Category Archives: Editorials

Searching for the secret to promotion

Department of the Army Secretariat

When it comes to military advancement, the questions abound — why wasn’t I selected for promotion? What must I do to be competitive? Is it whom you know that will get you promoted? Why is my cutoff score so high? What makes them better than me?

These are common questions enlisted Soldiers ask their supervisors, organizational leadership and mentors to get a better understanding of how the promotion system works. Unfortunately, everyone will have a different perspective.

That’s because the abundance of variables factoring into promotion can seemingly leave no clearly defined path for selection at certain levels. That complexity spurs conspiracy theorists, fiction writers and anyone else to voice their opinion on how the “system” works. Though the Army has changed the selection process for junior and senior NCOs in many ways during the past 15 years, transparency has always been a goal of the Army’s senior leaders. The force has tried to give its No. 1 resource — the Soldier — a treasure map to success. However, poor dissemination and improper interpretations of the information consistently cloud Soldiers’ view of this map.

Junior NCOs

Enlisted cutoff scores are a mystery to many Soldiers.  The confusion is evident on various social media websites. One will illustrate the Soldiers’ frustration with how high one career field’s score is while another site expresses joy with how low the score is. Do we as Human Resource professionals understand how the score is calculated? What avenues have been taken to educate our Soldiers?

Cutoff scores to sergeant or staff sergeant vary depending on the Army’s readiness needs at the time the cutoff score is being published. Soldiers may look in their current command and realize their unit is short of people at certain grades, and they may not understand why the Army is choosing not to promote.

The basics of junior NCO promotions are:

1.)    A Soldier has to make the cutoff score.

2.)    Points are updated through the Promotion Point Worksheet (PPW).

3.)    A certain level of Structured Self Development (SSD) is required for each promotion.

4.)    A Soldier under a suspension of favorable actions or barred from reenlistment cannot be considered for promotion.

5.)    A Soldier must have at least 12 months in service remaining if being promoted to staff sergeant.

While most of this is accepted, Soldiers may not understand the intense level of detail that goes into establishing a cutoff score. It is a system designed to help the Army maintain balance within skill sets to carry out the Army’s extremely diverse mission. Evaluation, Selections and Promotions Division (ESPD) is the face of promotions to Soldiers in the Army.

Soldiers may also not know that their career branch, enlisted Force Alignment Division (FAD), and the office of the Director of Military Personnel Management (DMPM) all play a role in how the Army promotion system works.

These departments receive input about the Army’s current inventory, authorizations, projected gains and losses, Military Occupational Specialty conversions, force structure changes, DMPM allocations based on the Army’s budget, etc. This input is used by U.S. Army Human Resources Command to set the cutoff score. HRC optimizes readiness by developing the force and promoting Soldiers to sergeant and staff sergeant in the fields in which they are needed.

Readiness dictates how high or low the sergeant or staff sergeant cutoff score is set but the Army doesn’t prevent Soldiers from striving for promotion. If a Soldier puts in the hard work and dedication toward maxing out his or her MOS’s cutoff score, the Army recognizes it by selecting the Soldier for promotion.

Senior NCOs

Understanding junior level promotions is comparatively simple. The majority of confusion and questions enters at the senior level. Promotion paths to sergeant first class, master sergeant and sergeant major are not as clearly defined. Simple eligibility criteria such as time in service, time in grade and educational requirements are articulated in the message announcing a selection board. AR 600-8-19 gives a brief overview of how the selection board is set up, but the question now is: What’s next? What information does the board consider in selection or non-selection? What is the gauge for measuring a record? Are Soldiers compared to one another?

Board members are selected because of their experience in their respective career fields as defined by the DMPM and divided into panels that cover those fields. Each panel has three or more members consisting of sergeants major, command sergeants major and a colonel in the same field. They’re charged with selecting the best qualified Soldiers for promotion based on demonstrated leadership, effectiveness and potential.

