To Go Or Not To Go ... To The Senior Enlisted Academy
Perspective from an Active Duty and a Reserve Sailor
Senior enlisted leaders blog about their experiences at the Senior Enlisted Academy.
An Active Duty Sailor's perspective
Most Navy senior enlisted leaders now know it's mandatory to attend the Senior Enlisted Academy (SEA). But many of us - including myself - kept wondering one simple thing: why?
For me, I kept waiting and continued to tell myself "this will pass, it's a Navy fad and will go away. All I have to do is wait it out!" Well, it didn't go away. Matter of fact, it got worse -- it became mandatory! Then I thought a bit more and said to myself, "degrees were mandatory a few years ago for senior enlisted and that didn't stay very long." I mean, I'm a chief! I belong on the deckplates - not in the schoolhouse! It's hard to lead from Newport, Rhode Island.
Simply said, I was wrong. SEA was here to stay and I needed to figure out what I was going to do about it.
So kicking and screaming, I attended an SEA roadshow that came through here in Hawaii. The director of the SEA spoke and one of the first things he said was, "this isn't training, it's education".
That simple line resonated with me and begrudgingly I enrolled in the Navy's Senior Enlisted Academy. I say begrudgingly because I always thought that SEA was for chiefs who were drinking the Kool-Aid. Well, that's what was said in the fleet anyway ...
Then it started - the infamous online portion called Blackboard. Like many Sailors, I've taken online college classes and this portion of the SEA was very similar to many of those. There are videos you have to watch, reading to do, calendars to follow and deadlines to meet. Really nothing different than the daily life of a senior enlisted leader -- except it's all done online.
My only advice for Blackboard is to pay attention to the deadlines and meet them. But again, that's nothing different than our everyday jobs. We give out (and are given) deadlines. We expect our Sailors to meet them and this is no different. Don't be surprised when you receive the first counseling chit you've received in 15 (or more) years -- from a peer even -- when you're late for your first assignment! Trust me, it's coming.
But Blackboard is only a phase and it too ends after nine weeks and then the best part comes: The three-week in-house portion.
Initially, I wasn't excited about leaving Hawaii and going to Rhode Island in February. I mean, who would do this to themselves! But I did and loved every minute of it.
Each senior enlisted leader going should expect to give presentations in class, do group-style physical training, and attend lectures in what's called Leadership Hall. Nevertheless, that only scratches the surface at what you really do there. There's so much more that can only be experienced by attending the course.
I was lucky enough to be part of the khaki group, during Class 194. For me, it was such an honor to be part of this group. We were tight -- like stories you hear about -- and it was phenomenal. We studied together, ate together, played sports together, and even took a field trip to Boston. Thanks Khaki 194, you made my stay there unforgettable. Moreover, who could forget two of the best faculty advisors one could ask for -- Senior Chief Aviation Electronics Technician Steve Rush and Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman Adam Goulas. You two chiefs made our time there even more extraordinary.
My last piece of advice to every chief who's on the fence about attending is to simply do it. It will change you, but in a very good way -- not a "Kool-Aid" way. I promise you'll enjoy the experience and will certainly learn something.
A Reserve Sailor's perspective
Like my active-duty counterpart, I had heard many different views on the Senior Enlisted Academy. There were mostly raves from those who had attended and mostly jeers from those who felt the academy had some sort of ulterior agenda. "Don't go!" said a friend of mine. "They just want to get rid of all the good traditions in the Navy and make you believe it is for the best. Don't buy into it! Don't let it change you!"
I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I chose not to believe the hype and to remain optimistic. I sent in my request and was notified that I would be part of 194/61. I was part of the Purple Group (Fear the Purple!) We would be part of the overall class with the active-duty students, but we would be grouped with other reservists. This is changing by the way. By the end of the year, Reserve and active-duty Sailors will fully integrate.
After that initial acceptance email, academy representatives guided me every step of the way. I never felt like I didn't know exactly what to expect. When my online portion began, I felt ready. Expect to spend upward of 10 hours a week on homework. Several active-duty Sailors told me they were thankful that their commands let them complete a lot of this during their regular work day. As a Reservist, most of this work had to happen after the regular work day. Some of my peers also had regular college classes they were finishing at the same time, as well as Reserve responsibilities that required their time and attention. So be prepared to use your time management skills.
The online portion of the class was challenging in other ways as well. One of our first assignments was to pick a country and talk about the strategic importance of that country to the United States. I have been in the Navy for more than 20 years and I had never once thought about the strategic importance of Belgium to America and now here I was writing an eight-page paper on it. And I couldn't just write a paper full of numbers and facts and then breathe easy -- because during the resident portion of the course I would have to deliver a timed speech about it!
Finally the day came to travel to Rhode Island. I felt confident with my online work thus far, and looked forward to being in class and able to fully focus on the course. But first thing was first - weigh ins. Don't think for a moment that they won't send you right back home if you are out of standards. We watched one of our own go home that first day. Once in class we met the facilitators who had been engaging with us during the online portion and grading our work. Senior Chief Operations Specialist Rich Woolever was our main facilitator and was a Reservist himself - although you would have never known it. He was 100 percent available to us during the online course, answering questions around the clock and giving us solid feedback to help us prepare for the next assignment. All of this while still working his full time job at home.
The caliber of the presentations, the information and the staff were unmatched. The transparent conversation all 104 senior enlisted leaders were able to have with the top officers in the Navy was incredible. There were no rose colored glasses on anything. We were able to ask real questions and get real answers from our leadership, our instructors and our peers. And the networking was priceless.
To say that our class became close is an understatement. Within days we were group texting and joking with each other like we had been friends forever. We studied together, rehearsed our speeches together, ate together, celebrated together and commiserated together. I have been to many schools and trainings throughout the years, but none have had the lasting positive effect that the SEA has had. And the weather? Well yes, Rhode Island in February may not sound like a great idea, but we had some pretty nice days. If it did feel cold, the mandated seven-mile run through the city the second week warmed us right up.
I highly recommend attending the Senior Enlisted Academy, not as a check in the box under have to, but as a legit check in the box under want to.