Category Archives: Editorials

Post-military employment: the final collective task


By DALE WILLIAMS
Special to the NCO Journal

More than 200,000 servicemembers are projected by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to leave the active service annually through 2019. Data from the U.S. Department of Labor shows that recent veterans from 18 to 34 years of age have a higher unemployment rate than non-veterans in the same age range. Veteran hiring programs and initiatives have been shown to contain value. However, unemployment and post-military job retention problems among recent veterans persist.

Many public and private sector employers have undertaken initiatives to attract and hire veterans transitioning from active service. Ultimately, however, the primary responsibility for obtaining post-military employment rests with the individual Soldier. Thus, an NCO’s duty to care for a Soldier’s well-being is fulfilled once the individual leaves active service — or is it?

In contemplating what additional steps may help Soldiers establish productive post-military careers, NCOs may consider employing a “TripleA strategy,” where the three “A”s stand for Acceptance, Assistance and Accessibility.

A leader must first make a conscious commitment to accepting responsibility to support a Soldier entering the civilian workforce. It is purely a personal choice, but acceptance of this responsibility involves taking a proactive position, or mindset, that indicates a willingness to help the Soldier beyond mandated transition requirements.

Once a leader decides to accept responsibility to aid a transitioning Soldier, the second step requires leader assistance during the Soldier’s job-search period. The period occurs while the Soldier is in uniform. However, it is common for Soldiers to begin their job search on their own before entry into formal transition programs or after they leave the service. This aspect of the Soldier’s transition requires that the leader has a basic understanding of the civilian hiring process.

The NCO should understand that though there are differences in specific hiring procedures among private sector employers, as well as among federal and other public sector employers, the overall hiring process follows a general pattern. First, consider and identify the type of employment the Soldier desires after military service. When the Soldier shares his or her post-military employment plans with his or her leader, the leader, in turn, is better prepared to assist with and monitor key points in the hiring process.

It may be said that a Soldier’s relationship with an organization begins when the Soldier applies for the desired position, commonly through a company’s website. The individual is viewed as an applicant once their application is entered into the organization’s applicant tracking system for prescreening analysis. Depending on the system used, even highly qualified candidate applications may not make it beyond this stage of the process if the resume is not formatted to match the essential job functions of the position closely. It is vital that applicants read the position description carefully and ensure that their experience, knowledge, skills and abilities align with the specifications of the job — without copying the job description word-for-word into the resume.

Although it may initially appear as simple as uploading one’s resume, the application process often involves both uploading a formatted resume and manually entering the same resume information into specific fields on the company’s ATS. The applicant should have an electronic copy of the resume opened and be prepared to copy and paste information from it into the company’s system.

After the system has identified what its algorithm suggests are highly qualified candidates, applicants are selected for initial interviews. The interview validates information on the resume and further determines which candidates best meet the organization’s specific needs. As many Soldiers’ immediate supervisors are noncommissioned officers, the next step is where the NCO plays the most critical role: accessibility. After an interview, the remaining applicants may undergo testing, which may involve measures of aptitude, physical ability, personality and other pre-employment assessments.

Many employers also conduct background and reference checks of candidates they are interested in at this point. The leader should be accessible not only to their former Soldier but also the potential employer. Therefore, it is vital that applicants obtain and maintain accurate contact information (e.g., emails and phone numbers) of their former leaders or immediate supervisors. It is essential to establish a reach-back point of contact before transition between the Soldier and leaders who have something positive to say about the Soldier.

In the final stages of the process, companies often have narrowed the list down to a few candidates, sometimes holding a second or third round of interviews with additional company personnel present — potential supervisors or co-workers, for example — before making a conditional job offer. After the conditional offer is made, companies may sometimes require the candidate to undergo a physical exam or other post-offer assessments, making the job contingent on passing any final requirements. After that, the final offer is made. The final offer period is where many companies negotiate salary and benefits packages with the selected candidate, and presuming that there is agreement, the candidate is hired.

The current generation of veterans are the beneficiaries of unprecedented levels of collaboration between public and private sector entities in efforts to utilize the skills, knowledge and abilities that service members bring to the civilian workplace. Leaders who understand the selection and hiring processes are better able to predict where and how to assist Soldiers in their search for employment. For their part, transitioning service members who equip themselves with knowledge of civilian employment practices are better prepared to navigate paths toward obtaining the job they desire. Through effective communication between the transitioning Soldier and the leader, they can ensure that the final objective is successfully achieved.

Dale Williams is a performance consultant with a Central Texas consulting firm that specializes in providing evidence-based integrated solutions to small businesses that increase efficiency, strengthen employee knowledge and abilities, improve leadership, and attain business goals. In addition to business-related consulting, he has worked with service members pro-bono for more than 10 years on numerous aspects of transitioning into the civilian work sector.

