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Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton

"The West Coast's Premier Expeditionary Training Base"

Staff sergeant's Career Course shifts focus to rear area operations

By Staff Sgt. Bill Lisbon | | January 8, 2003

A shift in mindset for educating staff sergeants across the Corps has faculty at staff noncommissioned officer academies throughout the Corps hoping to give their students information they will really use while de-emphasizing material staff NCOs should already know.

Beginning with the Career Course scheduled to kick off this month, students will see more emphasis on the staff sergeant's role in the rear area supporting combat operations.

"One of the goals behind it is to educate Marines across the spectrum on how they support offensive and defensive operations no matter what their MOS," said Master Sgt. Brian Burlingame, the Career Course's chief at Camp Pendleton.

The changes are directed mainly at noninfantry Marines - about 70 percent of the student body, he said. Classes in the past were taught with more of an infantry mindset; subjects included conducting offensive operations and weapons employment.

Surprisingly, the changes don't come from input based on lessons learned during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Burlingame said.

Most of the student feedback spurring the changes came while troops were still on the ground in Iraq. The Corps' Career Course leadership met here for a three-day conference in September 2003 to develop the new curriculum, then submitted it to Marine Corps University, which approved the updated lesson plans.

However, input from Iraqi Freedom veterans will probably result in more changes, Burlingame said.

To make room for the beefed-up rear-area security and force-protection classes, along with other curriculum revisions, the academy trimmed items like uniform inspections, parade staff drill practice and weapons classes - things staff sergeants should already know, Burlingame said.

Some believe resident professional military education, such as the Career Course, is where units send their recently promoted Marines to learn everything they need to know for that rank, Burlingame said.

But academy staff see their role differently, he said.

"We want to go outside of that box," he said. "Our goal is to try to make the staff sergeant more educated in various areas, which allows them to assume roles of greater responsibility." 

All Marines, regardless of MOS, are required to know certain skills and information, known as Marine Corps Common Skills, based on their rank. According to Burlingame, the responsibility for teaching and/or maintaining these skills falls on unit training offices or on the Marines themselves - not the academy.

For example, firing weapons like the M-203 grenade launcher and the M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon is being removed even at the Sergeants Course, because NCOs already undergo the training annually in their units, Burlingame said.

The changes may find some Marines at a disadvantage. While training and evaluating common skills may be easier in Fleet Marine Force units, where access to field exercises and weapons ranges is greater, Marines at nondeployable bases or air stations may never get the opportunity.

"How am I supposed to know (the skills) if I don't go to these schools?" said recent graduate Staff Sgt. Larry A. Fouts, an aviation ordnance chief with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323, Marine Aircraft Group 11, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. Calif.

The extent of common skills training and evaluation at some units includes only an annual multiple-choice exam. Others, like 1st Force Service Support Group here, are more proactive. The FSSG tries to send all its privates through captains to a weeklong rear-area security class annually. They also train some of their Marines on crew-served weapons at an annual basic machine gun course, said Capt. Lester Corpus, the group's training officer.

"It's going to be more critical that units look at the curriculum at the academies," urged Burlingame.

Students attending the academy are not tested on common skills upon arrival nor as a prerequisite.

Marine sergeants, staff sergeants and gunnery sergeants attend either the Sergeants Course, the Career Course or the Advanced Course at one of the Corps' four staff noncommissioned officer academies located here, at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., Quantico, Va., or Okinawa, Japan. Sergeants Courses are also held for Marines at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, and in Hawaii. Reservists attend abbreviated courses at Camp Crowder, Mo.

The seven-week Career Course is held six times per year, except at Quantico, where five are held annually.

Since the curriculum is governed by the Marine Corps University in Quantico, staff sergeants receive the same period of instruction regardless of where they attend. Minor differences occur based on the base's resources and facilities.

For more information on the Career Course or the SNCO Academy, visit www.mcu.usmc.mil/sncoa.

See related story: http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/main5/47A3F2DA3DA905BB85256E1400687115?opendocument