Tag Archives: MLC

Soldiers’ concerns addressed in changes to SSD, NCO PME

Complete #TRADOCtown hall coverage

NCO Journal

With Structured Self-Development and other Professional Military Education courses now a requirement for promotion, Soldiers expressed concerns about course capacity, opportunity for fast-trackers and consequences for failure to meet requirements during Training and Doctrine Command’s State of NCO Development Town Hall 2.

TRADOC Command Sgt. Maj. David Davenport and his fellow panelists had answers, suggestions and an open mind.

They also had some news about changes to the SSD program and updates on the state of common core instruction that will be rolled into the Advanced Leader Course and the Senior Leader Course.

Davenport made it clear that he heard Soldiers’ complaints about SSD — one of the messages aired during the town hall’s breaks even highlighted some — and that he and the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy are committed to improving PME.

Spc. Shaina Williams, a wheeled vehicle mechanic with H Company, 148th Brigade Support Battalion, Georgia Army National Guard, studies the Creed of the Noncommissioned Officer while she and her classmates stand in line for lunch during Basic Leadership Course at McCrady Training Center in Eastover, S.C. (Photo by Sgt. Brian Calhoun)
Spc. Shaina Williams, a wheeled vehicle mechanic with H Company, 148th Brigade Support Battalion, Georgia Army National Guard, studies the Creed of the Noncommissioned Officer while she and her classmates stand in line for lunch during Basic Leadership Course at McCrady Training Center in Eastover, S.C. (Photo by Sgt. Brian Calhoun)

“Let me just tell you the feedback I’ve received from the Soldiers: We have to make sure that the material in there makes sense, that it’s tied to something,” he said. “And I think that the work that USASMA’s done of making sure the SSDs prepare you for what you’re going to see in the brick-and-mortar, but more importantly now the way they’ve designed our Structured Self-Development is it’s tied back” to previous and future courses.

SSD “has to make sense,” Davenport continued.

“It can’t just be the spot where we put all mandatory training; it has to be built in to follow a progressive, sequential manner tied to our PME to be effective,” he said. “But we’re going to have to maintain SSDs. SSDs will be around in our Army. As a matter of fact, we’ll go to six. Every level of PME will have an SSD.”

The changes to SSD mirror the changes to NCOs’ required PME, such as ALC, SLC and the new Master Leader Course. Those courses will soon incorporate a common core of instruction.

“A lot of work has gone into the design of it,” Davenport said. “Not only the content of it, with the common core. Common core is six subjects that we’re going to start in the Basic Leader Course. It’s progressive and sequential; we’re going to build skills and knowledge all the way up to the Executive Leader Course. We kind of already mentioned how the SSDs are going to tie the brick-and-mortar to the distance learning. What I’m very excited about is the rigor that is going to be applied to our NCO PME — academic rigor.

“If you want to see a great example of it, I ran into a noncommissioned officer who just went through the Master Leader Course,” he said, mentioning a guest entry on his blog at tradocnews.org. “And truly the Master Leader Course is where all these ideas were exercised, to validate to see if we could spread it out in our PME.”

Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Defreese, USASMA’s commandant, said the first blocks of SSD instruction will be foundational and the later blocks will lead directly into brick-and-mortar coursework.

“If they’re exposed to something in SSD1, they’ll talk about it in BLC,” he said. “It not only pulls from the one before, but it also leads into the next level of SSD.

“That’s the whole continuum, not just the SSDs. As we’re redoing the Basic Leader Course and we’re now doing the Advanced Leader Course and Senior Leader Course common core curriculum, it will be sequential and progressive across the entirety of the NCOPDS. … They will be linked for the first time in our history.”


Among the first questions Davenport fielded pertained to capacity and requirement waivers for Army Reserve Soldiers.

“It doesn’t matter what component you belong to. The STEP policy of Select, Train, Educate and Promote applies to all three components,” he said. “You must go to PME prior to being promoted to that grade. I don’t know the particulars, but we have absolutely no issue with capacity. I hope the people in the back will make a hashtag that says #TRADOCHasCapacity to get Soldiers to school.

“What we are seeing is that we’re still having a deferment problem even with the deferment policy that we have in place,” Davenport continued. “We just need to make sure that Soldiers are ready to go to school, and if they can’t go to school, to let us know as soon as possible so that we can get other Soldiers to the school.”

Since the last town hall in March, Davenport said TRADOC has established both a deferment policy and a priority list for PME. Soldiers in danger of not being promoted and those backlogged in their PME have top priorities, but Soldiers who just want to get ahead on their schooling have opportunities, too.

In reply to a question about Advanced Leader Course opportunities for low-density MOSs, Jeff Wells, TRADOC chief of plans and Training Operations Management Activity plans officer, said TOMA was working with Human Resources Command to offer courses regularly for all three components and was looking at using mobile training teams to boost PME opportunities at sites other than the centers of excellence.

The commenter said ALC classes in his MOS were only offered three or four times a year and were often scheduled near the beginning of the year, creating a delay for Soldiers.

