Category Archives: Toolkit

Toolkit: Military moves

NCO Journal

About every two to three years, Soldiers are uprooted from their current duty station and head to another one, sometimes overseas.

Preparing early for a PCS move can ease the process and avoid delays. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army)
Preparing early for a PCS move can ease the process and avoid delays. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army)

To help ease the process, the U.S. Army Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, headquartered at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., oversees moves for service members throughout the Department of Defense.

Command Sgt. Maj. Cedric Thomas, command sergeant major of SDDC, said the command works to contract out individual Soldiers’ permanent change of station moves.

“We set up the contract to get the carriers to go out and move the Soldiers’ household goods,” Thomas said. “The contractors will do the packing and the loading and will deliver to the location.”

When Soldiers receive orders to move, they should link up with the transportation office or visit the website, Thomas said. The peak season for all military moves is from May to August. During this time, it is critical that Soldiers who receive PCS orders visit the website or their transportation office promptly to start coordinating their moves.

“As soon as they receive PCS orders, they need to request a pickup and delivery date as soon as possible,” Thomas said. “It will give them a better chance of getting the dates they want. They can’t wait until the last minute. If they wait until the last minute, there’s a good chance they won’t get the dates they want, and they’ll have to accept what’s available. If you wait until the last minute, your stuff may be four weeks behind you, especially if you’re going overseas.”

A typical move coordinated with SDDC can last from a couple of days to two months, depending on whether the move is overseas or during the peak season, Thomas said.

Though early planners tend to get the dates they request, all Soldiers need to be flexible with their move dates and should list alternate dates. Soldiers should also create a personal calendar — a sample is available on — and compile phone numbers and a household goods checklist to further assist the move.

If Soldiers are unavailable during their move dates, they need to arrange for the proper paperwork —including a power of attorney — so that a representative, their spouse for example, may act on their behalf with the moving contractors.

The website also has a calculator to help Soldiers figure out how much their household items and furnishing might weigh. Weight restrictions are in place and are based on a Soldier’s grade.

The website provides training that NCOs can use to become familiar with the moving process. The information can help NCOs and their junior Soldiers as they PCS.

 “NCOs have to understand the move process to better help their troops,” Thomas said.


Moving tips

Follow these tips to ensure a smooth process during the peak moving season (May through August):

  • Before you begin the moving process, create a personal move calendar with checklists, phone lists, to-do lists and links.
  • Your installation’s transportation office or personal property shipping office is your primary point of contact for customer service.
  • Once you get PCS orders, immediately start the moving process for a better chance to lock in your preferred pickup and delivery dates.
  • Requested pickup and delivery dates are not confirmed until coordinated with your contracted transportation service provider.
  • Pack, pickup and delivery dates are scheduled on weekdays during which you or your designated representative must be available between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
  • A quick method for estimating the weight of your items is to calculate 1,000 pounds per room. A more detailed weight-estimating tool can be found at
  • You can request a free re-weigh of your personal property shipment if it is near or over your weight entitlement, which is determined by your pay grade.

For additional information, visit


Tips for packing up your house

  • Use a digital camera to take photos or video of your belongings to record their condition and appearance, especially that of expensive items such as electronics.
  • Follow weight allowances. These are based on rank and vary depending on whether dependents are accompanying you. Allowances for enlisted personnel range from 5,000 pounds for a private without dependents to 15,000 pounds for a sergeant major with dependents. Typically, a minimum of $100 is charged for being over your weight allowance.
  • Disconnect, empty and clean all appliances and electronic components.
  • Dispose of worn-out or unneeded items before the move to avoid wasteful packing and moving expenses.
  • Special rules exist for shipping professional books and gear, firearms, alcohol, motorcycles and boats. Visit the website for more information.
  • SDDC will not ship the following as part of your household goods:
    • Personal baggage.
    • Automobiles, airplanes, mobile homes, camper trailers, horse trailers and farming equipment.
    • Live animals.
    • Building materials.
    • Privately owned live ammunition.
    • Hazardous articles such as explosives, poisons or propane gas tanks.
  • Check the inventory to ensure it is accurate and complete before you sign it. A good inventory shows in detail what you shipped and what condition it was in. Avoid generic descriptions (“ceramics”) and be more descriptive (“Lladros”) when necessary.
  • Do not argue with the transportation service provider’s representative. If you have a problem, contact the transportation office immediately.