During the board process, candidates are scored from 6 to 1 based on an evaluation of the Soldier’s MyBoard File. A 6 represents superior performance with potential for promotion and continued service, and is a score usually assigned to a select few. A score of 1 shows unsatisfactory performance and little to no potential for continued service. The MyBoard File consists of board correspondence, the Soldier’s DA photo, Enlisted Record Brief, performance, education and training, records and a commendatory section of the Soldier’s Army Military Human Resource Record (AMHRR).

But what makes the board member give a certain score? This is where the selection process enters the “unknown zone.”

When a selection board begins, the board recorders assigned to the DA Secretariat brief the board members on the requirements set by the Memorandum of Instruction (MOI).  The MOI provides administrative instructions identifying zones of consideration, special skill requirements and board procedures, and outlines selection board authority. This is what’s referred to as the “left limit” of the board members’ voting philosophy. The “right limit” is the board members’ leader experience.

Each board member is given information explaining the career paths of MOSs being considered in their particular panel, along with Army regulation updates for MOS changes provided by DMPM. Board members then evaluate candidates’ MyBoard file and score them based on this information.

The board members receive candidate files in random order, limiting the number of voters evaluating the same record at any given time. Board members cannot discuss files as they evaluate candidates within their panel. Any questions about a candidate’s file are addressed to and answered by the board recorders. There is no specific panel standard that states criteria for a certain score.  A board member may use personal knowledge of the individual in scoring a candidate’s file but may not share that information with the board.

After board members within a panel score all candidates in their panel, these scores are combined to give the candidate a total score. For example, if four panel members score a candidate with a 6, the candidate has a total score of 24.

All candidates of a particular MOS are rank-ordered, creating an order of merit list set by their total score. The best-qualified-for-promotion line is drawn based on the number of required promotions of an MOS and grade to meet the readiness needs of the Army.

But what earns Soldiers a certain score? Opinions vary. Army leadership maintains that certain assignments and experiences are necessary to be selected for promotion. As Soldiers reference their career maps and requirements outlined in Army regulations they need to understand that many Soldiers have achieved the same benchmarks.

Sgt. Quintin Steeves addresses the 316th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) promotion board in December 2014 at the Vernon T. McGarity Army Reserve Center in Coraopolis, Pa. (Photo by Master Sgt. D. Keith Johnson)
Sgt. Quintin Steeves addresses the 316th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) promotion board in December 2014 at the Vernon T. McGarity Army Reserve Center in Coraopolis, Pa. (Photo by Master Sgt. D. Keith Johnson)

What makes one Soldier better than another? Most believe that it is the individual’s performance in key jobs. Soldiers are taught if they do what is required of them to the best of their ability, everything will work out. That may get them on target for the next rank, but it may not be enough. A Soldier’s performance muse be articulated through evaluations in such a way that it is evident or established that they are capable of serving at the next level.  This is where the conspiracy theorists and fiction writers begin the tales of “whom you know” and many other falsehoods. Approximately 90 percent of all senior NCOs receive “Among the Best” and a 1/1 rating for promotion and potential in their evaluation reports. This is where the job of scoring a Soldier’s record becomes difficult.

Our society is in the “Information Age,” making it easier than ever to get information distributed to the masses. This is great in many respects; however, our wish to share information has led to a decrease in originality. When board members score records, they routinely view the same ratings or wording on multiple evaluations given — outstanding becomes average. The only thing a board member has to score your record is what is annotated in your AMHRR. This means the Soldier’s entire record must contain information that clearly distinguishes him or her from anyone else within the career field. Evaluations that articulate the Soldier’s importance to his or her assigned organizations and the Army, academic reports showing the Soldier is among the top few in his or her field, a DA photo showing your attention to detail and military bearing is the next hurdle in getting one closer to the coveted rank.

The last step is something over which Soldiers have no control — Army readiness. Readiness will dictate whether one or one thousand can be promoted. The Army’s mission is: “to fight and win our Nation’s wars by providing prompt, sustained land dominance across the full range of military operations and spectrum of conflict in support of combatant commanders.” Soldiers’ records may receive perfect scores from every board member, but if they are limited by no requirements in their career field, the Army cannot promote them.

