FORT BLISS – A part of the mission at the NCO Leadership Center of Excellence is to provide the force with fit, disciplined, and well educated senior enlisted leaders.
Within the institution, two NCOs epitomize this very idea, Sgt. Maj. Billy Atkinson, a student with the Sergeants Major Academy Fellowship Program and Master Sgt. David Zeek, a Sergeants Major Course student of Class 70.
Atkinson won the El Paso Marathon, held in February with a run time of 3:01:51. While Zeek is the first senior enlisted leader at the NCOLCoE to achieve an Army Combat Fitness Test score of over 590.
Both SELs created small goals to attain these achievements, and continue to do so today.
Zeek creates several goals every day, and it all starts with getting out of bed early.
“Fundamentally, if a person completes several tasks early in the morning, whether physical or mental, your productivity level throughout the day will be higher,” he said.
While Atkinson, who won the third marathon he participated in, created short-term goals to break the three-hour mark.
“I specifically trained and set my pace for this time,” he said. “I was on target to achieve my goal [during the race] but slowed down the last three miles even more.
Atkinson added, “It was a difficult race, and even though I did not achieve my goal this year, I am still proud of my time.”
Atkinson may not have wholly reached his goal, but he attained a new title as the winner of the El Paso 2020 Marathon and is preparing for the 2021 race next year.
“I have already registered, and my goal for that race is not only to break the 3-hour mark but improve my time to 2 hours and 45 minutes.
Though their processes are different, they each have one sizeable trait in common; Discipline.
Zeek served the last ten years in the 75th Ranger Regiment, he trains cardio in the morning, runs 3-5 miles per day, and lift weights or conducts bodyweight exercises in the evening relating to the ACFT events.
“I would not say I prepared for the ACFT. Rather, I built a mindset and a discipline over the years that helped me achieve and overcome physical obstacles,” he said.
Atkinson, who started running for sport over five years ago, considers his experience life changing.
“My first marathon was the El Paso 2019 Marathon, where I placed 15th and finished with a time of 3:34:40,” he said. “My second was the 2019 Bataan Death March.”
Atkinson added, it takes “commitment, dedication, and the desire to excel. By never giving up, goals are achieved, and obstacles overcome.”
Even during quarantine due to the COVID-19, they both continue to train.
“The quarantine has not changed my training,” Atkinson said. “I still run early in the mornings [six days a week] and conduct my strength and flexibility training here in my home gym.
Zeek adds, “you do not need a gym membership to run, do pushups, sit-ups, and throw on a ruck to go for a long walk.”
Zeek further explains, “during this unprecedented time, eating well-balanced meals will make you feel good, will help prevent sickness, and will enable performance, whether in a physical or mental form.”
Being fit and disciplined is only a part of the NCOLCoE mission. They must also be well-educated professionals capable of meeting challenges.
“Continue to train smart, and never give up on your goals and desires,” Atkinson said.
“Being disciplined is a part of wearing stripes,” Zeeks explains. “If senior leaders start to relax, then the force will start to relax, and then our national security is at risk.”
For Soldiers, failure can be severe at times, but it is also a part of the learning experience.
“Of course, failure will happen,” Zeek said. “Learning from failure will produce a more agile, lethal, and resilient force, which is what we need to suppress our enemies in future wars.”
The NCO Leadership Center of Excellence is the premier institution driving innovative development for enlisted leaders, constantly focused on readiness.