Toolkit: Structured Self-Development

NCO Journal

Since April 1, Soldiers reporting to the Warrior Leader Course were required to have completed Structured Self-Development 1. Those who have not will be turned away from school.

Sgt. Dariusz Krzywonos, a field artillery surveyor/meteorological crewmember with Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion, 12th Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Stryker), 2nd Infantry Division, works on a Structured Self-Development Course in September 2012. (Photo by Sgt. Mark Cloutier)
Sgt. Dariusz Krzywonos, a field artillery surveyor/meteorological crewmember with Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion, 12th Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Stryker), 2nd Infantry Division, works on a Structured Self-Development Course in September 2012. (Photo by Sgt. Mark Cloutier)

“SSD-1 is now a prerequisite, so you must show up fully qualified to get into a class,” said Sgt. Maj. Jerry Bailey, director of Structured Self-Development at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas.

Beginning Oct. 10, 2010, Soldiers have been automatically enrolled in SSD-1 after they complete Advanced Individual Training or One-Station Unit Training. They then have 2½  years to complete SSD-1; they will need to re-register if they haven’t completed it during that time.

Soldiers are introduced to squad drills in Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training, but aren’t required to lead them. They will be required to lead those drills at WLC, Bailey said, and the online SSD-1 course helps them learn what they need to know before arriving at WLC.

“We did a crosswalk (an analysis of other NCO Education System and distance learning courses) and saw where the gaps were,” Bailey said. “We found that to be a true prerequisite, we had to get out some other basic things so when Soldiers arrive at WLC, it won’t be the first time they saw those particular classes.”

Last November, four hours of map reading were added to SSD-1 to give Soldiers experience in land navigation, Bailey said.

“In January, when land navigation became part of WLC, [SSD-1 graduates] had already had some experience in seeing that particular lesson,” Bailey said. “They weren’t starting from scratch; it wasn’t a new task for them.”

Each level of Structured Self-Development requires about 80 hours of distance learning. The various levels are meant to guide Soldiers throughout their entire Army career, Bailey said.

“I think any Soldier who goes back and looks at SSD — whether they’re a sergeant major or a sergeant — they will find something that they need to re-familiarize themselves with, something they haven’t seen in years or something that they’ll learn new,” Bailey said. “As regulatory guidance continues to change, there will always be something that the Army is doing different and new. As the development team, we’re required to keep those SSD lessons up-to-date.”

Soldiers who have already graduated from WLC are not required to take SSD-1 but are encouraged to familiarize themselves with it. NCOs who want to help their Soldiers through SSD-1 should sit with their Soldiers as they complete the work, Bailey said.

“For me, to be a true coach, teacher or mentor, I would have to sit down with my Soldier and look at them go through some of those different tasks, and I would provide some information and feedback to assist that Soldier,” Bailey said. “It is the individual Soldier’s responsibility. But as coaches, teachers and mentors — because not every Soldier passes it the first time — I need to know if my Soldier didn’t pass. If my Soldier is having trouble, I need for them to know that I’m there to provide that feedback.”


SSD enrollment and access

Soldiers will be automatically enrolled in Structured Self-Development at various stages in their Army careers. In addition to receiving an email from U.S. Army Human Resources Command notifying them, Soldiers can check their enrollment status on the Army Learning Management System (details are below).

