NCO Journal Podcast Episode 3
Command Sgt. Maj. Wardell Jefferson, CSM of Human Resources Command, and NCO Journal staff writer and editor Martha Koester discuss the HRC road show.
NCO Journal Podcast Episode 3
Command Sgt. Maj. Wardell Jefferson, CSM of Human Resources Command, and NCO Journal staff writer and editor Martha Koester discuss the HRC road show.
In April, a single division began managing the careers of 5,000 sergeants major and command sergeants major across the Army. The new Sergeant Major Management Division’s latest milestone came with the publication of a Military Personnel Message outlining criteria and procedures for the Centralized Selection List board for key active component and Active Guard and Reserve brigade and battalion CSM and SGM billet positions.
The MILPER — available at the Human Resources Command website — indicates the board will convene Oct. 18 and the formal slate is planned to be released in April 2017. The fiscal year 2018 board will include all active-duty Soldiers in the E9 grade with 27 years or less of service.
Eligible NCOs will be authorized to update their My Board File information until Oct. 18, and all AMHRR/iPERMS update submissions must be received, error free, by Oct. 14. All criteria and procedures are detailed in the MILPER, division chief Sgt. Maj. Eric Thom said.
“All eligible NCOs will be looked at for battalion, brigade and key billets,” he said. “Everybody who falls within the eligibility criteria is going to be looked at. It’s not an opt-in board, it’s an all-in board.”
HRC Command Sgt. Maj. Wardell Jefferson said, “It is critical that sergeants major across all components understand the importance of the CSL process, both to their own career development and to the Army at large.”
Thom made his first official visit as SMMD chief to the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas, earlier this month.
“That’s because this is the largest concentration of our eligible population and these Soldiers will be very interested in what they can and cannot compete for,” he said. “It will be an opportunity to talk to them before the board window closes.”
Thom said selected NCOs will be slated for both command sergeants major positions and for key billets. They will be managed through SMMD’s Command Management Branch.
“If I could emphasize anything, I need people to understand that the key billets are on the same list,” he said.
Thom reiterated the importance of key billets to the Army and to sergeants major planning their career development. These staff positions are deemed so critical by their proponents that they must be filled at all times. That has created challenges and opportunities that are high on SMMD’s agenda.
Thom said that in addition to proponents defining their particular key billet assignments, sergeants major across the Army must come to terms with the fact that being selected for a key billet is as much a professional endorsement as being selected for a command sergeant major position.
“People compete because they want that next level CSM billet,” he said. “The key billets are SGM billets and, frankly, a good portion of the field simply don’t want to lose their wreath. Their mindset is: ‘I made CSM, so I have to stay CSM.’ The truth is, it is going to be very hard to do that. There will still be some, but they will be the minority. Most will have to move back and forth.”
Despite that misperception, selection for a key billet is both critical to the Army and a solid step forward in an NCO’s career progression, Jefferson said.
“Key billets, which are critical SGM positions on division and corps staffs, are also very important in the development of our most senior noncommissioned officers,” he said.
“I can tell you from personal experience, I’ve been able to go back and forth, and I’ve made it up to the three-star level,” Thom said. “So it can be done. The two points to keep in mind are: First, key billets will open additional opportunities that CSM billets alone will not, and second, all CSL billets trump non-CSL billets.”
The Select, Train, Educate, Promote (STEP) system took effect Jan. 1, and Command Sgt. Maj. David Davenport, command sergeant major of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, said NCOs have noticed the new education requirements and are filling Army schoolhouses.
“Right now, we have a backlog of Soldiers needing school, and they’re our priority,” Davenport said. “But if we don’t get our Soldiers to school on time, and if they’re not prepared to go to school, what we’re going to have is a promotion backlog, not an education backlog.”
Davenport said STEP’s requirements that NCOs be completely up to date on their formal education before they can be promoted will help the Army and noncommissioned officers.