Keeping the standards on APFT


By MICHAEL C. SEVCIK
Special to the NCO Journal

The following is a editorial submitted to the NCO Journal. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the positions of the U.S. Army, Department of Defense or the U.S. government.

“Now, an army is a team. It lives, eats, sleeps, fights as a team. This individuality heroic stuff is a bunch of crap.” — George S. Patton Jr.

I read with keen interest the NCO Journal article by Maj. Jeff Jager and Aaron Kennedy, published Oct. 26. Several important “sweeping generalizations” from Soldiers and the article, “Is Physical Fitness Overvalued in the Army?” came to light.

  1. “Acceptable fitness is possessing the physical strength, endurance and mental toughness to overcome the stress of harsh, austere environments, as well as the physically demanding tasks associated with full-spectrum combat operations.”
  2. “Well, I think the purpose should be to gauge a Soldier’s ability to perform his or her job in combat. But in reality the Army PT test is more about ease of administration, maintaining appearance — a very narrow subjective view on what it means to be physically fit.”
  3. “The APFT is a horrible metric, and there is too much stock placed in it. Neither the pushup or situp has ever helped me out in combat, and although I can run sub 13-minute 2-mile, I am certain I will never outrun any caliber of round. The APFT does not translate and cannot assess a Soldier’s ability to fight and win in combat.”
  4. “The subjectively defined ‘physical fitness’ has resulted in disproportionate focus on ensuring that Soldiers are able to pass APFTs … This disproportionate focus has created an approach to physical readiness training in which individuals and units ‘train for the test’ instead of ‘training how we fight.’”

I believe that comments such as these reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of what the APFT is for, how physical fitness fits in with overall training and how a comprehensive approach to standards-based training is part of unit readiness.

The objective of Army Physical Readiness Training is to enhance combat readiness and leadership effectiveness by developing and sustaining a high level of physical readiness in Soldiers as measured by strength, endurance, mobility, body composition standards, healthy lifestyle, warrior ethos and self-discipline. As outlined in the index G-9, AR 350-1, the objective is never listed as an individual goal; rather, all physical readiness training has as its fundamental objective to enhance combat readiness.

In this context, let me posit a sweeping generalization of my own: Any unit may rise to have a small percentage of their Soldiers get over 290, or even 300, on their PT test. We see this in the Army all the time when small unit leaders/commanders set up some arbitrary or capricious APFT standard, and we usually high-five ourselves as our PT studs finish running a sub-13-minute 2-mile run. But this exceeding the standard is meaningless to overall readiness of a platoon or company, because in many of these same units we see a significant percentage of Soldiers who cannot pass the minimum APFT standard. What we should be celebrating is the company command team that consistently gets 100 percent of its Soldiers to pass the APFT. And though accomplishing this standard is impressive, it is fundamentally part of a much bigger standard.

The higher standard is the overall readiness, which is outlined by hundreds of different “readiness” standards. Show me a platoon, company or battalion that consistently meets “every” standard, and I’ll show you the best unit in the Army. Said another way, show me a unit who is a flash-in-the-pan PT stud unit, and I’ll show you the same unit that consistently fails to meet medical readiness, vehicle/equipment readiness, property accountability readiness, crew/collective training readiness or a host of other critically identified Army readiness standards.

In a sense, this discussion, the surveys and article on APFT becomes a very shallow discussion if not taken in context with what Gen. Mark Milley, the chief of staff of the Army, has been hammering home to our Army for more than a year. Readiness is much broader than an individual APFT; it is a part of a collective and comprehensive view toward physical, social, spiritual, emotional and family resiliency for individuals.

But more importantly, standards outlined principally in AR 350-1 are not designed for individual Soldier fitness, but rather for Army organizational readiness. Every unit commander/first sergeant team in the Army today is busy and simply must risk compromising some aspects of training standards to best meet its readiness mission.

Finally, the authors conclude the article with a superb recommendation about the misplaced focus on high APFT scores and how this has turned selection and promotion boards and process into a breeding ground that places an overemphasis on PT at the expense of leadership and intelligence. To that I say, “Spot on.” A true test of intelligence and leadership at all levels is how creative, adaptive and inspirational leaders balance getting after the top goal — readiness.

Show me the leaders at any level who can meet all of the standards rather than a handful of arbitrary standards, and I’ll show you a command team that is truly ready.

Retired Col. Michael C. Sevcik served in the Army for more than 30 years and has commanded at the company, battalion and brigade level. He teaches at the Army’s School for Command Preparation, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Cyber’s impact on military strategy


By STAFF SGT. MATHEW TINSLEY
782nd Military Intelligence Battalion

Within America’s military “cyber” has held status as a powerful buzzword for many years. At all levels of military planning and operations, leaders of units have tried to get a piece of the cyber pie and integrate its concepts into their operations. One of the central questions that has persisted around cyber is how and to what extent will cyber conflict require a reconsideration of strategy. The military exists largely in two broad areas: the strategic level of long-term and large-scale planning, and the tactical level of smaller-scale, short-term operations. Cyber will undoubtedly have an effect on both of these operational domains.

