News: Small steps
Story by Sgt. Marcus Fichtl
CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait – It ends with a few small steps across a stage, a handshake and a piece of paper, but in the same way that’s how it starts – a few small steps.
Spc. Violeta Loya walks across the Warrior Stage May 23 at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. At 5’1, her steps might be some of the smallest out of the Warrior Leader Course graduates, but they’re the first and over the next six months, 900 Soldiers will follow her lead.
Loya, a unit supply specialist with the 3rd Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery, 11th ADA Brigade, stationed in Fort Bliss, Texas and deployed to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, but her story didn’t start in Texas or Qatar.
It begins 8,000 miles away in Garden Grove, California. The youngest daughter of a southern California family, she decided to take a chance, a step in a new direction, to become the first person in her family to join the military.
Stunned, confused and angry, her family didn’t speak to her for days, but eventually they came around.
As Loya crossed the parade field after basic training, they saw her for the first time in her uniform – black beret, tan boots, U.S. Army across her chest and an American flag on her right shoulder. They changed; Loya changed.
“My parents hugged me and told me how proud they were,” said Loya. “I realized I was about to do something no one in my family ever thought of doing.”
As time passes in a Soldier’s career, they must transition to a leader if they want to progress.
“The Warrior Leader Course is the first level of NCO development, the first step in the professional development of core attributes, morals and ethics,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Tim Hileman, commandant U.S. Army Central, Noncommissioned Officer Academy and Pennsylvania Guardsman. “We give Soldiers, after 22 days of training, the tools that they need to be a first line leaders.”
The NCOA at Camp Buehring is a unique academy. The only NCOA where all Army components, guard, reserve and active are equally represented, not only in its students, but its cadre as well. The backgrounds and teaching styles may differ, but they all teach one thing - leadership.
Army leadership, in a way, has been boiled down to a few short phrases, “deeds not words.”
And according to Hileman, it’s as simple as “be, know, do.” The emphasis is on action.
The first tools the NCOA gave Loya was a pat on the back, the position of platoon sergeants, 32 Soldiers and the simple phrase, “lead them.”
“Adapt and overcome,” Loya told herself.
“I feared that if I made a mistake, the sergeants would laugh,” she said. “I got up there and decided I wasn’t going to let rank intimidate me,” said Loya.
But when she called “fall in,” the Soldiers fell in, when she called “forward march,” forward they did march.
“I came to find out, I was very wrong about my platoon, they didn’t question me, they respected me,” she said. “When I made mistakes, they showed me the ropes. When I needed guidance, they guided me.”
They guided each other in the sand, in the classroom and on the battlefield. Presentations, tests and open discussion dominated the day, Soldiers from watercraft operators to military policemen recalled experiences that on the face were as different as their jobs, but at heart as similar as the oath they all took.
“The class showed wearing the stripes does not determine a great leader,” said Loya. “The rank does not define true leadership, true leadership is defined within the person.”
Hileman said the NCOA focused on teaching the troop leading procedures and to do what’s right when no one is looked.
“The goal for us is for sergeants to understand the expectations of being a noncommissioned officer, but then not to only understand those expectations, but put them into practice and being a more resilient Soldier by the time they leave,” said Hileman.
The course transformed Loya’s entire concept of leadership as she changed as much as she did on her basic training’s parade field.
“To be a leader did not mean much to me because coming up in the Army I didn’t really experience great leadership, I didn’t know what it meant. Now, being a leader has so much meaning to me. A leader is someone who leads, motivates, and influences,” said Loya.
As she completed the class, Loya made the commandants list, a recognition reserved for the top-twenty percent of the students in the course. No small feat, but in one final twist sitting in rehearsals for the final ceremony she learned she would also receive the Ironman Award for the highest Army Physical Fitness Test score.
She was placed in front of the entire 127 Soldier class, not just the 32 of her platoon. She would represent the Academy for its entire stay in Kuwait.
“Being the first person in the first class to walk across that stage is more powerful than anyone can imagine,” said Loya.
Loya takes her step across the stage, shakes a hand or two and receives a paper that tells her she’s an Army leader, but with her first step out the door of her Garden Grove home, five years and 8,000 miles ago, she always was.
“In the next six months, we will provide commanders with 900 fit, competent, confident and resilient NCOs,” said Hileman.