As the Army’s force structure changes to adapt to the evolving battlefield, requirements are created in some specialty MOSs and cut in others to meet the Army’s needs. New career fields were created, such as 25D (cyber network defender), 29E (electronic warfare specialist) and 51C (contracting NCO), where historically there was not a requirement. Other career fields were forced to release NCOs by using force alignment tools such as the Qualitative Service Program (QSP), which means that if the Army has no requirement for that MOS, then there is no opportunity for promotion.

The question of “what must I do to get promoted?” is different for every Soldier. The first step is the Soldiers’ responsibility: They must be willing to accept challenging assignments, perform their duties to the best of their ability and ensure their exceptional performance is articulated specifically in their evaluations.

Next, they should make sure the rest of their records reflect their abilities. Their ERBs and DA photos must reflect the attention to detail that demonstrates the Soldiers’ potential.

The final step to being selected is patience. Soldiers’ careers are built over time. Selection for promotion to sergeant or staff sergeant may be credited to personal accomplishment, but promotions to senior grades are attributed to an overall view of Soldiers’ careers as reflected in their AMHRR.

A career takes time to develop, just as the Army takes time to change. It’s important to understand that many people have the same goals with similar paths. The number of candidates makes promotion extremely competitive. It takes hard work and timing. A Soldier’s personal record is the tool used by the Army’s leadership to select its future leaders. That record and the Army’s readiness needs are the driving force to promotion.

Master Sgt. Price is the senior enlisted advisor for the Department of Army Secretariat, which conducts all centralized Army selection boards for promotion from sergeant first class to master sergeant in the Army.

From the Field: An NCO’s journey to recruiting

Sarasota, Fl., Recruiting Company

It was Christmas Eve 2007 in Fallujah, Iraq, and we were making our second move to Baghdad. Before moving out, we left our outpost and made a trip to Camp Fallujah to call home. While waiting for my Soldiers to finish their calls, I checked my email and found a message announcing that I had been selected for recruiting duty. I wasn’t happy about the news. I went to my squadron headquarters and begged and pleaded my command sergeant major to get me out of this assignment. His response was, “It will be good for your career.” This was not what I wanted to hear. I forced the news to the back of my mind. After all, I had bigger things to worry about in Iraq.

Fast forward seven months, and as I arrived at the Army Recruiting Course (ARC), I was still unhappy about what the Army had asked me to do. But I was also determined to make the best of it. Overwhelmed with all the classes and regulations that were covered, I was definitely outside of my comfort zone. I reflected back on my early years as a Soldier — scared, nervous and unsure; the ARC made me feel like a private again.

I requested to be assigned to the New England Recruiting Battalion in hopes that I would get to go back home for three years. I was shocked when I was granted my first choice. I later found out that recruiting in this area was more difficult than other areas in the command, and most Soldiers would never ask for this location. Looking back, I made the correct choice. Recruiting in a tough market forced me to develop the strong work ethic necessary to be successful in the U.S. Army Recruting Command and has continued to help me to this day.

I learned as much as I could at the ARC, but the most important lesson came when the instructors reminded us that we were only learning the basics at the schoolhouse. They said that we would hone our skills when we reported to our recruiting centers. I remember hoping that was true, because I had no clue what I was supposed to do.

By the time I arrived at the recruiting center in December 2008, less than a year after I was notified of my recruiting assignment, my outlook had improved only slightly. But I have always been successful in my career, regardless of whether I liked the job. So, I set out to make myself successful and accomplish my assigned mission. I stuck to the basics I learned at the ARC, speaking to anyone who looked qualified.

Recruiters from the Virginia National Guard man a display outside the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond, Virginia, during a 236th Army Birthday celebration in June 2011. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen)
Recruiters from the Virginia National Guard meet with the public in June 2011 outside the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond, Virginia, during a 236th Army Birthday celebration. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen)

On Christmas Eve, I enlisted my first two applicants — one as a 37F (psychological operations) and one as a 92G (food service specialist). I still keep in touch with them and have followed their careers. The 37F is now a staff sergeant at Fort Bragg, N.C., and the 92G is studying pre-med at the University of Massachusetts. You remember your first enlistment like you remember your drill sergeant; these are significant moments in your life. You feel proud that you made a difference in someone’s life, especially when he or she goes on to be successful.