“Before STEP, we didn’t value education,” Davenport said. “We thought that just because you did something over and over, that certified you in that core competency. Knowing the standard from doctrine and knowing the standard from something that has been handed down over time are two different things.
“Through formal education, we make sure that noncommissioned officers are certified in their core competencies before being promoted,” Davenport said.
Requiring the proper education before promotion should help noncommissioned officers step smoothly into the roles and responsibilities they are assigned, said Sgt. Maj. Michael Haycraft, chief of the enlisted promotions branch at Human Resources Command.
“STEP is important to the Army because it allows us to train and prepare these Soldiers and these NCOs — these leaders — before we put them in the position,” Haycraft said. “In the past, we would put them in a position before we actually had a chance to get them through school and get them the education they needed. Now, this will better prepare them for the added responsibility of that promotion.
“The biggest misconception is that a lot of NCOs think it’s going to have a negative impact on them. However, I disagree,” Haycraft said. “Based on us preparing them upfront, it makes them ready to have that added responsibility and take that promotion. Whereas in the past, we would throw them in the position, promote them, and then get them to school hopefully in the next year, sometimes later. The Army didn’t receive the added advantage of having a school-trained leader in that position.”
Senior NCOs will first notice STEP requirements with coming promotion boards, Haycraft said. There will be a master sergeant promotion board in March, but STEP won’t take effect for senior NCOs until June.
“In June, we’re having a sergeant first class promotion board. With that one, the results will come out, and they will be the first ones that the STEP process will be applied to,” Haycraft said.
But for junior NCOs, STEP took effect Jan 1. And with STEP’s implementation comes changes to the Promotion Points Worksheet for those being promoted to sergeants and staff sergeants. Accumulating points, up to a max of 800 points, is how junior NCOs get promoted. How many points Soldiers need to get promoted depends on the military occupational specialities.
Because of STEP’s education requirements, Soldiers will no longer receive promotion points for the Basic Leader Course or Advanced Leader Course. Those courses are now required for promotion.
“We took away promotion points for school, but we added in points to APFT,” Haycraft said. “We’re trying to promote health and wellness more. We added points to weapons qualification. If you get commandant’s list, or you get honor graduate or the distinguished leader award in one of your Noncommissioned Officer Education System courses, we give points for that. We added points for language proficiency. We’re trying to put it back in the Soldiers’ hands and give them the motivation to go out there and do great things and better themselves. We doubled the points in civilian education to try to promote the young Soldiers and NCOs to become critical and creative thinkers.”
To take a closer look at the Promotion Points Worksheet, or to find answers to commonly asked questions about the worksheet or STEP, Haycraft pointed NCOs to the Human Resources Command website.
“I think the biggest thing I’d like to have NCOs understand is … our website, if they have any questions at all about STEP, go to the Enlisted Promotions website,” Haycraft said. “Any questions they have should be answered on that website. It has all the current policies. It has points of contact for us if they have questions they can’t find the answers to.”
•Human Resources Command, Enlisted Promotions: https://www.hrc.army.mil/TAGD/Enlisted%20Promotions
•HRC’s Personnel Information Systems Directorate: https://www.hrc.army.mil/PERSINSD/Tools%20and%20Applications%20Directory
•Command Sgt. Maj. David Davenport’s blog: http://www.tradocnews.org/category/straight-from-the-csm/
As young Soldiers going through basic training in the late 1980s, we were taught that when given an order by an officer or a noncommissioned officer, you executed that order without question. You didn’t ask why you needed to do it, and you certainly didn’t argue about the justification for doing it. You simply did it because you knew, unequivocally, that it was the right thing to do. I believe that this lack of questioning was based on an internal trust and respect in our leadership, which was taught to us at an early age.
To change with the times and to bring the NCO Corps in line with what is expected of us in the future, we must be better prepared to answer the “why” in any question that is asked of us. To do this successfully, we must become relevant by broadening ourselves though more education and training.
