238th Regiment reaches milestone as an Institute of Excellence

“Best bang for the buck” prepares active duty and reserve component Soldiers for real world missions

 Story by David Altom, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

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“Always ready, reliable and accessible!” Military police students practice civil disturbance tactics during MOS class at the 238th Regimental Training Institute at the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center. The 238th RTI recently received accreditation as an Institute of Excellence, qualifying it to teach active duty and reserve component soldiers across several disciplines. (Kentucky Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Dennis M. Anderson, 238th Regimental Training Institute)

GREENVILLE, Ky. – In a time of budget cuts, drawdowns and a post-war scramble for resources and money, a bright light of achievement shines on the Commonwealth of Kentucky.  The 238th Regimental Training Institute, once reknown as the Kentucky Military Academy, has caught the eye of the United States Army – and in a good way.

It was January of this year that the 238th RTI was designated as an “Institute of Excellence” by the Army, the culmination of a series of inspections that resulted in a 98% average, with three of five inspections with a perfect score.  This designation is the first for the 238th, covering a variety of disciplines to include field artillery, infantry, military police, officer candidates and warrant officer candidates.

What does this achievement mean for the 238th RTI and the Kentucky Army National Guard?  In short, it means greater training opportunities for the Kentucky Army Guard and a secure relationship with Big Army.

“This Institution of Excellence accreditation puts us in the top echelons of our peers,” said Col. Allen Denny, commander of the 238th RTI.  “This is important as it gives us a leg up when competing for resources, additional courses and other opportunities.”

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Students in an artillery class conducted by the 238th Regimental Training Institute at the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center. Cadre push to have the latest training on the technological skills so soldiers are better prepared when they hit the ground on deployment. (Kentucky Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Dennis M. Anderson, 238th Regimental Training Institute)

“We are in an uncertain environment due to a shift in strategy, a transition from an Army at War to an Army in Preparation, and an era of fiscal uncertainty,” said Denny.  “However, this accreditation puts us in excellent position to maintain and to grow and to continue to add benefit to the Kentucky National Guard and the One Army School System.”

With 11 full-time and 54 part-time staff members on board at the 10,000 acre Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center, the 238th RTI is not the largest such institution, which makes the accreditation all the more remarkable.  Other facilities such as Camp Shelby, Miss. and Fort Jackson, S.C. have been around for a lot longer and are considerably larger, but the 238th RTI is hot on their heels in terms of growth and quality of instruction.

Click here to read about the Kentucky Army Guard’s first ever combined officer and warrant officer graduation

“This accreditation solidifies our credibility, whether it’s training Kentucky National Guardsmen or Guard members from other states,” said Lt. Col. William McDaniel, operations chief for the 238th.  “It also gives us the opportunity in certain course fields that we have to train active component Soldiers so they receive the same training value here that they would at an active duty school.”

Capt. Anthony Haley, budget analyst resource manager, wasn’t surprised that the regiment received its accreditation.  “This was something we’ve been preparing for about three years.  A lot of hard work and dedication went into preparation into getting to this point.”

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Busting down doors — Students practice tactical skills during exercises conducted by the 238th Regimental Training Institute at the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center. The quality of training provided by the 238th RTI is such that it’s common for students to return home and ask when the next level class is available. (Kentucky Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Dennis M. Anderson, 238th Regimental Training Institute)

Credit where credit is due

While Haley said that the accreditation was a team effort, he pointed to two specific elements in the mission’s success:  the training staff and cadre, and the quality assurance team.

“Our quality assurance guys need to get some of the credit.  They spent a lot of time looking the documents and the standards and making sure that when the TRADOC accreditation team came that they could see and understand that we were meeting the Army standards.”

To hear everyone talk about the accreditation process, Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Estes gets much of the credit for making sure that the regiment got it’s due recognition. Regulations had to be analyzed, spreadsheets composed and binders assembled. Then it all had to be presented and explained.  As the quality assurance NCO, that was Estes’ job and he’s lauded by the staff for pulling it off with exemplary professionalism and a ton of hard work.

Estes, a true quiet professional, summed it all up in one sentence:  “It was just another day in the office.”

There’s more to it, of course.  Estes explained that while he had to look at and assess the standards, the instructors were the ones who got the job done … and done right!

Professional and credible instructors

“The regiment has always had good instructors,” he said.  “But it wasn’t always easy to show ‘what right looks like.’  We’ve always instructed very well and put out quality Soldiers.  What the accreditation standard does is make you show that you’re actually doing that, and doing it at a higher standard.”

