AUGUST 15, 2016 – Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Kepner, the senior enlisted leader of the Army National Guard, was the keynote speaker at the Basic Leader Course graduation August 12 at Camp Buehring, Kuwait.
His remarks were part of his week-long visit to National Guard troops assigned to U.S. Army Central’s area of operations.
“We have a lot of National Guard Soldiers who are doing missions here in Kuwait and in theater,” Kepner said. “I came over here to visit, see how the Soldiers were doing and check on the training.”
Kepner talked about several leadership topics during his remarks including readiness. He believes Noncommissioned officers are the tip of the spear when it comes to Army readiness.
“Readiness is our number one priority,” he said. “That applies to all components: to any Soldier that wears the nametape, ‘U.S. Army.'”
BLC is the first course of study in the U.S. Army NCO Education System. The class teaches troops the fundamentals of leadership.
“NCOES and courses like the Basic Leader Course are absolutely imperative to developing our sergeants so that our Soldiers are set up to fight and win on the battlefield,” Kepner said.
Over 100 Soldiers graduated this iteration of BLC.
Sgt. Justin Huber, a multiple launch rocket system crewmember with the 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, graduated with the highest cumulative grade point average among Guardsmen in the class, earning him a place on the Commandant’s List. The list is a distinction reserved for the individuals who graduate in the top 20 percent of their class. Huber received a coin from Kepner during the ceremony for his excellence.
“It definitely means a lot for him to be here,” Huber said. “He’s proud of his Soldiers and what they’re doing.”
Kepner said it is important to maintain his interaction with the troops. “We can never lose touch with Soldiers,” he said. “This is a big part of being around Soldiers in order to let them know that the senior NCO corps cares about what they’re doing and to make sure they know the work they’re doing is important.”
Kepner said he has learned many lessons during his career as an NCO.
One of the most important lessons Kepner learned as a sergeant was during his time as anArmy rappel master, he recalled. It was his responsibility to properly secure Soldiers in their harnesses before their descent. Kepner would, occasionally, incorrectly hookup a Soldiers on purpose to see if they would check their own equipment.
Kepner said he remembered hooking up a Soldier incorrectly, like he had done in the past.
He then asked the Soldier if he was ready to go.
“Yes, sergeant, I am,” the Soldier said.
“Don’t you want to check your hookup?”
“I don’t have to check it, sergeant. You hooked it up. And you wouldn’t let anything bad happen to me. If it was wrong, you wouldn’t let me go.”
That was the moment he realized the impact and obligation NCOs have to keep Soldiers safe, Kepner said.
“What sergeants do is truly a matter of life or death with our Soldiers,” he said. “We are obligated to enforce standards. That’s how we keep Soldiers safe.”