When examining both domains, cyber’s effect on strategy can be examined from a short-term and long-term perspective. The military’s strategic level deals with long-term plans crafted at high levels of leadership. Strategic plans tend to address questions dealing with conducting entire war campaigns. From this perspective, in the short term, new cyber capabilities will require little reconsideration of the basic strategies the military employs. The Department of Defense’s mission is overall national defense, primarily from foreign adversaries. That has not and will not change. Even in the 2015 release of the DOD’s cyber strategy, Defense Secretary Ash Carter compared challenges posed by cyber to old Cold War challenges. The reason for this is that, initially, new technology is viewed from the perspective of what is familiar to the user. The military as a whole simply took cyber and used it to optimize its existing strategies and methods. Cyber has been used in new avenues of foreign intelligence, it gives commanders new ways to view battlefields and it has been integrated into weapons systems. But the base strategies the military employs have yet to really change. The most notable short-term change comes from the military’s job to defend the United States. In the past, attacks on U.S. soil and U.S. infrastructure the military needed to respond to were few and far between, with 9/11 and Pearl Harbor being prominent instances. But with the ever-increasing worldwide connectivity in the digital age, American infrastructure, government and industry are constantly open to attack from foreign entities and governments. The result is that for some military components, actively defending the United States is a full-time job.

Long-term changes, on the other hand, have the possibility of prompting a massive change to military strategy. The world has already seen hints of possible cyber strategy for the future. Between 2011 and 2013, Iran initiated cyber attacks on U.S. infrastructure, including banks, dams and educational institutions. Although the attacks were minimized, they showed the potential for damage to the nation. One bank, Zions Bancoporation, lost more than $400,000 while its website was down for only two hours. If larger institutions or a large number of financial institutions were targeted for long periods of time, the financial damage could be upward of millions or billions of dollars. Iran targeted infrastructure that could cause physical damage as well. The Bowman Avenue Dam in New York was breached by Iran hackers to the point where they could have controlled sluice gates that hold back water. Luckily, the controls had been manually disconnected for maintenance around the same time, which prevented the Iranian hackers from actually having control over the dam. More devastating cyber attacks were seen in 2008 during the Russo-Georgian War. Russian cyber attacks were coordinated with the Russian invasion of Georgia. As the Russians advanced into the country and fighting ramped up, so did the cyber campaign. Given that it was 2008 and Georgia had a relatively basic technology infrastructure, the Russian attacks were mainly designed to cause confusion during their ground campaign. But given the current situation in the Ukraine, the Russo-Georgian War seems to provide warnings when examined in hindsight. The question for the future is how advanced and efficient these techniques can become. Will we see the capability to shut down entire power grids, communication structures, water systems or dams? If so, and if we do not maintain the ability to defend them, the devastation from such cyber attacks could start and end wars before any ground troops are deployed or kinetic weapons are fired. At the very least, cyber capabilities will become more integrated into strategic plans as the world continues to become more reliant on technology and digital communications.

The tactical side of the equation is relatively stable. In the short term, the strategies employed by ground troops in their operations will remain the same, while new cyber-based capabilities are employed to support those operations. One of the most visible integrations we see today is the ability to quickly and accurately locate targets. Especially given the often chaotic state of urban warfare — where a mix of friendly, hostile and neutral elements are all intermixed — the ability to quickly and accurately characterize all three groups is vital. In reality, the military has been integrating these capabilities into ground operations for a while, but incorporating them into the everyday unit on a large scale is the new challenge. In October of 2015, the Army tested these capabilities on a large scale with a cyber validation exercise that occurred at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. The 780th Military Intelligence Brigade provided cyber capability support to the 2-2 Infantry Division and the 201st Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade. Traditional military units were able to provide adequate support and protection to the cyber elements that aided in target identification and verification. This type of cyber support is used in many other instances, such as drone targeting, and has been used not only for identification of high-value targets but has also aided in identifying and tracking hostages. None of these ideas or strategies are really new, but cyber is accomplishing them in new ways and, at times, accomplishes them more accurately, making ground troops’ job easier and safer.

