Scott Gibson | Combined Arms Center Public Affairs
After a hiatus of several months because of the COVID pandemic, the Combined Arms Center and Army University’s Pre-Command Course is once again focusing on the in-person training of future brigade and battalion command teams. While most people will equate that to mean commanders and command sergeants major, it also includes a program that focuses on other important members of that team — the command team spouses.
The School for Command Preparation Spouse Course at Fort Leavenworth returned to in-class facilitation Oct. 13, providing the spouses of future commanders and command sergeants major, at both the battalion and brigade level, with the awareness and skills needed to contribute to a positive environment of family, unit and community.
“The Army recognizes that the many aspects of Army life are improved and directly due to spouse leadership and involvement,” said Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth Commanding General Lt. Gen. James Rainey in a welcome letter to the 30 class participants. “The course offers a unique opportunity to develop skills and gain information that will not only ease your transition into your new role but will provide you with tools that can help you throughout all aspects of your life.”
In addition to myriad communication and leadership topics, the students are given access to many senior Army leaders and senior Army spouses, including Maria McConville, spouse of the chief of staff of the Army, and Dr. Beth Funk, spouse of the Training and Doctrine Command commander. Besides providing briefings and information, the senior leaders and spouses also wanted feedback from the participants to help provide solutions to problems that Army families face. In addition to senior leader briefings and discussions, students also had senior spouse mentors in the classroom, including Tracy Rainey, the wife of the CAC commander, to ask questions and gain insight from.
Concerning soldier and family readiness group participation, Funk, who spoke to the group by VTC, urged the participants to foster a team atmosphere where diversity of thought and action are valued and people’s strengths are developed.
“Don’t worry about filling someone else’s shoes,” Funk told the spouses. “Wear your own shoes.”
According to several students and facilitators alike, some of the most valuable dialogue from the class happens after the students depart the classroom for the day.
Tasha Pingel, the spouse of a brigade command sergeant major heading to the 2nd Cavalry Regiment in Vilseck, Germany, described a scenario in the classroom that sparked a later conversation regarding a military spouse who approached their readiness group leader with a concern that their service member may be showing signs of post-traumatic stress.
“I asked my husband ‘How would you approach that as the sergeant major, and how should I approach that as a spouse?’ … We all know that the Army right now has had some serious suicide rates and that’s a huge thing in the military, and that is one of the things that hits home for me,” Pingel said. “I want to know how to address this with my spouses as the brigade senior enlisted spouse, so we discussed that, including resources that we would provide and how we would handle such situations.”
The PCC Spouse Course is taught at the graduate level and is on par with leadership training provided by major universities and corporations. In fact, the brigade spouse seminar is taught by expert facilitators from Kansas State University who also happen to be the wives of former battalion and brigade commanders.
Margie Banach, a professional executive coach and one of the Kansas State University facilitators supporting the program, explained that a major key to success of the weeklong class, is the diversity of the class participants.
“They come with a myriad of experiences and professional backgrounds and they are sharing that with each other,” Banach said. “It is taught at the graduate level and it is a scaffold — one thought or one subject matter builds upon the others throughout the week. They have connected with other spouses that are like-minded and so they have learned in class but they have also developed those relationships that they will take with them moving forward.”
Pingel agreed that the level of the program is on par with some of the best leadership programs offered.
”I have taken a couple of communication and management courses, and the things that I am learning here are very similar,” Pingel said. “You know people pay beaucoup bucks to send their employees to a seminar such as this. I’m very impressed by the education that we are learning, the different topics, the coverage … I can’t believe that we are getting this essentially for free as spouses, this is great!”
Lindsay Teplesky, the spouse of the future commander of the 4th Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, in Fort Carson, Colo., said she believes that the networking opportunities and resources gained at the spouse course will pay big dividends as she and her husband take on their new roles as members of a command team.
“I love having resources, knowing what the resources are,” Teplesky said. “I love having a network of people I can call on, and leaving the Pentagon and going to Fort Carson I don’t know everybody that is going to be in the same position with their spouse in command in Colorado, so by coming here I am meeting in my class eight other spouses who are in the same position and same boat and will be facing the same new experiences and challenges, so it is great to meet people that I can connect with and continue to talk to over the next several months as we get ready to embark on the next position.”
Lauren Bolen, a facilitator for the battalion spouses program who has also been both a battalion- and brigade-level spouse, emphasized that while she hopes that the members of her class will choose to take on an advisory role, even if they don’t, the insights they gain will have a positive impact on their lives moving into a command team role and beyond.
“The information you learn here is going to help you, it can help you in your job, it can help you in other volunteer capacities, and it’s going to enhance your life no matter what group you are a part of,” Bolen said. “I just hope that they (future command team spouses) will choose to come … Even if you’ve volunteered extensively and have leadership experience, this is my guarantee — you will learn something.”