Today, when giving a Soldier tasks to complete, the Soldier often will ask “why” and question the validity of the task or detail. We do not believe that this is because of a lack of trust or to be disrespectful. One must remember the culture in which our young Soldiers have grown up. They do not know a life without immediate access to knowledge; they have grown up with smartphones, computers and social media. If they need to know something, they do not have to find a book to look it up as we were often told to do. They simply looked it up on the World Wide Web. Because of this instant knowledge, they have a stronger desire to know the “why” of things. Both the officer and the NCO Corps need to understand their jobs in ways that were not required 20 years ago. If they cannot answer or explain the “why,” their Soldiers will get the “why” somewhere else — perhaps from other Soldiers, the internet, or from a source outside their chain of command. When a Soldier seeks answers in this manner, can we really control the validity of the answers received, and more importantly, passed along as truth? Each of these solutions takes away from the trust building between Soldiers and leaders.
Conversely, young leaders were taught that there was a difference between officer business and NCO business, and seldom did the two overlap. As a young sergeant, I can recall platoon sergeants saying not to worry about certain things because that was officer business and that the platoon leader would take care of it.
As I moved up the NCO ranks to a position where I needed to advise my platoon leader, I quickly learned that officers took information from their NCOs with a grain of salt. They listened to it, but more often than not, it was quickly dismissed if the officer received different advice from another officer, no matter the other officer’s rank, duty position or area of concentration. Simply put, officers trusted officers.
The root issue is relevance. The noncommissioned officer of today must evolve and understand that, as we ascend in rank, we must modify our leadership style and performance to keep our relevance as our situation changes. A team leader must comprehend and master troop-leading procedures. The platoon sergeant must become a master trainer and facilitator. The unit first sergeant must become a master of systems while simultaneously being the up-front, in-the-thick-of-it-leader, and the sergeant major must understand intricacies and nuances of complex situations so that he or she can better advise and assist officer counterparts. Anything short of these skill sets leaves us less relevant.
In the late ’80s and early ’90s, NCO education came from the noncommissioned officer education system, and really nothing else. College was not pushed, and it was rarely sought out. Officers knew that they were better educated. So, officers believed that their reasoning and understanding of complex tasks and strategies was better than that of the enlisted corps. Bottom line: Education equaled knowledge.
There is a very big difference between the Army of the ’80s and today.
To begin with, there is no such thing as “officer business” and “NCO business.” As my first squadron commander stated in his initial counseling to me in 2012, there is only “leader business.”
The confusion originates with the word “business.” We should call it what it is: responsibility. AR 600-20, Army Command Policy, 6 November 2014 clearly identifies in Chapter 2-18 that the NCO support channel will assist the chain of command in accomplishing 10 specific aspects of our profession. It is a misunderstanding that leads us to believe that there is a prohibition on NCO involvement, when the preceding sentence identifies it as the NCO who “assists” the chain of command.
Additionally, education is now a necessity. In 2010, 29.9 percent of enlisted Soldiers had a bachelor’s degree or higher. This is a far cry from the less than 10 percent who had any type of secondary education in 1987. In 2015, roughly 59 percent of the enlisted corps has some college, and many at the sergeant major level have graduate degrees. The education gap between the officer and enlisted corps is dwindling.
This narrowing of the education gap means that our NCO Corps must continue to receive advanced training and broadening experiences beyond their NCOES requirements as they move up their career ladders, just as our officer counterparts receive. Failure to allow advanced training and studies could be detrimental to the advisory role noncommissioned officers provide to their commissioned counterparts.