Long-term changes are dependent on the type of technological changes that occur in the future. The drone program has become one of the most visible — and for some, the most concerning — use of modern technology in military operations. Currently, the drones are just planes with no physical cockpit, and the actual act of targeting and firing upon targets is controlled by humans. But many are already talking about the possibility of letting drones be fully controlled by computers. These drones would draw on intelligence sources, verify targets, make decisions about risk and decide whether to fire, all without a human’s direct input. These weapons are actually pretty easy to make and have been made already. The questions about implementing these into normal everyday operations come down more to ethics than capability. Should computers be deciding who dies? Are computer databases of laws and treaties good enough for a computer to cross-reference and then decide if international law can be breached? Who is accountable if the computer makes a mistake? At this point, the consensus is that this is a terrible idea. An open letter was presented at the opening of the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in 2015 warning of the dangers of weapons under the control of artificial intelligence. This letter was endorsed by the likes of Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, Steve Wozniak, and more than 40 robotics researchers from around the world.  Even the DOD decided to address this topic years ago with DOD Directive 3000.09, which stipulates that all weapons systems must be designed to have “appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force.” From this, it seems that in the future, cyber will not replace or eliminate the need for human ground troops. How extensively cyber gets integrated with tactical operations has yet to be seen.

Cyber, like all new forms of technology, has affected all aspects of our lives, and the military is not immune from its influence. Computer technology has been integrated into the lives of everyone from the commander in chief all the way down to the enlisted Soldier on a patrol. How far this integration goes in the future is really up to the imagination of technology inventors and innovators. For now, cyber seeks to make the lives of Soldiers easier, more efficient and safer.

U.S. Army Pvt. Christian Garcia, a radar operator (foreground), and Spc. James Craig (background), a Field Artillery surveyor, both from the Field Artillery Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, stationed out of Vilseck, Germany, weave cords through the camouflage net in order to keep their radar and area of operation concealed during Saber Strike 16 at Tapa Training Area, Estonia, June 19, 2016. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Steven M. Colvin)
U.S. Army Pvt. Christian Garcia, a radar operator (foreground), and Spc. James Craig (background), a Field Artillery surveyor, both from the Field Artillery Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, stationed out of Vilseck, Germany, weave cords through the camouflage net in order to keep their radar and area of operation concealed during Saber Strike 16 at Tapa Training Area, Estonia, June 19, 2016. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Steven M. Colvin)

Thoughts on the basics of direct leadership at the platoon and squad level


By 1st Sgt. Mark Grover, Sgt. 1st Class David Chadburn, Sgt. 1st Class Mattheu Lee and Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Rogers

While serving as members of Soldier/NCO of the Month and promotion boards, my platoon sergeants and I noticed a knowledge gap regarding what a noncommissioned officer is and does. Questions such as, “How often should a team leader inspect his Soldiers’ rooms?” received a wide range of answers, although most of the answers seemed to be “weekly.” Focused questions regarding Physical Readiness Training, Troop Leading Procedures, Mission Command and even daily duties of the NCO seemed to yield a variety of responses. It was obvious that the answers were either incorrect or memorized. My platoon sergeants and I discussed the results of the board, then began to scrutinize our infantry troop (part of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, “Dragoons”).

While discussing our knowledge gaps and shortfalls with our squad and team leaders, we identified a need to begin a series of Leader Professional Development classes that target basic duties and responsibilities, a series with a strong theme. We decided to focus on, “What are the powers of the NCO and how does the responsibility inherent in those powers impact the NCO?” It is all well and good to give orders and “be in charge,” but what are the consequences of poor performance? Does one NCO’s lack of performance have a real impact on the rest of the corps? Beginning with a discussion of Physical Readiness Training (PRT), this series will address specific duties and then expand on how those responsibilities play out in our daily lives.

We begin with a caveat: Though a deep knowledge and understanding of publications and TTPs — as well as general competence — is the minimum expected from our NCOs, we also acknowledge that training happens at different paces in different places. Any NCO worth his or her stripes can quote the Army’s definition of the purpose of leadership: “The process of providing purpose, direction and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization.” TC 7-22.7 lists 11 duties of NCOs on page 5-4. There is myriad guidance between the Training Circulars and ADP 6-22. This paper seeks to provide an easy reference for some of the points made. It is not reasonable to expect every staff sergeant to have read and understood every applicable publication, but it is certainly reasonable to expect leaders to provide classes and training on relevant publications.

What is it an NCO should do?

“Lead” is an overly simplistic answer, and so is “train.” We all know that NCOs lead physical training in the morning, but we seldom take the time to analyze that responsibility. Physical Training (PT) requires that NCOs both lead and train. The following is a discussion on what “leading” and “training” mean with regard to PT. We argue that daily PT sessions require both leading and training in strict accordance with ADP and ADRP 7-0, complete with rehearsals, trainer certification and After-Action Reviews (AARs). Anything less is a missed training opportunity and a failed (though not career-ending) leadership moment.