I got into the groove fast, and I became successful much more quickly than I anticipated. As a result of great leadership and hard work, I was selected as the top new recruiter two years in a row. I had the opportunity to give young men and women a purpose and to be part of something bigger than themselves. I enjoyed shaking the hands of my new enlistees and always loved seeing the Soldiers when they came back from basic training. The kids who didn’t fear me as their recruiter came back standing at parade rest saying “sergeant” after every sentence. I also enjoyed seeing my enlistees’ physical and mental changes — each of the new Soldiers thinking they could take over the world. This will always be why I do this job: being able to help people while providing strength for the Army.

As I approached the two-year mark of a three-year tour in recruiting, I was being counseled by my first sergeant about converting. I told him that I enjoyed what I do, but that I missed having a job that was relevant. I missed kicking in doors in Iraq. I missed the firefights. And I missed making a difference. He had a perplexed look on his face and asked me, “How many people have you put in the Army?” I said, “About 60.” He looked at me and said, “What’s more relevant, 60 doors being kicked in or one door being kicked in, 60 M4s being fired or one?”

I understood the point he was making and understood that I was doing more as a recruiter than I did as a cavalry scout. For me, the greatest honor will always be that I made the Army better because of the Soldiers I recruited.

Sgt. 1st Class Stephan Behan is serving as the Sarasota Recruiting Center Leader in Sarasota, Fl.

From the Field: Are we really ever off duty?

Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

As we in the U.S. military continue to renew our commitment to the profession of arms, the headline of this article asks a compelling question for everyone who wears the cloth of the nation. Though I believe the question has an easy answer, let us not downplay the significance of asking it at every level of professional development.

Most serving in the armed forces understand the deeper meaning of the question, as well as the commitment to the profession and the American people that go along with it. Therefore, most military professionals would provide the short answer: “No, we are never really off duty.”

Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia, the senior enlisted adviser to the chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff, speaks to a room of deployed troops at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, on March 15, 2014. (Photo by Master Sgt. Kap Kim)
Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia, the senior enlisted adviser to the chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff, speaks to a room of deployed troops at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, on March 15, 2014. (Photo by Master Sgt. Kap Kim)

Indeed, we are a more effective and a more disciplined force when we live by the high standard of always on duty or never off duty — you choose and use the term that best resonates with you. I prefer the latter as it conveys a more subtle and steady narrative that is less prone to technical interpretations. To others, the short answer of no may not process as quickly. My hope for that particular audience is that by the end of this article, the meaning of the question and resulting answer shall provide a better understanding of why it is, individually and organizationally, advantageous for us all to live by such a standard of ethical, moral and professional behavior. Maintaining a never off duty posture is not a new idea or the result of a recent study. It has been and should always remain an integral part of our total composition as members of the profession.

A disciplined, dedicated and structured military career embodies certain individual traits and attributes, such as professional behavior, integrity, respect and bearing, which collectively provide an internal beacon to guide us. However, living by such a high military standard does not mean we have to sacrifice every aspect of an otherwise normal life, such as obligations to family, exercising appropriate periods of rest and so forth. But it does mean that, regardless of time or circumstance, we are always fulfilling our obligations as professionals, whether during or after working hours.

To be human is to be imperfect, and it is safe to say that none of us is consistently flawless in meeting a pre-eminent standard such as never off duty. We all face temptation and periods in our careers and personal lives where we may be drawn to convenience, greediness, even luxury, resulting in shortfalls. It is an individual decision to take the right or wrong road. When wrongful temptation overrides service members’ decisions (the wrong road), our integrity should be immediately challenged by our better selves, our teammates, our profession and even our nation’s citizens. Depending on the severity of the decision made, significant setbacks can result for the profession, including degradation in faith and confidence with the public, injury and even loss of life. This is where those who act less than honorably tarnish and scar the reputation of our profession of arms. Maintaining a conviction of never off duty instills a disciplined standard of living and will help guide decisions that may help avoid poor planning or bad decisions.

