• SAMS honors best, brightest graduates

  • More than 150 students graduate from SAMS.

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  • Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
    More than 150 students graduated from the School of Advanced Military Studies during a ceremony May 23 in the Lewis and Clark Center’s Eisenhower Auditorium.
    SAMS graduates receive a master’s degree from one of two courses — the Advanced Strategic Leadership Studies Program or the Advanced Military Studies Program.
    “Let’s start with this assumption: our country will be in a large-scale ground combat operation again, and it will be on your watch,” said Brig. Gen. Robert Whittle Jr., commandant of the U.S. Army Engineer School, Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., who served as guest speaker. “Today, we pass the heavy lifting to you. You will be heavily involved in planning the way forward for our Army.”
    Whittle, a 2003 SAMS graduate, shared six norms of SAMS planners with the graduates, which he said they should follow out in the field and throughout their careers.
    First, it is a SAMS network for the good of the Army.
    “You will be an authentic network like no other,” Whittle said, drawing from his own experience in Iraq when preparing for an operation. “The power of the SAMS network, simply coordinating with our classmates … made the planning go relatively smoothly.”
    Second, succeed by making peers successful and cover their backs.
    “If we cover each other’s backs, we’re going to come out intact,” Whittle said. “Don’t let anyone put any space between you.”
    Third, require only task and purpose when planning.
    “True planning starts with a blank dry-erase board. You will take task and purpose, build some courses of action, determine what resources you need and then go back to your high headquarters with the best option,” Whittle said. “That is how you will succeed, that is how your unit will succeed and in large part that is how mission command will succeed in the Army.”
    Fourth, be the professional body of knowledge for the profession.
    “The Army has invested in you by immersing you in history, theory and doctrine. Now, we expect you to be the professional body of knowledge in the field,” Whittle said. “Now that you’re SAMS graduates, who is grading your papers? I would submit that you are now graded by history. You will write the plans that bring America to victory.”
    Fifth, stay humble.
    “Many people will treat you like you’re the smartest guys in the room. You’re not,” Whittle said. “The moment when you believe your own press, you will veer toward arrogance and hubris, and you will stop learning. Further, you will no longer be successful because the people around you will not want to engage with or support you.”
    Page 2 of 4 - Sixth, be agents of change.
    “Leadership is influencing other people to do what you want them to do,” Whittle said. “You will work in positions of influence and have many opportunities to lead your peers, subordinates and superiors. Use your influence to help the Army to adapt then change.
    “If you follow (these six norms), you will be successful,” he said. “Deviate from them and you will be less than what you seem.”
    Following Whittle’s remarks, awards for excellence were presented to five members of the graduating class.
    The Col. Thomas Felts Leadership Award is considered the top award in SAMS. It is awarded to the student who best exemplifies all of the desired attributes of a SAMS student. Felts graduated from the AMSP in 1998 and was a student in the SAMS senior service program in 2005. He was killed in action in Iraq in 2006 while serving as an adviser to the Iraqi Army.
    The 2019 recipient of the Felts Leadership Award was Maj. Moises Jimenez.
    “There was a term we were taught: transformational leadership,” Jimenez said. “I think that is something that we’re continuing to experiment with.
    “I think it is really this element of sacrificing yourself for the greater glory of the greater advancement of the organization, your subordinates. Essentially, you’re putting yourself last every single time,” he said. “The United States Army today needs leaders like that, to think like that, because there are just scores of 18-, 19-, 20-year-old kids that need leadership. They desire leadership, and I think that’s what they’re trying to teach us here.”
    The Iron Planner Award for best physical fitness is presented to the student with the highest overall Army Physical Fitness Test score. The 2019 recipient was Maj. Haley Mercer. She scored 369 points out of 300.
    “Physical fitness has always been important to me,” Mercer said. “It is just part of being a holistic officer.”
    Mercer said along with regular physical training, she also does Cross-Fit six days a week, and her core seminar group of 15 officers also did group PT twice a week throughout the year.
    “For me, it was important to share my knowledge of weight-lifting and physical fitness to the entire team and improve their overall fitness goals throughout the year,” she said. “I really enjoyed it, and I think the team was able to benefit from that as well.”
    Col. David Meyer, Mercer’s seminar leader, said the team did benefit from her.
    “Haley’s physical fitness is only matched by her enthusiasm for health and fitness and the development of her peers,” Meyer said.
    Page 3 of 4 - The Col. Arthur D. Simons Center for the Study of Interagency Cooperation Writing Award recognizes the student who shows excellence in writing and provides insight and fresh thinking in advancing the knowledge, understanding and practice of interagency coordination and cooperation.
    The 2019 recipient was Maj. Erin Stevens for her monograph “War Without End: A Framework for Successful Conflict Resolution.” Her monograph will be published in the InterAgency Journal through the Simons Center.
    The final two awards recognized one student from each course — ASLSP and AMSP — who were determined to have the best monograph in their class.
    The ASLSP best monograph award recipient was Col. Nicholas Simontis for his paper “From the E Ring to the Convention Floor: Retired Flag Officers and Presidential Elections.”
    The AMSP best monograph award recipient was Maj. Megan Cain for her paper “Morale — Sustaining the Cognitive Weapon of War: Insights from the World War II Special Services Division.”
    In addition, 47 students — four ASLSP and 43 AMSP — were recognized as being on the honors list signifying the top 30 percent in their class.
    Maj. Robert Pough was recognized as the Iron Leader Award winner. The award recognizes the student who achieved the highest overall score in the Iron Leader Director’s Physical Fitness Challenge using the new Army Combat Fitness Test. The test includes six events: the maximum deadlift; the standing power throw; a hand release push-up; the sprint, drag carry; the leg tuck; and the two-mile run.
    Pough scored 573 points out of 600.
    “(The award) is a symbol that represents the importance of not just being physically and mentally tough, but the importance of leading from above, beside and below,” he said. “This school is known for its academic rigor, but it is just as much about leadership, and being physically and mentally tough is an important part of just being a soldier in general.”
    Graduates had different perspectives upon reflection of their time at SAMS.
    Jimenez said he hadn’t really understood why the Army does what it does until now.
    “In the Army, it is very easy to get carried away in the day-to-day grind. I call it trench assignment where you’re constantly in the line and working,” he said. “This year, I had the chance to really reflect and understand not just the greater purpose, but my role as an officer toward the greater Army.”
    Mercer said she now understands how to be an added value.
    “I now feel like I am capable to provide value to the division staff and give back and continue to steward the profession,” she said.
    Pough said he took away a lot from the year, but one thing stood out.
    Page 4 of 4 - “One of the SAMS (mottos) is ‘be humble and be more than you seem,’” he said. “Working in the background to ensure everything is being taken care of is important.”
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