Officers do not lead the conduct of PT. They prioritize it, block off time on the training calendar, provide a direction and a vision, but do not lead PT. NCOs should treat PT like every other training event and apply the eight-step training model or Troop Leading Procedures (TLPs).[1] More importantly, however, is that we seldom observe squad or team leaders conduct regular TLPs for physical training. The conduct of physical training is often taken for granted, although an exceptional unit will have a PT calendar posted and discussed at weekly training meetings. Regardless of published calendars, NCOs who lead PT often do not lead to the training standard, even though they know, or certainly should know, the standards.

In our experience, very few NCOs use TLPs for PT. Why do so few team and squad leaders routinely apply the TLP to a daily training event? In a word, assumptions. We incorrectly make a number of assumptions about both our own and our subordinates’ abilities and knowledge. It is easy to assume that our Soldiers, team leaders and squad leaders are thoroughly proficient on the PRT’s conditioning drill, although a simple test of their knowledge will most likely show they do not even know those drills in sequence, or that they may not be able to name each of the 10 drills at all. Though there is a strong argument to be made that many of our leaders have also failed to embrace FM 7-22’s guidance, the core of the problem remains that leaders make incorrect assumptions regarding their abilities.

Fixing incorrect assumptions is not a simple task. First, leaders must acknowledge they have made incorrect assumptions. Second, they must agree that correcting their assumptions is a valid and meaningful task. Next, there must be a leader with the commitment and knowledge who can provide the training necessary to correct the deficiency. It does not take much to assume that every company-sized element in the Army has quite a few knowledgeable and committed leaders – and it is certain that the vast majority of leaders often correct improper assumptions.

There are four basic assumptions regarding physical training that are all too often incorrect. This list should not be seen to be exclusive, nor should it be seen to be demeaning. We experience these assumptions in an excellent troop; there are no reasons to believe our experiences are unique or display gross incompetence. Solving problems is at the heart of the NCO Corps; identifying problems is our first step. These are common misconceptions regarding the PRT that we have found in our troop.

1. Soldiers are entirely familiar with and capable of performing PRT to standard.

2. PRT is not a good enough program to produce highly fit and ready Soldiers.

3. The individual leader can create a better physical fitness program than PRT.

4. Checking the block is good enough to accomplish the intent of PRT.

Looking at these assumptions individually, we can see a number of embarrassing fallacies. Looking closer and replacing PRT with any other form of training, we may even begin to see a pattern emerging. These assumptions are not necessarily unique to how we look at PRT. As we examine these assumptions, we may find that they apply equally to other training events. We encourage reading this list twice, thinking closely about other training events the second time.

1. “Soldiers are entirely familiar with and capable of performing PRT to standard”

As pointed out earlier, no, they are not. Again, this is an easy metric to test. FM 7-22 is a straight-forward manual, although it seems that we are hard-pressed to find many leaders who have taken the time to read through this important publication. It is unrealistic to expect our Soldiers to be familiar with and capable of performing PRT to standard if our leaders do not have a solid understanding of the PRT manual. It is always the responsibility of the NCO Corps to train Soldiers, and training requires a deep understanding of the subject material. We are comfortable accepting a long learning curve in our own troop as our NCOs begin to master the fundamentals of PRT. Unfamiliarity should not be the defining hindrance to the incorporation of PRT. Rather it should be the goad we use to improve ourselves and our units. For classes and online instruction, www.atn.army.mil offers a complete training program for leaders.

2. “PRT is not a good enough program to produce highly fit and ready Soldiers”                

“Soldiers trained through PRT demonstrate the mobility to apply strength and endurance to the performance of basic military skills such as marching, speed running, jumping, vaulting, climbing, crawling, combatives and water survival,” according to FM 7-22. Until a leader is intimately familiar with, and has extensively implemented, the entire manual, that leader does not have a rational argument against using PRT to produce highly fit and ready Soldiers.

Further, PRT is Army law, proscribed in AR 350-1. The doctrine found in FM 7-22 is representative of our profession of arms. Our leaders have a basic expectation that NCOs will comply with both regulations and doctrine. Leading requires the maturity to follow orders and intent beyond what one expects from one’s subordinates. Very few leaders will tolerate Soldiers making excuses for failing to follow orders and guidance; we must avoid being leaders who excuse in ourselves what we refuse to accept in others.

3. “The individual leader can create a better physical fitness program than PRT”

This assumption may or may not be verbalized by the individual leader, but this is also easy to test. A simple observation during PT hours will suffice to inform whether the leader is using FM 7-22 or is using their own version of training. There are two simple points here. First, if a leader can produce a better program than the PRT, where is that program? Second, does the leader have a comprehensive program that accounts for Soldiers’ varying levels of readiness while simultaneously tying into the training calendar? It is highly doubtful that any other physical training program has so thoroughly tied itself to the warrior tasks and battle drills or taken into account the nature of Army training. PRT addresses each of the seven principles of training, and it is unlikely that any training regimen produced by any external source could address Army doctrine so closely. We do not claim that there are no other physical fitness routines that will fit the bill, but referring to our argument’s assumption two, we would be hard pressed to find many subordinate NCOs who are thoroughly familiar with both the PRT and another physical fitness program.

