by Tyler Will, War College Public Affairs
On Monday, June 1, The Senior Enlisted Academy (SEA) welcomed 82 Chief, Senior Chief, and Master Chief Petty Officers to prepare them to be effective leaders to subordinate sailors in the fleet.
The SEA is a six-week leadership course administered seven times a year. The mission of the SEA is to strengthen enlisted commitment to professional excellence and mission accomplishment through education. To achieve the mission, instructors focus on communication, organizational development, physical fitness, speaking, writing, problem solving, leadership and other areas. Military case studies and war gaming exercises are also part of the curriculum.
The SEA opened in 1981 in response to a two-year-old policy that provided Navy senior enlisted personnel with more responsibility at mid-level management positions. The increased responsibility was welcome, but after the policy was enacted in 1979, some Chiefs needed supplemental training to adequately complete their new duties.
“We take a three-dimensional approach, so that when they graduate from here, they become a more rounded, more confident tool…wherever they go to meet their mission,” said SEA Deputy Director Master Chief Petty Officer Tom Whitney.
While the SEA course includes classroom style lectures, Whitney said the most effective learning style and what students most enjoy is when the students hold joint discussions. The variety of Chiefs brings different scenarios, decisions, and results to the discussion. The range of viewpoints provides the senior enlisted personnel with a broader understanding of problem solving. While the Academy was initially exclusive to E-8s and E-9s, Chief Petty Officers were eventually allowed in. “The earlier you can educate your leaders, the better your force will be,” he said.
About 10 percent of the class is E-7s; 40 to 50 percent are E-8s; and about 20 percent are E-9s. The rest are made up of senior enlisted personnel from other services, and one or two international students; the current class has one student from New Zealand and one from Turkey.
The diverse student population provides unique experiences for the students.
“They break down walls, they open their mind to new ideas, and they build a network that lasts them the rest of their time in the military,” Whitney said.
Student progress is difficult to gauge, Whitney said, because leadership can’t really be exercised until the graduates return to the fleet. Instead, SEA success is contingent on feedback from fleet staff. A Board of Advisors helps the academy decide what to focus on.
Students often find the academic aspects challenging. Whitney said some students have not been in an academic environment in years, and need to get back in sync with reading and testing. The physical fitness aspect is also demanding, and Whitney said the academy has dismissed students in the past who failed to meet the standards.
“It is not an easy decision to make, but it is a standard that has got to be upheld,” Whitney said. But others find the challenges thrilling.
Senior Chief Petty Officer Wanda Wright said she is a little nervous being in class with some Command Master Chiefs, and is still getting used to what the academy brings her next. She was recently promoted, and said the reality of working with CMCs and Executive Officers also make her a little nervous. Though only in class for five days, she learned networking is very important, because she can collaborate with other chiefs to solve problems.
When she does return to the fleet, Wright said she plans on instilling ethics in her subordinate sailors. “It would make [the Navy] stronger and better sailors to know that you do the right thing every single time, even if that person or someone is not watching,” she said. Wright gets some of her ethics from family values, and integrates them with the Navy’s.
Senior Chief James Keesler admitted he took a competitive drive to the academy, which helps his sailors, because he encourages them to take on challenges.
“You can use a competitive nature to help them reach their potentials,” he said.
Keesler said physical fitness is not an issue for him, and he lost 30 pounds in three years at his last duty station, in Spain. He has wanted to go to the academy for a couple of years.
“I’m glad to get an opportunity to get this kind of challenge,” he said.
The current class will graduate in mid-July.