First Army’s mission to help reserve component Soldiers prep for deployment is given a boost by the First Army Alvin C. York Academy, where attendees learn more about performing the duties of an observer coach/trainer.
The school was renamed last year to honor York, a First Army veteran and one of the nation’s best-known Medal of Honor recipients.
“We wanted to embrace a tradition of training Soldiers, whether they were active duty, National Guard or Reserve, and the name Alvin C. York fit,” explained academy commandant, Command Sgt. Maj. Roberto Alvarez.
To facilitate that training, the academy employs 16 instructors, who give 23 five-day classes each year. It is expected that every Soldier assigned to First Army will complete the academy, so the instructors have influence on everyone who wears First Army’s historic ‘A’ patch.
“At any given time, any First Army Soldier can perform OC/T duties and prepare a unit for deployment and combat,” Alvarez said.
The academy drills into the finer points of performing observer coach/trainer tasks through demonstrations, practical exercises, after action reviews, and a gathering of lessons learned.
While most students travel to the academy at Camp Shelby, Miss., there are times when mission or logistics require Mobile Training Teams to be dispatched to a unit’s home station. This is most often the case with First Army Reserve Component units and ensuring that they are trained to the same York Academy standard helps to build and sustain the Total Force.
“Mobile Training Teams developed from the need of our 85th Support Command Reserve units to get their OC/Ts to the academy,” said Sgt. Maj. Brad Tener, First Army G3 training sergeant major. “The MTTs travel to a location where the students can come in for five days, attend the academy, and not disrupt their lives as much as traveling to Camp Shelby would.”
Another way the academy has adapted is in handling the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic through remote learning.
“It was a little harder because virtual training is not the preferred method but we got the mission accomplished,” Alvarez said. “All this happens because of the professional NCOs I have in the academy.”
Whether the training is virtual, mobile, or conducted at Camp Shelby, the focus is on graduates leaving as better mentors to their Reserve Component partners.
“When they come to us, we don’t expect them to be subject matter experts but we give them the tools at how to be successful. Success is them having the partnered units ready to go fight,” Alvarez said. “We want to create professional OC/Ts that are subject matter experts in doctrine and who pass that knowledge onto others.”
“A good OC/T is doctrinally proficient in their MOS tasks and duties,” Tener added. “They have a professional demeanor in everything they do and in how they work with others.”
One of the academy’s main functions is to keep OC/T’s skills sharp, relevant, and modern.
“We want to retain the ability to evaluate and offer AARs to training audiences in a professional manner that is standardized across our formations,” Tener said. “We’ve all done AARs but we don’t want to get rusty or learn bad habits so the academy lays it out in a doctrinally-correct manner.”
When they leave the academy, Tener said, graduates are fully ready to assist reserve component partners in their deployment preparation and in the successful accomplishment of their duties of war.