally attend the monthlong course at the Eighth Army NCO Academy in Korea. However, due to travel restrictions as a result of ongoing concerns over COVID-19, the Soldiers completed the course at their own installation.

Spc. Chastyn Hinson, assigned to U.S. Army Japan, said she had been wanting to attend the course for some time. She said she was doubly excited when she learned she had earned a spot in the most recent class, and that it would be held on her own installation.

In addition to honing basic and advanced Soldier skills, BLC training includes group discussions, classroom instruction, essay writing and public speaking practice. These are meant to help the Soldiers develop their professionalism and leadership skills for when they are promoted to sergeant.

Another regular part of BLC is the physical training session, which the Soldiers both conducted, and learned how to lead, every day. Hinson said that although it rained literally every day they did PT, it was still a beneficial skill to learn.

The BLC candidates often took on leadership roles during the course. One of the biggest challenges for Hinson was having to give a class on how to move under direct fire, she said. She had to memorize each step, be able to present the class to her fellow students, and then grade them, from the perspective on an instructor, on how they did.

“I worked pretty hard, staying during lunch or after class [to study],” Hinson said. “This class definitely helped me see that [being a leader] will always be a continuous process throughout my career.”

Spc. Victor Zalek, assigned to the 623rd Movement Control Team, said BLC taught him the basic leadership skills he will need as a sergeant. His biggest challenge was “stepping out of [his] comfort zone” during the portion of the course that covered public speaking. Having support from his fellow Soldiers helped in that regard, he said.

“My classmates brought a camaraderie to the class that made me want to be there every day,” Zalek said. “Also, the instructors made the whole [course] an enjoyable experience.”

Upon graduating, Zalek said he felt “amazing,” and that the course truly prepared him to be an NCO.

“The training instilled in me a lot of leadership traits that I may not have had before attending,” Zalek said. “It helped build confidence within myself to be ready to lead Soldiers when I get back to my unit.”

Assistant BLC instructor Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Snell, assigned to the U.S. Army Japan Band, said he “threw a lot of material” at the Soldiers throughout the comprehensive course. But even if they don’t retain every bit of information they learned, Snell said he hopes they remember the importance of two things: accomplishing the mission, and ensuring the welfare of their Soldiers.

“We had a good group of Soldiers who made the effort and put themselves out there every day, and that is what being an NCO is about: leading the troops from the front.”

Assistant instructor Master Sgt. Jason Garrison, assigned to USARJ, said the BLC graduates are ready to be leaders.

“I want them to know this training plays a critical part in their careers,” Garrison said. “It allows them to learn and understand how to lead Soldiers before putting on the sergeant stripes by providing them with tools [they need] to succeed.”