By virtue of qualifying to join the Armed Forces, I strongly consider those achieving the title of Soldier, Marine, sailor, airman or Coast Guardsman to have reached a high watermark in their lives. The profession benefits greatly from the diversity, skills and determination toward excellence our service members bring. We all want not only to be good in our service, but also great in our duty.

The majority in our formations do it right. They challenge themselves to live by the moral and professional standard of never off duty. And most believe if this standard is not carried to its fullest, individuals and teams can break down in discipline, morals and ethics, thereby drawing discredit, failure or embarrassment to one’s unit, branch of service, country, family and self. A true serving professional understands the severity of that breakdown and will exhaust every effort to avoid it. Furthermore, I find that service members who truly understand never off duty become exceptional role models and mentors to all others.

At various points along our military career and glide path, maybe even as early as basic training, some key legacy phrases may help as reminders of why one is never off duty: “You get paid 24 hours a day,” “You can be recalled at any time” and the one I think resonates best, “Don’t think the rules stop or the standards drop at 1700 just because it’s the end of the work day; there is no time card to punch.” Each phrase conveys that when we volunteer to serve the nation, it is a 24/7 obligation, and our obligations and responsibilities as members of the profession of arms never expire.

All five service branches have unique cultures and identities, and as such, they define, understand and implement never off duty in different ways that ensure members achieve and maintain standards. But regardless of service branch, duty assignment, geographical location or military occupational specialty, there are commonalities and consistencies for maintaining professional behavior, ethics and proper representation of the nation. Operating in a mindset of never off duty in our everyday lives should prove professionally lucrative. Allowing this operating principle into our professional lives will raise our ability to sidestep temptation and poor personal actions or choices.

Regardless of one’s military status — whether taking annual leave or liberty, attending school, appearing at a social function, serving an internship, moonlighting in an after-hours job, shopping for groceries or conducting combat actions against an enemy force — never off duty provides that disciplined methodology to our military lives. It is a behavior rooted in moral soundness and high values, with cause and effect. It maintains a standard and positively impacts professional focus and conduct. It is reachable and sustainable for everyone, every day, every time. We are a much better organization with it than without it. We are never off duty.


Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia is the second senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and is the senior noncommissioned officer in the U.S. armed forces. This article originally appeared in issue 73 of Joint Force Quarterly.

The Army is serious about cyber operations

U.S. Army Cyber Command

The Army, having recently graduated the first two groups of cyber defense NCOs at Fort Gordon, Ga., is well on its way to benefiting from the investment it is making in its cyber mission force. Having had the opportunity to spend time with these elite cyber-skilled NCOs, I’m excited about the future of our cyber mission force and the quality of NCOs who are signing up to be part of the U.S. Army Cyber Command team.

Today, we are working through tough challenges associated with using these Soldiers in a heavily contested environment while simultaneously working through Army processes to establish this new capability. The task is to define this unique skill and the special considerations that must be made to recruit, train, manage and retain the talent necessary to be successful.

I would like to share some points regarding Army Cyber Command, our status as the Army’s newest operational command and some of the topics we are addressing as we find common solutions to the challenges we face today as seen from our senior enlisted leaders.

My first lesson learned at Army Cyber Command has been that the application of leadership principles in highly technical fields requires a different approach to connect with the Soldiers we lead. Though the fundamental elements of leadership are shared across most aspects of military operations, I have found that to have a credible place on the team in a cyber organization, leaders must spend the time necessary to truly understand what our operators are doing in their specific roles on the team.

Often, we tend to rely on our training systems to ensure the proper certifications are in place. Our goal is to ensure these Soldiers have the legal authority to sit behind their workstations while relying on technical experts to get the mission accomplished. But if we expect to know our Soldiers and relate to the challenges associated with the unique aspects of these tasks, then we must spend time learning the technical details of their jobs.

Since assuming the responsibilities as the U.S. Army Cyber Command’s sergeant major, I’ve spent a great deal of time engaged with our cyber teams across the force and have gained a good understanding of what it takes to be a cyber professional. I’ve spent time with our operators throughout the Army.

