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NEWS | March 11, 2020

Montana Reserve Soldiers shine in Noncommissioned Officer Academy, at home and abroad

By Master Sgt. Ryan Matson 652nd Regional Support Group

“I like to win.”

That’s the attitude Spc. Kumiko Baire, a human resources specialist from Lakeville, Minnesota, carried with her when she attended the Basic Leader Course in Sante Fe, New Mexico, from February 3 to 25.

The course is the first course in the Army Noncommissioned Officer Education System, meant to teach specialists and corporals leadership skills as they progress to the rank of sergeant and become a noncommissioned officer.

Baire, who has lived in Helena, Montana, for the past two years, but grew up in Lakeville, said if she was going to spend time away from her two daughters, she was going to make it count. She definitely did, earning the honor of distinguished honor graduate as the top graduate out of 60 prospective sergeants in the class. She also won the essay contest and was presented with both the academy and regimental coin for her achievements.

Baire, who has been in the Army Reserve almost three years as well as four on Active Duty, was not alone. On the other side of the globe, two of her fellow Soldiers from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 652nd Regional Support Group, Spc. Lauren Smith and Spc. Colton Smith (not related), attended BLC in Grafenwoehr, Germany. The 652nd is mobilized from Helena, Montana, to manage base operations for 11 base camps throughout Poland, so Lauren and Colton got the rare opportunity to attend their first NCOES in Germany, from February 4 to 28. Both Smiths fared well, and Lauren was on the commandant’s list, finishing 4th overall in her class of 180 peers.

“It was a great experience,” Lauren Smith, who grew up in Cassville, Pennsylvania, but now lives in Eureka, Montana, said. “We had some Slovenian Soldiers in our class, so getting to interact with Soldiers from other countries was amazing.”

Lauren and Colton were in the same rotational group, but in two different classrooms with separate small group leaders, so they actually only saw each other in passing during the school.

“She spent a lot of time preparing and working on things after class, and if it wasn’t for little technical things, she (Lauren) would have been the distinguished honor grad,” Colton Smith, from Marion, Montana, said.

To earn top billing, the specialists needed to conduct a squad Physical Readiness Training session, conduct drill and ceremony, instructing a class, deliver a public speaking brief, as well as write a series of essays on various topics relevant to Army life. The Soldiers said the course was mostly academic, with individual Soldier tasks taking place in the field.

“I like to write, so that part was easy for me, plus the topics that we wrote about like sexual harassment and equal opportunity were near and dear to me,” Baire said. “It was really fun for me.”

It was Baire’s first time in New Mexico, and the Smith’s in Germany. The class took up most of their time, however, so outside of class, Baire said her only time in the area was enjoying a green chili burger at Lotta Burger and Lauren Smith briefly walked around a park in Grafenwoehr.

“We were so focused on getting our assignments for class done, sometimes I forgot I was in Germany, except for the weather,” Colton Smith said. “Some days we had all four seasons all in one day.”

The Soldiers said they feel the 652nd Soldiers did particularly well at BLC for a simple reason: they wanted to be there.

“Mentally we were ready to take the next step and we had the drive to push for it,” Lauren Smith said. “You do see the Soldiers who are there just because their units told them they had to be there, and it reflects.”

The school brought confidence and fresh motivation to the Soldiers.

“I had already wanted to be in the Army for the long term, but I was there with a bunch of people in combat MOSs, and those guys motivated me to want to do something more,” Colton Smith said.

“In the next year, I would like to go airborne and I want to try for commandants in ALC, because I came so close this time.”

Lauren Smith, who attended Misericordia University and was a nurse in the civilian sector, said she is contemplating either commissioning in the Reserve, staying enlisted and looking for another mobilization opportunity or working for a federal law enforcement agency.

For both Lauren and Colton Smith, the opportunity to attend BLC overseas in Germany while mobilized was also unique because the two attended BLC in Grafenwoehr with the 7th Noncommissioned Officer Academy, who hosted the first ever NCOES in the Army in 1949.

“That was an extra motivator for me,” Colton Smith said.

In the end, the Soldiers said they walked away with a new perspective on leadership, aside from the honors they earned.

“I learned so much from this school,” Lauren Smith said. “It forced me out of my comfort zone to get up in front of people and step up in that leadership role. Here (in Poland), I don’t have Soldiers under me, so this gave me an opportunity to be in that role. It was a very discussion-based learning environment, so I learned a lot from interacting with other Soldiers and hearing their experiences.”

“I want to be a servant leader and be there for my Soldiers – not just telling them what to do but being there with them,” Baire said.

Baire said she wants to return to Active Duty, which she has paperwork in to do, and to become an instructor.

“I realized there were a few more points to becoming an NCO I hadn’t thought about,” Colton Smith said. “Everyone thinks their leadership style fits, but this showed different styles, and how you can modify your own style to influence people and become a more effective leader.”