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First enlisted graduates of Command Staff College usher in sea change of Corps leadership

Jun. 14, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
MCU Graduation Ceremony
Sgts. Maj. Jonathan Henry, left, and Scott D. Hamm set a new milestone. (Lance Cpl. Samuel Fernandez/Marine Corps)
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Two sergeants major have become the first enlisted Marines to graduate from the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, both earning master’s degrees in military studies on June 4 following a 10-month resident course.

Sgts. Maj. Scott Hamm and Jonathan Henry were selected to attend Command and Staff College at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, after two seats were opened to senior enlisted Marines for the 2013-14 academic year.

The innovative initiative provided a good opportunity for discourse between future commanders and the senior enlisted Marines who will advise them, Hamm said.

“It gave me a deeper understanding of the things that high level commanders are concerned with — things that keep them up at night,” he said. “Hearing about it will help me to better anticipate the problems they’re going to face.”

More than 200 students were enrolled in the class, including members of other services, government agencies and foreign militaries. The students frequently broke into smaller groups for in-depth discussions about current Marine Corps issues such as the drawdown and uniform policies, Hamm said. That gave the sergeants major the ability to share their unvarnished opinions on how enlisted Marines view current happenings or policies, Henry said.

“There’s a different way of thinking [between] a professional officer and young enlisted Marines,” he said. “I tried my best to offer that enlisted perspective because they don’t usually get that when they go to PME for a year with other officers.”

Hamm said it was important to keep an open mind during the group discussions, but he was prepared to stand his ground on things that were important to enlisted Marines.

Having served for more than two decades in the Corps at several different duty stations, Henry said he and Hamm had a lot of leadership knowledge to bring to the conversation.

Army Special Forces Col. Jim Mis, the deputy director of the Command and Staff College who served as Henry’s military faculty adviser, said the officers seemed to gain the most from the staff noncommissioned officers during the unit on leadership.

“NCOs have a different perspective of leading troops because of the different responsibilities they have,” Mis said. “In some degrees, it’s a more personal relationship they have with the young Marines, the warriors, than the ... battalion commander might have with his troops.”

On the opposite end, Norwegian Army Lt. Col. Frode Ommundsen, who served as Hamm’s military faculty adviser, said the enlisted Marines appeared to benefit most from the group discussions with officers on operational planning.

This academic year, the Command and Staff College will double the number of seats offered to enlisted Marines, to include two for master gunnery sergeants.

Studying with the majors challenged him to think more academically, Henry said, and proved to be one of the most rewarding professional military education experiences of his career. He thinks master gunnery sergeants, with their strong technical skills, will bring a real strength to the class.

Doubling the number of small groups that benefit from a senior enlisted Marine’s perspective will continue the idea sharing between the majors and E-9s, to everyone’s benefit, Mis said.

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