Having been asked the question why I spend so much time with them my response is shaped by my time as a Bradley master gunner. My experience has been that, once I was no longer working on guns and planning ranges and training qualifications, if I wanted to stay connected to our Soldiers and understand what their concerns and challenges were, I had to go to the motor pool and “break track” with them. I now see our cyber operation centers as my motor pool.  Cyber leaders must spend the time with our operators to understand what they do — even when we are well out-paced intellectually in their domain.

I’ve also spent time visiting with senior leaders across the Army discussing cyber operations. I’m certain that we have a significant challenge associated with educating our force about our mission and the important role our teams will play on the future battlefield as we fully integrate into full-spectrum operations across all domains of warfare.

Many senior leaders are cyber illiterate about basic processes that we might think are commonly understood.  Ask the question what happens when a Soldier clicks on a link in a phishing e-mail, and the reply is usually something like it will destroy his computer and, “that’s what he deserves.”

Many haven’t recognized that we are all interconnected and that one action by one Soldier can impact our weapon systems, our navigational systems, our mission command capabilities and more.

The very definition of “cyberspace” is complex and is debated throughout the Department of Defense. However, most people do understand what their network is, that it is connected to the worldwide Internet and that other networks across the globe are also connected to the Internet.

They also understand that their computers, Blue Force Tracker, precision-guided munitions, unmanned aerial vehicles, etc., and even our basic rifleman in today’s modern battlefield are all connected to that network.

When we begin to understand that the cyber battlefields are the pathways and connections between those devices, then we begin to understand the importance of what our cyber units do. Once we realize that cyberspace is a domain that can be navigated just like the streets of Fallujah, then it becomes real and relevant to leaders in the Army.

Unlike in the theaters on land, at sea, in air, and in space, cyber operations don’t come with the uniforms of an occupying army, nor flags stamped on a predator drone. The reality is that their digital footprint can disappear in seconds. Not only is it difficult to determine who might have been responsible for an attack, the lines between acts of war, terrorism, espionage, crime, protest and more are frequently blurred. It’s not always easy to separate the good from the bad in cyberspace.

That’s why it is so important that we get serious about cyberspace and invest now in the Soldiers and NCOs who have the ability to apply their skills toward this difficult mission.

We are in the forming stage of developing our capabilities within the various types of units and teams that make up U.S. Army Cyber Command, and that doesn’t happen without input and participation from NCOs in the process. As we build capacity and begin operating, we will rapidly generate requirements. Very soon, we will not have the forces available to work the volume of requirements once commanders realize the value these organizations bring to their force and warfighting capability.

As we move toward the establishment of a Cyber Center of Excellence at Fort Gordon, we will refine our understanding of doctrine and how we fight and will employ these teams and their capability. We will work through the difficult questions such as, “What authorities are required? What operational platforms will we need? Will we need to deploy teams to work close-access to the key terrain they operate in or can their tasks be accomplished remotely?”

Many key decisions will have to be made about how to manage the talent these Soldiers represent. How do we acknowledge their skills and compensate them accordingly? How do we develop a career model that best employs these Soldiers across the total force, enables them to have the ability to move to the enlisted grade of E-8 and E-9 while maintaining their skills, and ensures they remain current on the latest technology and techniques required to accomplish these unique tasks?

To be sure, these are significant challenges that will require significant effort and investment to address. But our nation has already recognized the seriousness of the threat. Our Army has recognized the importance of employing Soldiers in this critical role and will make the right decisions required to ensure we not only maintain their skills, but also enhance and grow them as we move to meet evolving threats.

I have an enormous amount of respect for our cyber-skilled NCOs and the amount of pride they take in accomplishing their mission. Most often they do so quietly, unnoticed and with little recognition for their critical role in our national defense.

Command Sgt. Maj. Rodney D. Harris is the senior enlisted advisor of the U.S. Army Cyber Command. Harris enlisted in the Army as an infantryman in 1985. He has previously served as the command sergeant major of the 177th Armor Brigade, command sergeant major of the Corps of Cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. and command sergeant major of Eighth U.S. Army and Combined Joint Task Force-8.

