Nineteen students graduate as first class of the Delaware National Guard's Delaware Leadership Academy

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  • By Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Matwey
  • Delaware Air National Guard
The 19 members of the first graduating class of the Delaware Leadership Academy were recognized Oct. 3 after completing an innovative year-long program designed to enhance the professional development of future Delaware National Guard leaders.

The Academy is intended to develop leaders capable of effectively handling joint local, state, and national level assignments, with coursework focused on homeland security and homeland defense missions for the State of Delaware.

The DLA is a first-time venture for the Delaware National Guard, creating a graduate-level educational program (accredited by the American Council on Education) for students from both the Delaware Air and Army National Guard, challenging Soldiers and Airmen on joint teams while facilitating unique personal exchanges.

Created in partnership with Wilmington University in New Castle, Delaware, Guard members who complete the Academy earn 18 of the 36 credits required by Wilmington University for a Master of Science degree in Management with a concentration in Military Leadership.

Major Gen. Frank Vavala, Adjutant General of the Delaware National Guard, said, "The establishment of the Delaware Leadership Academy is the culmination and fruition of a goal that I and my leadership team had for the professional development of our young leaders. Drawing on our experiences, we looked for a way to bridge the gap between the traditional military continuing education and the realities of what our leaders of tomorrow faced as Guardsmen because of our unique role as Citizen-Soldiers/Citizen-Airmen."

At the graduation, Gen. Vavala introduced Delaware Air Guard Brig. Gen. Hugh T. Broomall, Deputy Adjutant General, Delaware National Guard, as the driving force behind the development of the program. Gen. Broomall said, "The [DLA] is unique to the National Guard and Delaware, and no other state has a program similar to our curriculum."

The Academy uses the LandWarNet e-University Blackboard Learning System on the DoD/Army Knowledge Online web site (also Blackboard at Wilmington University). Widely used by universities and high schools across the world, the Blackboard system has real-time online discussion boards, document libraries and faculty feedback available 24/7 worldwide.

Designed for the employed professional who has all the responsibilities of today's busy lifestyle, coursework can accommodate members who deploy during the academic year. One Delaware Army Guard Soldier, 1st Lt. Michael Malloy, completed academic requirements after he deployed to Baghdad, Iraq.

The DLA has online courses, and consists of six modules: Communication Essentials of Military Leadership, The Role of the Guard, Joint Force Operations, Strategic Leadership and Decision-making, Military Leadership Skills and Crisis Leadership.

Throughout the year, students and a dozen part-time volunteer faculty instructors from the officer and enlisted ranks of the Delaware Guard provided feedback to the Academy's administrator and dean, and to Wilmington University staff, leading to various improvements to the online experience.

Eight Soldiers from the Delaware Army National Guard, 10 Airmen from the Delaware Air National Guard and one civilian comprise the members of Delaware Leadership Academy Class 1, Class of 2009. The graduates are 11 commissioned officers, five enlisted noncommissioned officers, and two warrant officers who each volunteered via a self-nominating process, with applications reviewed by a selection committee.

Thirteen graduates live in Delaware, with nine of those residing in New Castle County and the other four residing mid-state in Kent County. The other graduates reside in Pa. and Md., with one N.Y. resident. Two graduates are part-time members of the Delaware Guard, and two graduates are female. Four of the Airmen who graduated are currently deployed overseas or not at home station.

Over the past year two of the 19 DLA graduates, Lt. Col. Joseph Bartel and Lt. Col. David LaPanne, Soldiers in the Delaware Army National Guard, also completed 18 additional credits at Wilmington University, earning all 36 credits required to earn their master's degree.

Class II of the DLA is underway, with 18 students (nine Soldiers, eight Airmen and one civilian) enrolled for the 2009-2010 program.

Six of the new graduates remarked about everything from the virtual classrooms, student collaboration and the knowledge gained in their Academy experience.

Lieutenant Col. Bradford Knight, Del. Army Guard, said, "It was a great opportunity to glean information from those more experienced and also an opportunity to share with those with less experience. I learned more about the intricacies of my state National Guard (both Army and Air) than I realized existed."