One type of broadening experience is the Strategic Fellows Program at The Institute of World Politics. This is an intensive three-week program focused on providing selectees a guided introduction to the development of national security policy at the strategic and federal level. Led by expert scholar-practitioners from the institute, the participants explore key strategic issues through a combination of graduate-level lectures and hands-on activities. The program emphasizes critical thinking, effective oral and written communication, and enhanced appreciation for the Department of Defense’s geo-strategic priorities. In addition, participants explore sources of friction and opportunities to enhance integration in the policy-making process among the Department of Defense and the congressional and executive branches. Participants also learn about one another’s functions so that critical decision-making can be more collaborative. When Soldiers master the arts of statecraft, they will be better at discerning, forecasting, preventing, mitigating, managing and, if necessary, prevailing in international conflicts.
Including NCOs in broadening seminars has proven to be a challenging task. Our culture has not allowed for such an inclusion. The U.S. Army has rightly invested the time and resources into educating its members in an attempt to groom the next generation of future thinkers, capable of comprehending the complexities that are included in the many facets of today’s global community and threats. The NCO Corps traditionally supports the chain of command but can better contribute in this arena if given the opportunity. With minimal evolution, we can improve our worth and contribution to our legacy as the “backbone of the Army.”
In a July 10, 2014, briefing by Human Resources Command to Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the addition of broadening assignments, seminars and courses was identified as an important cog in building the NCO Corps of 2035. “To develop the Soldier of 2014 into an agile and adaptive first sergeant or command sergeant major of 2035, leader development must allow NCOs to build experience in multiple environments versus single tracking in one formation with little to no broadening,” according to the brief. “Promotion boards must recognize and reward this experience and diversity.”
NCOs must search for and attend these broadening experiences. They must get out of their comfort zones and strive for advanced knowledge. They must do this for several reasons. First and foremost is to improve our relevance as the “backbone of the Army.” Second, we must do this to better explain the “why.” We must be able to explain the “why” to our Soldiers, and we must be able to explain the “why” to our officer counterparts whom we advise.
Army leadership is making a conscious effort to provide NCOs these broadening opportunities, and we must take advantage of them. The ball is in our court. Let’s not drop it.
Command Sgt. Maj. John A. Murray has previously served as the command sergeant major of 6th squadron, 4th cavalry regiment and the Operations Sergeant Major of 1st battalion, 35th armored regiment. He is currently serving as the command sergeant major for 1st squadron, 1st cavalry regiment at Ft. Bliss, Texas.
Sergeant Major Jason Mosher recently completed his tour as a battalion command sergeant major and is now the XVIII Airborne Corps Provost Sergeant Major at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Broad changes for enlisted promotions took effect March 2. More are expected later this year.
The most recent comprehensive list of changes to Army Regulation 600-8-19 are tied to the reduction in size of the force, Army Chief of Staff Raymond T. Odierno said Jan. 6 during a virtual town hall event at Fort Lee, Va. During the past 10 years, the Army peaked at a force level of about 570,000 Soldiers. That number is scheduled to dip to 450,000 by the end of 2017.
To maintain high standards in the Army’s NCO Corps, promotions have to become more challenging, Odierno said.
“What we want to do is promote the right people … so we maintain a strong Army,” he said. “We’ve got to have the people we want to move forward. But it is not going to be as fast as it was five years ago.”
To that end, changes to the NCO schooling system were announced in February, with the revised promotion regulations coming soon after.
Among the key changes is the implementation of a link between promotion and the successful completion of Structured Self-Development courses. The SSD program helps develop adaptive, agile and critical-thinking leaders as well as prepare Soldiers to function effectively in the Contemporary Operational Environment, or COE. Now, the course is a requirement for promotion for Soldiers vying for ranks from sergeant to master sergeant.
Another key change is a policy that allows promotion points for Soldiers who have spent time in a combat zone. Previously, Soldiers in the Middle East were often kept from taking part in distance education studies because of the rigors of deployment. Now, sergeants can attain up to 30 points and staff sergeants up to 60 points for their time overseas.
A closer look at some of the pertinent updates to this year’s enlisted promotion changes, along with resources for more information, may be seen below.
Click here to download a printable version of the document.
Click here to see a complete look at AR 600-8-19
— Compiled by Pablo Villa