4. “Checking the block is good enough to accomplish the intent of PRT”

Obviously, no training program that does not include involved leaders who follow the Troop Leading Procedure will accomplish that program’s intent. Many NCOs who understand that FM 7-22 is doctrine will begin their morning with the preparation drill and end with the recovery drill, but will not follow PRT during the PT session itself. Lip service to doctrine is a disservice to the Soldiers and the NCO. A second point here is that many times our subordinate leaders assume that their leaders will correct them if they are wrong. Unfortunately, that assumption is all too often incorrect.

Clearly, PRT is a viable and robust program with the capability to produce physically fit Soldiers. Clearly, it is the responsibility of the NCO Corps to lead PRT with intelligence and discipline. However, it is our experience that PRT is not the Army standard that it should be, and we hope to use the insights in this article to energize team and squad leaders to familiarize themselves with FM 7-22 and incorporate those principles and exercises during daily PT, rather than half-stepping their way through working out or using outdated exercises that have been shown to have negative effects. An NCO’s strength comes from his or her knowledge, skills and attributes; leading PT correctly and applying the TLPs appropriately will only strengthen our Soldiers and our NCO Corps.

Discussion points

Bring these questions up with your peers and leaders. Post your insights on the bottom of this article or on the NCO Journal’s Facebook or Twitter page.

Do the four assumptions apply as equally to other training events? For example, do they apply to preliminary marksmanship instruction or any other task an organization does routinely?

  1. Would enforcing the application of the TLP process for PRT have a beneficial impact on other training events? (Is the juice worth the squeeze?)
  2. Should daily PRT events have a priority at company training meetings? Who is the best person to answer this question?
  3. All training involves AARs. Is an AAR necessary or even desirable after every PT session?
  4. Do these assumptions hold true in other training events? i.e.:

a. Soldiers are entirely familiar with and capable of performing *TRAINING EVENT* to standard.
b. *TRAINING EVENT* is not a good enough program to produce highly fit and ready Soldiers.
c. The individual leader can create a better plan than *TRAINING EVENT*.
d. Checking the block is good enough to accomplish the intent of *TRAINING EVENT*.

Easy reference list

ADP and ADRP 6-22, Army Leadership: http://armypubs.army.mil/doctrine/DR_pubs/dr_a/pdf/adrp6_22.pdf

ADP and ADRP 7-0, Training Units and Developing Leaders: http://armypubs.army.mil/doctrine/DR_pubs/dr_a/pdf/adrp7_0.pdf

FM 7-22, Physical Readiness Training: http://armypubs.army.mil/doctrine/DR_pubs/dr_a/pdf/fm7_22.pdf

TC 7-22.7, Noncommissioned Officer Guide: http://armypubs.army.mil/doctrine/DR_pubs/dr_a/pdf/tc7_22x7.pdf

Online PRT training, planning and other resources available at https://atn.army.mil/

Army PRT app available on Google Play and the iTunes store

Bonus thought

“Old school”: We have all heard this nebulous phrase, typically used in a derogatory comment about how discipline issues are being handled. “My old platoon sergeant was old school and would have smoked that Soldier until he puked.” Soldiers use this phrase regardless of their time in service or knowledge of how issues were resolved in “old school” times. I have heard specialists with less than two years of service use this phrase as often as staff sergeants with eight years in the infantry, none of whom were even born when the Gulf War was ending. “Old school” is a phrase with as little use as “common sense,” which is more of an egotistical statement about one’s limited knowledge than it is a true base of knowledge.

 

[1] It is important to note that ADRP 7-0 points out “Training models, such as the 8-step training model, are only guides and not lock-step processes. They can be useful, but they are effectively just modifications of either the MDMP or TLP” (2012, p. 3-10).

The new NCOER and the need for graduate-level counselors


By SGT. MAJ. WILLIAM E. WHITE JR.
The United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps

Rating officials face significant opportunities and challenges as part of the Noncommissioned Officer Evaluation Report system update, which begins Jan. 1. Both the opportunities and challenges stem from the fact that U.S. Army Human Resources Command will be tracking rater tendencies and constraining senior rater profiles. This increased accountability will help focus the target group for promotion and increase the percentage of strong NCOs selected for the next rank. It will also be a mammoth leadership challenge, specifically for senior raters who will carry the burden of informing the majority of NCOs during their Annual Performance Review that they are not the “Most Qualified” NCO in their peer group. To achieve the potential benefit, we rating officials must accept the challenge before us — to do our jobs better and make our Army stronger. Leaders must begin laying the foundation for success now, and the key to that success is simple: effective counseling.