  • Soldiers are automatically enrolled in SSD-1 after completing Advanced Individual Training or One-Station Unit Training. SSD-1 is now a prerequisite for attending the Warrior Leader Course.
  • There is no SSD-2. Instead, Human Resources Command will enroll Soldiers in the Advanced Leader Course-Common Core when they complete WLC and are promoted to sergeant. However, because there is currently a backlog of around 6,000 students who need to take the course, prospective students are being added to an order of merit list. ALC-CC must be completed before being promoted to sergeant first class.
  • NCOs are automatically enrolled in SSD-3 after graduating from ALC. SSD-3 is now a prerequisite for attending the Senior Leader Course.
  • NCOs are automatically enrolled in SSD-4 after graduating from SLC. SSD-4 is now a prerequisite for attending the Sergeants Major Course. UPDATE: As of Jan. 1, 2014 completition of SSD-4 will be a requirement for promotion to master sergeant. See Army Directive 2013-15 for more information. Army Directive 2013-15 can be found here:
  • NCOs are automatically enrolled in SSD-5 after graduating from the Sergeants Major Course. SSD-5 is currently being tested and is expected to launch Armywide before October. Past and future SMC (resident and non-resident) graduates will be required to complete SSD-5.

Once enrolled, Soldiers can access and complete the distance learning-delivered material via Army Knowledge Online:

  1. Visit
  2. In the menu bar, select “Self Service,” then “My Training”
  3. Click the ALMS (Army Learning Management System) logo in the box in the upper left corner of the page.
  4. Click on the course title to access the course.

Source: USASMA


What you’ll learn

The lessons covered in Structured Self-Development 1:

  • Army writing style
  • Combat operations report
  • Composite risk management
  • Detainee operations
  • Fratricide
  • Mild traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress
  • History of the NCO
  • Personnel recovery
  • Self-directed learning principles
  • Counterinsurgency principles
  • Cultural effects on military operations
  • Customs, courtesies and traditions of the service
  • How war and multiple deployments impact subordinates
  • Leadership
  • Military problem-solving process
  • Personal habits to increase health and fitness
  • Troop-leading procedures
  • Supply activities in a unit
  • Primary roles and functions of the military services
  • Types of rehearsals
  • Preparing a brief
  • Conflict management
  • Principles of effective management
  • The NCO role in the Casualty Assistance Program
  • The NCO roles in recruiting and retention
  • Lean Six Sigma fundamentals
  • Army ethics
  • Task organization of squad for mission
  • Communicate the history of the U.S. Army
  • Identify financial readiness actions
  • After-action review
  • Conduct squad drill
  • Host-nation, federal, state and local laws
  • Environmental laws and regulations
  • Time management

Source: USASMA

Toolkit: Involuntary separations

NCO Journal

As the Army draws down its force, approximately 20,000 NCOs will be subject to involuntary separation or discontinuation of service through fiscal year 2017.

AR 635-200, Active Duty Enlisted Administrative Separations, gives the Army the authority to initiate the involuntary separation of Soldiers as a result of reductions in force, strength limitations or budgetary constraints. In 2010, when the Army started to look at how to use that authority, the Army G-1 instituted the Qualitative Service Program and Qualitative Management Program.

A Soldier from the 4th Sustainment Brigade salutes the American flag during a ceremony March 27, 2010, at Fort Hood, Texas. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Erick  Ritterby)
A Soldier from the 4th Sustainment Brigade salutes the American flag during a ceremony March 27, 2010, at Fort Hood, Texas. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Erick

The Qualitative Service Program applies to NCOs — from staff sergeants to sergeants major — in military occupational specialties that have been identified as being overstrength by the Army G-1 and ranks NCOs according to their potential. The Qualitative Management Program looks at NCOs across the Army and ranks them according to the Soldier’s potential or capability to meet the Army’s needs. All NCOs who are sergeants first class and above with 19 years of service are subject to the QMP.

NCOs who involuntarily separate under QMP will not be able to receive temporary early retirement or be allowed to return to active duty without a waiver. Also, they must leave no later than the first day of the seventh month following the board’s decision.

