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Guardian earns USMC top honors

  • Published
  • By Ethan Johnson, Space Training and Readiness Command Public Affairs

U.S. Space Force Master Sgt. Phillip Lowery recently returned to Vandenberg Space Force Base after graduating with top honors from the U.S. Marine Corps Staff Noncommissioned Officers Academy (SNCOA) at Camp Johnson, North Carolina.
Education plays an increasingly important role in today’s military. To ensure leaders are well-equipped and prepared to take on the challenges of the next rank, each military service requires grade-specific Professional Military Education (PME).
In preparation for increased leadership responsibilities, Lowery, senior enlisted leader of 1st Delta Operations Squadron, Space Delta 1, volunteered to attend a Space Force-equivalent PME offered by the U.S. Marine Corps.
“Having experienced more than 16 years of Air Force and Space Force PME, I wanted to take on something new and challenging,” said Lowery. “I’ve worked with Marines on and off throughout my career, but this was my first time being fully immersed in their culture.”
Structured similarly to enlisted PME in other services, students attending the Corps’ SNCOA are split into smaller groups where they conduct physical training (PT), study ethical leadership, complete graded essays, participate in guided discussions, and take written tests.
Concepts covered include leadership, warfighting, mission planning, decision-making, nutrition, health, command climate, and more.
Going into the course, Lowery anticipated a heavy emphasis on PT. He was surprised to learn the course was more focused on critical thinking and mission planning.
“We still had group PT several times a week, but the expectation was that students would continue to work out during their personal time,” said Lowery.
His class was composed of 67 students, including one Guardian, five Airmen, 60 Marines, and a soldier from the Slovenian Armed Forces.
Lowery spoke highly of his experience studying side-by-side with Marines.
“Every Marine I worked with was well-educated, smart, efficient, and mission-focused,” he said.
Each night, students had between 20 and 80 pages of pre-reads to prepare them for the following days discussions. Consequently, Lowery spent most evenings studying, writing papers, working out, or collaborating with his peers.
As a Guardian student, he found the Corps’ curriculum to be challenging at times.
“The Marine Corps planning process was challenging, but I did my best to learn and insert myself into their process in a way I could best complement them,” he said. “As the course progressed, my unique perspective proved to be value added.”
Throughout the course, students could view and monitor their academic standing. As the end neared, Lowery’s classmates cheered him on as he battled for the highest academic score among the 67 students.
Despite his best efforts, Lowery finished with the second-highest academic score. An Airman classmate earned the top seed.
Nonetheless, Lowery’s exceptional performance throughout the course resulted in his selection as the Honor Graduate, a staff-voted award based on a student’s academic standing, physical fitness, participation, and demonstrated leadership.
Lowery was honored and humbled by his selection. He credited his command for being supportive during the course and thanked his classmates for their relentless encouragement.
Lowery added that in addition to academic and leadership performance, a first-class Marine Corps physical fitness test (PFT) score is required for most of the SNCOA awards.
“During the final PFT three-mile run, some Marines willingly lowered their scores to pace me and help me achieve a first-class. I will always remember and appreciate that they did that for me. It was phenomenal.”
With the course complete, Lowery intends to bring lessons learned and his newfound perspective back to the Space Force and share it with his fellow Guardians.
“My goal in attending this course was to see things from a different perspective and bring that back to embed into our training pipeline and operations,” he said. “The Space Force is currently a melting pot. A lot of us transferred from sister services, so it’s important we continue sharing and learning from each other.”
U.S. Space Force Chief Master Sgt. James Seballes, senior enlisted leader of Space Training and Readiness Command, spoke to the significance of Lowery’s recent success.
“Master Sgt. Lowery’s accomplishment at the Marine Corps Staff NCO Academy is a prime example of the caliber of Guardians we have attracted and the physical and mental resilience we are growing in our force,” he said. “He is a humble leader who has spent a career caring for and developing others and has continually excelled above his rank. Having observed him continually succeed under pressure, it is no surprise that MSgt Lowery earned this prestigious recognition – the Space Force is incredibly fortunate to have him in our ranks.”