January McIntosh, Directorate of Public Works, speaks at the graduation ceremony for the LEADER Program Class VII on March 3 at the Commons. The LEADER (Leader Enhancement and Developmental Education Requirements) program is a two-year professional development course that includes more than 200 hours of classroom and online activities – all while students maintain their regular work duties. (Photo by Glenn Wagner, Fort Drum Visual Information)
Fort Drum garrison employees graduate from LEADER program during pandemic year
Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (March 4, 2021) – Five garrison employees celebrated their successful completion of the 24-month LEADER (Leader Enhancement and Developmental Education Requirements) program March 3 during a graduation ceremony at the Commons.
John Kadaraitis, Fort Drum workforce management specialist, said that the program requires participants to commit to an arduous schedule of professional development – more than 200 hours of classroom and online activities – while maintaining their regular work duties. This class earned the distinction of overcoming unexpected challenges when the pandemic migrated to the area.
“It was a very unique and ever-changing environment for this class,” he said. “We were backed up three months of a 24-month program due to COVID, and that’s pretty substantial.”
They considered pausing the program indefinitely until conditions improved, but Kadaraitis said the students were adamant about continuing the training. Whenever possible, meetings, presentations and classroom learning went virtual as students and instructors learned to master the art of digital communication.
“Not all of us are technically savvy, as it were, so we had to put on our IT (information technology) thinking caps to work through a lot of that,” he said. “They did a great job and were extremely successful. Who knows? Maybe some have a future in NEC (Network Enterprise Center).”
In the course of two years, the class experienced hands-on, interactive activities such as job shadowing, development experience opportunities (DEOs), installation tours and staff rides. The class visited Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield, the Medical Simulation Training Center and Directorate of Emergency Services, to name a few.
Students mingled with installation leaders during Lunch and Learn events and worked with assigned mentors who provided guidance and support throughout the training.
For one of their class projects, Kadaraitis said that the group planned and organized a Civilian of the Quarter luncheon.
“They all worked really well together and made an awesome event,” he said.
The class also learned organizational functions while volunteering at several events such as Riverfest, Mountain Mudder and local blood drives, and at food pantries.
No matter the task, Kadaraitis said that the students demonstrated professionalism and a desire to learn and develop leadership skills.
As the program was near completion, it was uncertain whether an in-person graduation would be possible. For all they accomplished, Kadaraitis said this class deserved one. The graduation was limited to 25 in attendance to comply with COVID-19 safety guidelines, but it was livestreamed to allow colleagues, friends and family members to watch remotely.
“Congratulations on a monumental achievement, two years in the making,” he said. “You make me very proud.”
The LEADER Program Class VII graduates are Tammi Dindl, Directorate of Resource Management; Lavale Edwards, Fort Drum MEDDAC; January McIntosh, Directorate of Public Works; Kathryn Reinsburrow, Directorate of Human Resources; and Amber Sawyer, Directorate of Emergency Services.
“We have all learned a great deal about leadership and what it is to be a leader,” said McIntosh, speaking on behalf of the class. “We have also learned a lot about each other, and more importantly, ourselves. This program has made us all dig deep within ourselves and recognize our strengths and our weaknesses – then learn how to use those strengths to enhance and develop those weaknesses.”
McIntosh said that the program also provided them the tools to lead a group project and work as a team, how to apply problem-solving techniques and critical thinking when making difficult decisions, and how to use time management to prioritize tasks.
Despite initial doubt, she said that everyone became comfortable with public speaking. As a major component of the LEADER program, it was something that McIntosh dreaded. This did not come easy for any student, but McIntosh said they developed a bond that enabled them to support each other and excel.
“I would psyche myself out, and overthink things so much that my hands would shake, and my voice would shake very badly,” she said. “It became such an issue that I was assigned an additional presentation on public speaking. That turned out to be the best thing for me.”
Col. Jeffery Lucas, Fort Drum garrison commander, joined Eric Wagenaar, deputy to the garrison commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. Roberto Munoz, garrison senior enlisted adviser, to congratulate the class on their achievements and present them with graduation certificates.
Wagenaar said that having spoken to the class on separate occasions, and listening to the graduation speech, he is certain that the students have embraced the principles of leadership.
“You all volunteered to learn more about yourselves, learn more about leadership and how to be a strong leader,” said Wagenaar. “And that’s very important, and we appreciate that you did this.”
Wagenaar said that he hopes the graduates take advantage of other professional development opportunities and help inform others in the civilian workforce about the LEADER program.
To learn more about the Fort Drum LEADER program, contact Workforce Development at (315) 772-5226 or 772-5635.