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At the firing range with the 238th Regimental Training Institute at the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center. Hands on application of classroom skills is an essential ingredient in training professional soldiers. (Kentucky Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Dennis M. Anderson, 238th Regimental Training Institute)

That’s the measuring of it all.  But then there’s the actual hands-on instruction, the meat of the matter and the key to the 238th’s success.

“What it all boils down to is, if we’re not putting out a quality product, we’re not going to get repeat business,” said Sgt. 1st Class James Abston.

The quality product, of course, being professionally trained Soldiers.  A field artillery course manager, Abston says the “repeat business” from his students is testament to the high level of training affected by the regiment.

“Our students are the reason we’re here,” Abston said.  “I’ve got guys who just graduate from the lower level courses emailing me asking when the high level courses are being offered.  They’re getting our name out there and asking to come back, plus they’re telling their units to send more troops to us for training.”

The accreditation is all nice and good, but Abston sees the role of the regiment as a higher calling.

Click here to find out more about the Kentucky National Guard Warrant Officer program

“To me the most important part is that these students can wind up deploying and in the middle of the fight.  Most of them have already been deployed – they’re war veterans and they know what they need.  They’ll throw down the flag if they need to, so that means you have to provide quality training and prove that you know what you’re talking about.”

The experience and leadership exhibited by the students has proven to be an asset to the schoolhouse, says instructor Sgt. 1st Class Timothy England.

“We scan our students as they come through and we put a bug in their ear about coming back and being an instructor,” he said. “Our instructor pool improves with each year.  They learn from each other, they don’t hoard information but instead they love sharing it.

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This is what it’s all about!  The 238th Regimental Training Institute has full access to range facilities at the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center, one of the fastest growing training sites in the nation.  (Kentucky Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Dennis M. Anderson, 238th Regimental Training Institute)

NCOs are the backbone

Of course, behind every unit is a top sergeant, in this case the regiment’s Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy Goad.  And like any good top sergeant, Goad brags on his non-commissioned officers, giving them credit for the work that’s been done.

“As long as the Army’s been around the NCO corps has been its backbone.  In the time that I’ve been here I’ve been so proud of the quality of our NCOs.  They’re phenomenal!  I just give them some direction and they take it and run with it.  You can’t find a better group in my opinion.  That shows in our accreditation as an institute of excellence.”

Goad points out that a majority of the RTI’s staff is M-Day, or part-time.  “I have to salute our M-Day staff.  They’ve got other jobs and careers in the civilian world, but they still put out quality training that is high above the standard.”

One of the misconceptions about the regiment is that it doesn’t deploy.  That’s true.  But it’s also true that “the school house” is full of instructors who have deployed, literally “been there, done that and got the t-shirts to prove it.”

“Approximately 80 percent of our staff has deployed at one time or another,” said Master Sgt. Charles Johnston, senior field artillery instructor.  “When our students see that combat patch on their instructor’s uniform, that means something.”

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Kentucky National Guard Officer Candidate students take a moment to relax after a required 10-mile ruck march to complete phase two of their OCS curriculum with the 238th Regimental Training Institute at the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center. The 238th RTI also offers a warrant officer candidate program as well as a broad range of MOS training for active duty and reserve component NCOs. (Photo by: Spc. David Bolton, Public Affairs Specialist, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Kentucky Army National Guard).

Technology and the future

Johnston also points out that the 238th RTI aggressively pursues updating the technology that they teach on.  “If we find out that our courses are lagging behind we push pretty hard to make sure that we update our gear and put it in our training.  We want to make sure that what we’re teaching is something that matters to our students and is up to date.”

So there you have it.  While history shows that the post-war U.S. military often ponders future missions and direction, the Kentucky National Guard and the 238th Regimental Training Institute have a definite purpose – and perhaps even a higher calling.

Chief instructor Master Sgt. John Hazlett sums it all up with characteristic though practical optimism:

“This accreditation is a celebration of the fact that we have all of these different elements at this regiment and they’re all being recognized at the highest level.  If any of these elements fail at their job, we don’t become an institute of excellence.  So everybody’s got to do their part for us to succeed.”

“The future of the Kentucky National Guard is happening now at the 238th,” said Hazlett. “The point of the spear is right here.  New ideas that come out of active duty, from Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa, we’re the first to implement those right here, right now.  When a Soldier comes here, they truly learn how to be a leader, how to lead a squad, a platoon or a company.  When they leave here, they leave better than they ever were before.”

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