Fort McCoy NCOA visit with Veterans at Tomah VA

Members and instructors of the Fort McCoy Non-Commissioned Officer Academy (NCOA), taking a Basic Leadership Course (BLC), spent time with Veterans at the Tomah VA Medical Center recently.

Fort McCoy NCOA visit with Veterans at Tomah VA

An instructor of the leadership course suggested the visit.

“We just changed to a new curriculum for the Basic Leader Course where there is a little bit of space at the end so we started trying to find things in the community that they could do to add to the community,” said Sgt. Dustin Reetz, small group instructor for BLC. “I remember when I got back from Afghanistan, I was not in a good place and I hung out with a lot of Veterans who were at American Legion and they helped me through my hard times. So, I thought, what better thing than to bring students here to learn from out past from the people who were there and possible help them in their time of need.”

According to Fort McCoy, participants in the BLC program receive basic leadership training, and the foundation for further training and development.The NCO Academy was activated at Fort McCoy in 1988. The academy is one of the largest tenant organizations at Fort McCoy providing institutional training with more than 1,800 students attending annually for the Battle Staff Noncommissioned Officer Course and the Basic Leader Course.

“It’s for junior leaders to develop to become the NCOs or, if they are already NCOs, is to become future leaders to go back to the Reserve or the National Guard or acting component and become better leaders,” further explained Acting Senior for the 4th Platoon, Alex Blas.

One area soldier shares how he was ready for the opportunity.

“My unit recognized that I was stepping up and helping a lot of the other people in my unit and so they asked me if I wanted to go and I said yes,” explained Specialists Gary Williams of Phillips, Wis.

Ashley Wesley, serves as a human resource specialist for unit in Fort Jackson S.C.

“It’s a 22-day training process. I am actually active Guard Reserve, which means I am active duty at a reserve unit and we have a mixer of National Guard and reservist,” said the specialists from Columbia, S.C.

After receiving a briefing from Jennifer Conzemius, the Tomah VA Voluntary Services Officer, the 30 NCOA participants met with Veterans for hours of conversation, bowling, games and other interactions.

For many it was their first time at a VA medical facility.

Sgt. Travis Blocker has served 14 years and plans to add his family on his next VA visit with Veterans.

“I don’t know how many people come and visit but it is something I have never done. It is good talking to other Vets. I would take my young children to get them familiar with what we go through for their freedom,” said the Reservist from Fort Bragg.

“It was extremely fun. It was eye opening. I definitely want to do it more often if I can. This was my first time coming to anything like this,” added Wesley. “Everybody here is a person. They want to have conversations and have somebody to talk to just like anybody else. The person I was with just wanted to talk. We watched a movie and it was a good time.”

Specialist Torean Shaw of St. Paul, Minn. enjoyed the conversation with the Veteran and was surprised by the outcome of the checkers match.

“I wasn’t expecting him to kick my butt. He was very skilled. The conversation I had a chance to have with him was very interesting. Being a Veterans is something special to people who have served. It was a really good conversation.

Specialist Zach Patrick sees how this type of interaction is useful.

“This needs to be done more often as it continues to build that unit cohesion. They are in here and we live in such a fast-paced society that we often times forget that.”

The NCOA is hoping to continue the VA volunteering with future classes and some of the instructors are looking to return on their own time.

“This is a first time go and I hope it turns into something that happens with every class, said Sgt. Reetz.

“I know I plan on probably visiting here more. I hope this becomes a reoccurring thing. It is really helpful.”

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