Consider these three facts: Inflation of NCOERs has been the accepted standard for years; the NCOER is not the problem, but rather the rating officials’ execution of the evaluation; senior raters have not previously been required to conduct counseling.

These are not easy facts to face. But, as leaders, we must step back from the situation and view it objectively. From a purely logical perspective, in any group of NCOs, only one can be the best. However, the inflation of NCOERs over the years has led to far too many NCOs receiving “1 and 1” ratings, which AR 623-3 defines as “the cream of the crop and … a recommendation for immediate promotion.” We have taught ourselves and our young NCOs that only a “1 and 1” is acceptable and, therefore, far too few of our NCOs are being honestly and accurately assessed. Not every NCO is the cream of the crop. Not every NCO deserves a recommendation for immediate promotion. If senior raters were already executing noninflated reports based on consistent counseling, there would be no reason to implement a constrained senior rater profile because senior raters would be self-regulating.

The lack of self-regulation, resulting in consistently inflated NCOERs, has led to systematic regulation: the constrained senior rater profile. Under this new system, which limits senior raters to no more than 24 percent of evaluations assessed as “Most Qualified,” 76 percent of rated NCOs will now only be “Highly Qualified” (or “Qualified” or “Not Qualified”) on their evaluations. This will be the first time that many NCOs are told they are not the best among their peers. That will be a hard pill to swallow for many, even if they know deep down that the NCO to their left or right is usually one step ahead of them. Effective counseling is the best remedy leaders have to address this situation.

Counseling by the book

We already have Army doctrine and regulations providing leaders with guidance regarding performance counseling. The current NCOER system requires raters to counsel rated NCOs quarterly. The new system requires senior raters to counsel the rated NCOs at least twice during the rating period.

ATP 6-22.1, The Counseling Process, states, “Counseling at the beginning of and during the evaluation period ensures the subordinate’s personal involvement in the evaluation process.” The primary purpose of quarterly counseling, as defined in AR 623-3, is “telling the rated NCO how well he or she is performing.” These definitions are fine minimum standards, but effective counseling is far more important than enforcing a subordinate’s “personal involvement” or cataloguing a list of tasks completed or not.

ATP 6-22.1 outlines the basic structure for counseling. Anyone in position to senior rate a NCO should already understand the four stages of counseling, the various types of developmental counseling and the three basic skills required of a counselor. One section of this ATP, however, provides important information that our new NCOER system will likely make critical for counselors.

With at least 76 percent of NCOs now assessed as less than “Most Qualified,” counselors will need to understand “Addressing Resistance.” Traditionally, resistance to counseling has been a situation associated with negative performance or disciplinary counseling. In the case of laying the foundation for success with the new NCOER, counseling resistance may become a more frequent issue to face, and as the ATP states, that resistance may come from either the counseled individual or the leader conducting the counseling.

The subordinate’s resistance is easy to foresee. More than a few NCOs will be resistant to the idea that they are not being evaluated as “Most Qualified.” This will lead to some resistance from the counseled NCO, but our current inflated NCOERs should indicate that some resistance to counseling will also come from leaders.

The leaders’ resistance may stem from a hesitance to be completely honest about their assessment of an NCO. Every senior rater would like to think that he or she is consistently providing honest assessments, but if this lack of forthright assessment didn’t exist, there would have been far more NCOs receiving 3s or even 4s on the current NCOER.

Senior raters owe it to their Soldiers and to the long term health of the Army to provide honest and specific evaluations of a rated NCO’s potential. Though we leaders are charged with developing our subordinates to the limits of their potential, we are not responsible for ensuring that all our subordinate NCOs get promoted. This false notion, however, is alive and well. Quite often, when a rating official executes an honest evaluation that assesses an NCO at less than “Among the Best” and “1 and 1,” the rated NCO is surprised by the less than stellar rating and feels betrayed by his or her leader. If a rating official conducts regular effective counseling, however, there is no reason for the rated NCO to be surprised.

Counseling beyond the book

When an NCO has just been told, perhaps for the first time, that he or she is not “Most Qualified” for promotion, one of the first things he or she will want is an answer to some version of this question: “How do I change your mind?” or “How do I get ‘Most Qualified’?” or “What did ‘Joe’ do that I haven’t?”

The answer is, there is no clear answer. The training materials for the new NCOER explicitly state that most NCOs will be rated “Highly Qualified.” Senior raters will no doubt find they have to make a hard choice between two or more competent and fully qualified NCOs. When assessed against the standard of duty performance, the two NCOs may appear virtually equal, with similar experience and results during the rating period. It will be up to the senior rater to decide who is the most qualified, and that will probably come down to small details and a subjective assessment of the NCOs’ comparative potential. In short, there is no way for a senior rater to provide a checklist of items for a “Most Qualified” rating.