Major Valentine Miller, Del. Army Guard, said, "My experience with DLA was superb. I currently have a master's degree in human resource management but I took the course so that I could provide junior and senior NCOs as well as officers and peers who currently do not possess a master's degree a first-hand account of what to expect from this course. The information I obtained reinforced a lot of my prior training but was enhanced by getting a basic knowledge of my Air Force brethren and sisters."

Lieutenant Col. Wiley Blevins, Del. Army Guard, said, "The experience was extremely beneficial. On a professional level, I was able to get an even better picture of how the ANG functions on its own and with the Army on a joint level. In my cohort, one of our partners was stationed in Iraq and he was able to contribute to the group and participate in all the activities via the Blackboard site and the DoD collaboration site. On a personal level, it's been a while since I was in a university setting and the collaboration with Wilmington University was a way for me to begin working back towards my master's degree."

Warrant Officer I Joseph Nye, Del. Army Guard, said, "I graduated from the University of Delaware in 1986, but never made much of an effort to get an advanced degree. MBNA [bank and previous civilian employer] had a few programs but I never really pursued it. It wasn't until this was offered that I got fired up for it. For me, the best part was that it got me back into the education mode. In the military, I enjoy the courses I go to, but I had not given much thought to getting my master's degree. With this program, I was able to take the first half with co-workers, get back in the rhythm of homework and group projects, and focus on completing my master's. I'm not sure I would have ever started an advanced degree without this course. I was definitely one of the ones who were a little concerned about a largely on-line environment. Showing my age, I guess that I preferred the idea of going to a class one day a week, reading a book ahead of time, and then discussing it in a traditional class format. With the DLA, it was chat rooms on Wednesday night, group projects on-line Sunday morning, and on-line tests Saturday night with the occasional paper thrown in, but after a few weeks, it became second nature."

Master Sgt. Eunice Kindle, Del. Air Guard, said, "I found the [DLA] course very challenging and self rewarding. Our entire class, both Army and Air worked together (jointly) to complete assignments and meet weekly deadlines. Working with the Blackboard electronic posting system made it possible to share comments and projects with our classmates and instructors."

Jason McNair, the one civilian who completed the Academy (and a former Del. Air Guard member), said, "I found the experience rewarding on many levels. Being a civilian taking the course, a lot of the information taught in the modules are readily translatable into my civilian career. For example, subjects like strategic thinking, leadership and management, though taught from the perspective of the military, can be used outside of the military. The online process made the class convenient, but it required more time to manage some of the group activities than traditional classroom courses. But the best part was the camaraderie developed with some of my classmates. I got to interact with a few individuals that I probably would never have met and I am impressed with some of the future leaders of the Delaware National Guard."

Senior leaders reflected on the creation and inaugural year of the Academy.

Brigadier Gen. Broomall said, "Times have changed for the military with more frequent deployments and new, complex missions to support the citizens of our state and our nation's national security requirements. To meet these emerging challenges, Delaware National Guard leaders created a program that was academically sound, including relevant topics to make the coursework meaningful to our members and our organization. We built a program with flexibility to meet the needs of our busy people, using cutting edge online modules for student-teacher collaboration and learning, balanced with face-to-face group meetings. Our students have succeeded in meeting this first challenge, becoming Delaware Leadership Academy graduates, the mid-point to obtaining a bona fide masters degree. "

In remarks at the graduation, Lt. Col. Andrew Hartnett, Dean of the Delaware Leadership Academy, talked of the initial promise participants made to serve in the Guard and their sacrifice of time away from family, employer and community, and the resulting promise of the Delaware National Guard to assist Academy graduates to have a more fulfilling career.

"We went through the proverbial crawl, walk and run stages as education professionals and Delaware Guard subject matter experts to craft this program into a solid learning experience to help members of the Delaware National Guard better serve our community," said Col. Hartnett.

Doctor Clint Robertson, professor at Wilmington University and Director of the Masters Business Program, spoke at the ceremony on the cooperative planning for the Academy began well over a year ago with Delaware Guard and University officials, plus accreditation and curriculum development. 

Brigadier Gen. Terry Wiley, Assistant Adjutant General for Army, Delaware National Guard, and other senior leaders of the Delaware National Guard who worked to make the Academy vision into a reality attended the graduation.

The DLA was financed through a grant from the State of Delaware's First State Quality Improvement Fund, a fund to support state agency initiatives that promote long-term commitment to continuous quality improvement initiatives.