Gerald Purcell, the Army G-1’s personnel policy integrator, said the program will follow a board schedule in which staff sergeants are considered for QSP during the annual sergeant first class promotion board, sergeants first class are considered during the master sergeant board, master sergeants during the sergeant major training and selection board, and sergeants major during the nominative command sergeant major/command selection list promotion board.

“[The QSP] capitalizes on our existing centralized selection board process to assess Soldiers who are being considered for involuntary separation based on their potential for future contributions to the Army — just like a promotion board does,” Purcell said. “This process targets skills that are excess requirements. Soldiers holding MOSs that are balanced or short are not going to be subject to this program.”

NCOs will be notified before the board convenes that they are being considered for QSP. Once the board convenes, an official notification will be made to the Soldier’s first general officer, then to the battalion commander.

“All of these Soldiers are fully qualified Soldiers who we would otherwise desire to keep,” Purcell said. “However, as we shape the force to meet changing requirements, we recognize that many fantastic Soldiers will be identified for denial of continued service. We also recognize that we must do this as we shape the force in an effort to ensure we retain those NCOs who have the greatest potential for future contributions, retaining the highest levels of readiness and capability in an all-volunteer Army.”

An NCO may appeal the board’s decision, but only if he or she believes that his or her record contained material errors. An NCO who wishes to stay in the Army may also seek reclassification to a shortage MOS to fit the Army’s needs. However, the NCO must have a course date that begins within the six months following the notification of separation under QSP.

“Making yourself more useful to the Army is always a good thing,” Purcell said.

NCOs separated under QSP may apply for early retirement if they have at least 15 years of active federal service at the date of separation. However, these Soldiers can no longer transfer their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to their dependents. If in the future, the Army needs the skills separated Soldiers have, they will be able to return to active duty. Soldiers will also have a minimum of 12 months from the board’s decision to transition to civilian life. They must serve at least 90 days, by law, before they separate. In addition, the board’s decision isn’t made public.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to recognize that they are quality people,” Purcell said. “We really want to take care of them as they leave. We want to maximize their ability to take advantage of the transition assistance programs we have.” ♦


Board processes for separation

Involuntary, early separations are based on NCOs’ current performance and their potential for future contributions to the Army. The policies are outlined in AR 635-200, Active Duty Enlisted Administrative Separations.

  • QMP: Qualitative management program — Focuses on senior NCOs (E-7 to E-9) who may be denied for continued service because of performance, conduct or potential for advancement that does not meet Army standards.
  • QSP: Overstrength Qualitative Service Program — Looks at E-6 to E-9 NCOs for denial of continued service in select military occupational specialities where the 12-month operating strength projections exceed 100 percent. If otherwise qualified, NCOs may voluntarily reclassify into a shortage MOS.
  • QSP: Promotion stagnation Qualitative Service Program — Board will consider E-6 to E-9 NCOs for discontinuation of service in select MOSs or skill levels where promotion stagnation is evident.


Criteria considered

Boards that decide whether a Soldier should be involuntarily separated use the same criteria that a promotion board looks at. The board develops an Order of Merit List and focuses on those at the bottom of the list to make a determination. Some items considered are:

  • Personnel qualification record: The board reviews the NCO’s personnel qualification record to determine range of assignments, military and civilian education, and additional training.
  • Official photograph is used to judge a Soldier’s appearance and to note awards, medals and badges.
  • Moral and ethical conduct: The board considers whether a Soldier’s conduct is incompatible or inconsistent with the Army’s values or the values of the NCO Corps.
  • Efficiency and performance: The board looks at whether the NCO is unable to perform NCO duties in his or her current grade or if there has been a decline noted in the NCO’s NCO Evaluation Report, including failing NCO Education System courses, disciplinary problems or bars to re-enlistment.
  • Physical standards: The board considers whether the NCO is able to maintain physical standards or comply with the Army body composition program.
  • Official Military Personnel File: The board reviews the performance portion (P-fiche) of the Soldier’s OMPF.