The importance of a leader FTX

U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy, Sergeants Major Course, Class 64

The job of new commanders’ and new first sergeants’  is to develop a cohesive, mission-ready team capable of accomplishing missions across the full spectrum of operations. These challenges are compounded by the various cultures, values and norms of unit organizations. However, there are tools available to make this transition into command easier and to help move the organization in the right direction.

I found that one of the most effective tools is to conduct a leader field training exercise. This type of exercise can set the stage in presenting your command philosophy, training objectives and the way ahead for the company. Furthermore, a leader’s FTX can synchronize the leaders’ objectives and common operating picture with that of their subordinates.  The FTX builds confidence, teamwork and cohesion while providing a unique opportunity for a company to transition into a well rounded, knowledgeable and trained unit.

On June 1, 2009, I became a first sergeant. I worked diligently for 16 years to earn this rank and had reached a goal I set when I joined the Army in 1993. After my change of responsibility ceremony, I walked into the 172nd Chemical Company headquarters prepared to execute the duties entrusted to me. As I sat in my leather chair and looked around my office, I reflected on the great leaders I’ve encountered in my past. I wanted to be the best first sergeant for each Soldier within my company.

I conducted my first “close of business” formation on the Friday after I assumed the first sergeant duties. As part of the formation, I brought a .50-caliber machine gun from the arms room. I put the weapon in front of the formation and asked for volunteers. I wanted them to clear the weapon, break the weapon down and put it back together. But the platoon sergeants came forward and informed me that our machine guns had remained in the arms room without use since before any of them could remember.

For the next 90 days, I handled situations of all kinds and constantly found myself bogged down by the rigors of paperwork and Soldier concerns. However, I never forgot about that Friday. I soon learned that my objectives for this job were not going to come to fruition unless I personally made the time to accomplish them.

Therefore, I watched how the company operated. I took notes on command climate concerns, lack of discipline, leader technical and tactical competence, and a multitude of other unit situations.  Then the platoon sergeants and I started to develop a plan to fix my concerns. We wanted to take every NCO to the field for three days to set the stage for success for our company. I discussed the plan with the commander. He was so in tune with our plan that he wanted to include our platoon leaders. The commander and I developed a three-day leader FTX that revolved around our command philosophy, our training objectives and the way ahead for the company.


Our first goal when conducting the FTX was to frame and implement a common command philosophy. First, the commander and I sat down and reflected on exactly what our expectations and goals were for the unit. We framed these expectations and goals in accordance with the “Be, Know, Do” principles. Slowly, a command philosophy started to form that captured our thoughts. We reviewed our higher headquarters’ command philosophy to ensure that it met their intent as well.

Lineage and Honors

Second, I wanted our Soldiers to take pride in our unit. I noticed in my initial observations that many Soldiers thought of our unit as a place they had to come to pass the day, and many did not take any pride in their unit.

To counter this thought process, I researched the unit’s lineage and honors. Our unit had a rich and wonderful history, but that history was unknown to our Soldiers. I captured this history on a nice plaque that the commander and I unveiled during the FTX. We ensured that being aware of this history was part of the command philosophy.

Unit Motto and Logo

Finally, the commander and I realized that our unit did not have a motto or logo. So we asked for volunteers in the company to think of potential new mottos and logos.  Through a combined effort, led by the commander, our unit came up with a new motto and logo that would be the sounding board for our Soldiers in the future. During the FTX, the commander and I dedicated the evenings as a time for our leaders to come together and discuss our developed philosophy, our unit lineage and honors, and our motto. Together, these products provided an opportunity to instill pride and purpose into our unit.

Training Objectives

Another goal when conducting the FTX was to train our leaders in the unit’s Mission Essential Task List. This included individual and collective training tasks that many of our leaders overlooked when developing training. Specifically, I wanted a place away from Soldiers where I could help our leaders learn the tasks that they may have not been confident in. I kept thinking back to that Friday where our company did not have the technical knowledge of our primary weapon system. We used Day 1 and Day 2 to teach these tasks. The commander and I broke these tasks down into “shoot, move, communicate, adapt and survive.”