Staff Sgt. Shannon Knorr, Headquarters and Headquartets Company 1st Battalion, 211th Aviation Regiment, and 1st Sgt. Bryan Smethurst, first sergeant HHC 1-211 AR of the Utah National Guard, conduct an end-of-tour counseling session in Kunduz province, Afghanistan, on Nov. 18, 2012. (Photo by Sgt. Duncan Brennan)
Staff Sgt. Shannon Knorr, Headquarters and Headquartets Company 1st Battalion, 211th Aviation Regiment, and 1st Sgt. Bryan Smethurst, first sergeant HHC 1-211 AR of the Utah National Guard, conduct an end-of-tour counseling session in Kunduz province, Afghanistan, on Nov. 18, 2012.
(Photo by Sgt. Duncan Brennan)

Instead of providing a checklist, rating officials must be prepared to clearly define the performance standards against which the NCOs they rate are being assessed, but this is only a first step. The act of senior rating — considering an NCO’s potential — is more subjective. At some point, senior raters will have multiple NCOs who perform exceptionally well against the performance standards. This is when a senior rater must make a subjective comparison between NCOs to identify the “Most Qualified” among a pool of “Highly Qualified” NCOs. Senior raters must be prepared to “own” their assessments and use the NCOER counseling to mentor subordinate NCOs. This ownership begins and ends with honest and effective counseling.

Leaders at all levels must mentor raters and subordinate leaders on effective counseling. The emphasis here is on effective counseling. Leaders and Soldiers should not be satisfied with counseling that does little more than provide a list of tasks to be accomplished or a list of deficiencies to be overcome. Certainly counseling has to address the standard quantifiable subjects such as Army Physical Fitness Test performance, schools attendance, primary duty performance assessments and individual qualifications, but more than this, counseling has to address the intangible elements that traditionally set the great NCOs apart from the good ones. The importance of initiative, determination, resilience, lifelong learning and broadening opportunities, to name just a few, must be part of the mentorship an NCO receives in counseling.

Most importantly, counseling should be a frank, two-way discussion between the counselor and the NCO that includes the NCO’s strengths and weaknesses and how those strengths and weaknesses manifest themselves in the performance of daily duties. This requires a balanced discussion involving both positive reinforcement of what an NCO is doing well, along with candid feedback about where the NCO needs to improve. The leader must also listen to the Soldiers and their perception of their own performance, strengths and weaknesses in order to fully understand their developmental needs. Having had that two-way discussion, the leader can then focus on mentoring the subordinate on ways to emphasize strengths to minimize or mitigate weaknesses and providing resources and opportunities to the counseled NCO to directly address those weaknesses.

Of course, the subordinate NCO also has a role to play. The best mentorship in the world is wasted on an NCO who does not want to accept constructive criticism and seriously consider how to apply it to grow. These NCOs exist throughout the Army and are the ones most likely to be upset and vocal when they find they are among the 76 percent rather than the 24 percent. Frankly, NCOs who consistently refuse to accept and apply counseling provided to them should be rated “Not Qualified.” Refusal to seek and apply constructive criticism is a failure of the Leader Attributes “Character” and “Intellect,” and the Leader Competency “Develops,” and should not be assessed as “Qualified” at any level.

It is critical that we all recognize that counseling requires preparation on the part of the counselor and the individual counseled. This preparation and counseling require a commitment to consistently make the time. Time is a leader’s most precious resource, and a leader’s time should be prioritized for those activities that only the leader can do and which provide a high payoff when the leader uses his or her time for that activity. Counseling must be a leadership priority.

Effective counseling is a consistent dialogue between leader and Soldier that provides mentorship, direction, coaching, development and, perhaps most importantly, trust on both sides. Ultimately, this is where the NCOER process transitions from an administrative responsibility to a leadership function. With coordinated effort among raters and senior raters to produce honest NCOERs supported by frank counseling and dedicated mentorship, the NCOER process becomes a real tool for leader development and enhancement of potential. Long-term dedication to this effort will benefit the Army exponentially as we grow a more competent and potential-laden NCO corps. If the next generation of leaders maintain a dedication to mentorship and counseling, they will be capable of propelling the Army further than the current generation can conceive, and that will be the measure of our success.

All the ideas above are quickly summarized in the words of retired Col. Joe Buche, who said, counseling “is not designed to make you feel good about yourself. It is designed to help you improve your performance and therefore feel good about yourself. … Graduate-level leaders listen to counseling and use it as they approach the future. Amateurs leave counseling sessions [complaining] about their boss. Decide to which group you wish to belong and act accordingly.”

Let us, as an NCO Corps and as leaders, decide to be graduate-level counselors who build graduate-level leaders for the future of our Army.

Sgt. Maj. William E. White Jr. is the sergeant major of the United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps.