First virtual basic leaders course graduates at Stuttgart garrison

Soldiers at U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart graduate June 12 from the Basic Leadership Course during a physically distanced ceremony. (photo by Rick Scavetta, USAG Stuttgart)

By Bardia Khajenoori, U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart

STUTTGART, Germany – Twenty soldiers at U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart stepped forward toward careers as noncommissioned officers, graduating June 12 from the Basic Leadership Course during a physically distanced ceremony.

Participants took the same course as many Soldiers before them. This class, however, were trailblazers in their own right— the first virtually-taught BLC session in U.S. Army Europe.

The ceremony’s separated formation, with friends and family dispersed around the Panzer Kaserne parade field, was just one aspect of the course that changed amid coronavirus restrictions. Spc. Jessica Gifford, from the Stuttgart Army Health Clinic, found leadership styles training valuable, she said.

“I learned about my own personal leadership style, and other styles, and how that plays into communicating more openly with Soldiers and being aware of their needs,” Gifford said.

BLC is the first “course of meaning” in the NCO training regime and, over the course of about three weeks, it prepares specialists to become sergeants by teaching the fundamentals and practical aspects of unit leadership, to include speaking before crowds and leading physical training, said 1st Sgt. Lisa Zoechbauer, of the USAG Stuttgart, Headquarters and Headquarters Company.

The training is required for promotion to the NCO ranks, but restrictions instituted in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic prevented travel to the resident course at the 7th Army NCO Academy in Grafenwoehr, Bavaria.

After Zoechbauer became aware of the continued need for the course among units in the community, despite COVID-19, she worked with the U.S. Army Europe and NCO Academy to organize a virtual alternative. The substance of the class was taught remotely by instructors at the NCO Academy, with locally-based Assistant Instructors (AIs) providing day-to-day oversight and monitoring. Student feedback was generally positive, despite some technical difficulties, Zoechbauer said.

“I wanted to make sure the soldiers went by the schedule as much as possible to better replicate the traditional experience, despite not being able to leave their installation and make connections with others throughout the Army,” Zoechbauer said.

The virtual cohort was also of mixed occupational specialties to maintain diversity, said Zoechbauer, especially given that future NCO development courses would be within one’s own field.

During the ceremony, Col. Jason Condrey, commander of USAG Stuttgart and Command Sgt. Maj. Toese Tia, the garrison’s senior enlisted leader, recognized Spc. Anthony Almaguer Barrozo as the cohort’s outstanding student

Tia paid tribute to noncommissioned officers as the “backbone” of the service and offered his praise to the graduates for “taking on the mantle of leadership.”

Gifford came out of the experience with increased confidence, particularly due to the efforts of the assistant instructors.

“I was a little more shy at first, and they really pushed me out of my comfort zone by having me lead PT formations and marching and those types of things,” Gifford said. “I think, taking that back to my unit, that I’ll be more confident—not just with my peers, but with my superiors and my patients.”

Working in the medical field and as an NCO both have the responsibility of putting your needs to the side and helping patients and Soldiers, Gifford said.

“I like to help people,” she said. “I’m hoping I’ll be able to help people better with all I’ve learned in the BLC.”

To view more images for the event, visit the U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart online photo gallery.