Toolkit: Teaching Soldiers financial readiness

NCO Journal

When he married Carole, who was debt-free with nine children from a previous marriage, Master Sgt. Tony Colon had five children of his own and $25,000 of debt.

Committed to becoming debt free in two years, the couple home schooled four of their children and Carole began working the night shift at Wal-Mart. And in 22 months, the couple was able to become financially independent.

Financial counselor Alice Lane, talks with Staff Sgt. Thomas Tichy about the classes she teaches at the Soldier and Family Assistance Center at Fort Hood, Texas. They include credit management, car and home buying, consumer awareness and ID theft, insurance, banking, and budgeting. (Photo by Gloria Montgomery)
Financial counselor Alice Lane, talks with Staff Sgt. Thomas Tichy about the classes she teaches at the Soldier and Family Assistance Center at Fort Hood, Texas. They include credit management, car and home buying, consumer awareness and ID theft, insurance, banking, and budgeting. (Photo by Gloria Montgomery)

Tony and Carole, who have taught financial management classes at Fort Campbell, Ky., for Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers retreats, the families of the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) and for their church, now help other Soldiers and their families learn about the basics of finances and budgeting. Their lessons include how to save for retirement, pay off credit card debt and establish an emergency fund.

“Creating a budget is easy. The hard part is execution,” Tony Colon said. “Personal finance is 80 percent behavior and only 20 percent head knowledge. It takes at least 90 days of money planning for it to stick and to become a natural occurrence each month.”

The Colons teach their financial management class during a 13-week personal finances program, but can also give a 90-minute presentation if they’re called upon by groups needing a shorter time commitment.

Since they started teaching the program, more than 250 Soldiers and their families have graduated their personal finance program. All totaled, they have reported a $1.9 million change in their monetary positions, which includes paying off debts and putting additional money into savings.

web-creating-budget-infoboxIn particular, NCOs have a responsibility to keep their finances in order, Colon said, as they are expected to lead by example when it comes to financial readiness.

“As leaders, the most important thing an NCO can do when dealing with their Soldiers’ finances is to ensure that their own finances are good to go,” Colon said. “Leaders have very little authority when it comes to the spending habits of their Soldiers until their Soldier gets in trouble for missing payments or falling behind on child support. Only then can an NCO and his commander get involved and mandate that the Soldier take care of the past due accounts.”

A proactive approach is far less costly, Colon said.

“It is far better for NCOs and officers to ensure that they are living within their means, are saving for emergencies and have a plan for retirement,” he said. “Leading by example will encourage others to do so and only then will there be less financial stress in the unit.”

Removing financial stress from a unit is a tall task. Because it affects mission readiness, though, it’s essential that NCOs mentor junior Soldiers on how to keep their finances under control, Colon said.

“It has been said that money is not the most important thing in the world,” he said. “However, it is the only thing that touches and affects every area of our lives. Having your financial house in order will enhance your overall combat readiness.

“When a Soldier, single or married, has an emergency fund established, savings, investments and little, or better yet, no debt, they are able to concentrate on the mission at hand.”

For more advice, calculators and to play the Army Financial Literacy Game, visit Army OneSource’s financial readiness page at


Warning signs

Below are some signs that you might need to create a budget and work toward paying off your debts. They can also be red flags as you assess your Soldiers’
financial readiness.

  • 20% or more of your take-home pay is used to make credit card payments.
  • Loans: You have one or more loans from a lending company that charges 20% or more in interest.
  • You screen phone calls to avoid debt or bill collectors.
  • Overdraft protection is constantly being used, depleting your savings.
  • Frequent past-due bills or bills that you continually fail to pay on time.
  • Paying only the minimum amount on your credit cards.
  • Paycheck advances or payday loans are part of your regular budget.
  • A car loan that is financed at 12% or more interest.