For our shooting tasks, I brought out every weapon system that the unit worked with and ensured every leader could work them proficiently. In the low-stress environment during the FTX, the leaders responded well to the training and were able to admit their weaknesses to their peers. In return, those who understood the weapon systems conducted one-on-one training with those who did not.

It was amazing to see the progress our leaders made during these two days. This training was the first time I felt our leaders were developing confidence in their craft. For each training event, I personally certified every leader, including the commander. He wanted to show the other leaders that he was not above the training.


For our moving tasks, I informed our leaders to leave their personal GPS at home. I taught our leaders how to use the military’s GPS along with the Blue Force Tracker system and a map. We required each leader to maneuver in their vehicles more than 50 kilometers of terrain in their vehicles and reached several checkpoints along the way. Many became lost, but we took the time to address their mistakes. Prior to the FTX, many NCOs and officers relied on their Soldiers to get them to the objective and never concerned themselves with land navigation. But after the FTX, their confidence soared once they learned how to use the systems available to them.


Our next task was communication. We needed to ensure our company leaders could operate their radio systems. However, their initial knowledge of the radio systems was as limited as that of our shooting and moving systems. Many leaders could only operate our radios on the most basic of settings. In fact, some of our leaders did not know how to turn the radio systems on. We taught them how to build man packs, troubleshoot vehicle systems, load frequency hop and secure data, and raise antenna systems. As in the shooting and moving tasks, we certified each leader in operating this equipment, but in a low-stress environment away from their Soldiers.

Adapt and Survive

Adapting and surviving were taught as one task. During this training, I reiterated to our NCOs and officers that many of these skills are perishable. For example, I taught them how to use hand grenade simulators, pyrotechnics, flares and smoke grenades. Many had never seen or used trip wires. I taught them how to set up triple-strand concertina wire. Finally, on the last day of the FTX, the commander and I set up a stress-fire and reflexive-fire range. Few leaders had ever participated in these types of advanced ranges. We instructed each leader how to plan, prepare and execute both ranges. In addition, we showed our leaders exactly how to train by example.  Many left the ranges and the FTX feeling more confident in their craft.

The Way Ahead

Our final FTX goal was to set the stage for how our unit would function in the future. We dedicated our early mornings to discussions on this topic. This time provided the commander with a chance to focus our leaders on how to plan training. He worked with each leader, showing them how to use installation resources. In addition, he provided standards for his weekly training meetings. He showed the flaws in the current training outlines and provided a basis for future planning. I took this time to provide the framework for our daily, weekly and monthly battle rhythms. I re-introduced a monthly professional development program requirement for every leader. In addition, I discussed how our unit would conduct promotions, Soldier and NCO of the Month boards, monthly counseling requirements, counseling packets, evaluation reports, physical fitness training, the weight control program, charge of quarters duties and a multitude of other requirements the commander and I found to be substandard.

Finally, I talked about the concerns I found during my initial 90-day observation assessment.  These issues included examples of bad leadership at all levels. It also included disciplinary concerns with our Soldiers. I noticed a genuine lack of discipline within the ranks, from not saluting officers or not standing at parade rest when talking to NCOs. There were uniform concerns, haircuts out of tolerance and a failure to maintain equipment. This time provided me with the opportunity to discuss how I would operate as a first sergeant. Although not all leaders agreed with some of the foundations we laid, they did understand the way ahead for the unit.

The FTX set the stage and focused our leaders on the way ahead for the unit. It was crucial in building confidence, teamwork, cohesion and a common operating picture for our leaders. The FTX set the stage for a unique transition of our company into a well-rounded, knowledgeable and trained unit.

Master Sgt. Roger A. Matthews is a former Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear first sergeant with more than 20 years of active-duty service. During his last assignment, he was a Equal Opportunity Advisor and Installation Victim Advocate for Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. He is currently a student in Class 64 at the United States Army Sergeants Major Academy located at Fort Bliss, Texas.