Another commenter wondered if TRADOC had plans to improve availability for the functional Battle Staff Noncommissioned Officer Course — which was surprise to the panelists, because the organizers of the course don’t perceive any problems with capacity.

Defreese and Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Huggins, USASMA’s deputy commandant, suggested issues at specific installations might cause some backups in BSNCOC availability.

Defreese noted that with the course’s video teletraining, or VTT, model, availability at USASMA is rarely a problem. However, installation commanders are responsible for providing an on-site assistant instructor, so backlogs can occur at specific posts.

And Huggins noted that even with seats available overall, organizations preparing to deploy can cause surges in BSNCOC enrollment at particular installations.

Functional courses

In addition to BSNCOC, Davenport brought up another valuable functional course, the Senior Enlisted Joint Professional Military Education Course Levels 1 and 2. The town hall even featured a special message from Command Sgt. Maj. John W. Troxell, Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, about how important exposure to joint operations can be.

“The current operational environment points to all future conflicts being transregional, multidomain and multifunctional,” he said in a prerecorded message. “That means it’s a joint and multinational fight. Because of what this will require of our noncommissioned officers, we must expand their development to produce joint enlisted leaders with broader leadership capabilities.

“That’s where senior joint professional military education comes in,” he continued. “SEJPME 1 and 2 are designed to complement the current [NCO education] continuum by exposing enlisted leaders to joint education and giving them the tools to operate and supervise effectively as part of our future joint force. With enlisted leaders holistically developed to function confidently and competently in a joint environment, our military will continue to have the decisive advantage against any adversary in this increasingly complex world.”

Level 2 is necessary to be a student in the Sergeants Major Course.

Although Level 1 is not a requirement, Defreese said, “I think it’s probably important, because we have put a joint portion in the Master Leader Course and there will be some joint exposure in the Senior Leader Course, so it’s probably relevant to have the Phase 1 before you go to the Senior Leader Course.”

Huggins added, “We’re in a smaller military across the board, so we are going to work with all our brothers and sisters out there in the different services, and so being exposed to them earlier I think makes transitioning easier when you fall under a joint command. We have a lot of JTFs out there and there are plenty of Soldiers who don’t know what that means.”


Because the STEP system requires a Soldier to complete each block of instruction before he or she can be promoted, one commenter wondered whether it was possible for high-speed Soldiers to get promoted quickly.

Davenport pointed out that the “S” in “STEP” stands for “Select.”

“STEP is not automatic promotions,” he said. “It’s about recognizing — the ‘S’ is ‘select’ — those Soldiers who have demonstrated potential and performance and character to be recommended for promotion. So there’s always an opportunity to move ahead. It still requires the SSDs to be completed and [you to] be fit, ready to go to school once you go on that standing promotion list.”

He did say the Army is considering moving pin-on dates to ensure Soldiers have time to get through their PME requirements in time to get branch-qualified and be competitive for the next level.

Priority 1 Soldiers

A commenter asked about Soldiers who are eligible for promotion except for the PME requirement. Aubrey Butts, director of the Institute for NCO Professional Development, said the Army is working to get those Soldiers into the required courses.

“They are Priority 1 people, and what we do is we offer them the chance to go to school up front,” Butts said. “And, probably, the next part of that question is what if they don’t go? When they arrive in the primary zone and they have not completed the necessary PME, they are probably boarded and eliminated from the Army.”

Davenport added, “This is always a tough question about who is responsible for making sure a sergeant gets to go to school. First and foremost, it’s the Soldier. The way that ATAARS is set up now, they get a notice and depending on the hierarchy that’s established within the ATAARS system, unit leadership gets notified that Davenport needs to go to school. …”

“They all have received their opportunity to attend PME, and they are on notice that this is their last shot to go or they will be non-PME compliant and subject to the various [Qualitative Service Program] programs that we have going in our Army.”

A commenter followed up with a question about deployed Soldiers and whether they would be allowed waivers. Davenport said the Army is trying to avoid the scenario by using mobile training teams or asking Soldiers to attend courses earlier.

The school systems of the active-duty Army, the National Guard and the Army Reserve are also being combined to allow Soldiers more opportunities to go to a course any time it’s offered, said Troy L. Nattress, plans officer for TOMA. For instance, if active Army and the National Guard each teach a course four times a year, now any Soldier has eight opportunities to attend.

Nattress said, “That can really help these Soldiers get to school, get promoted and then return to their units and support the Army’s readiness.”

Writing skills will be emphasized in new NCO Professional Military Education

Complete #TRADOCtown hall coverage

NCO Journal

The topic that prompted the most discussion — and the most anxiety — at last month’s State of NCO Development Town Hall 2 wasn’t even directly on the agenda. What had Soldiers most worried was the NCO Professional Military Education’s new emphasis on writing.

During the second segment of the town hall, representatives from the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy — Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Defreese, commandant; Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Huggins, deputy commandant; and Charles Guyette, director of the Directorate of Training — described the new Master Leader Course and its writing requirements. They also explained how communication skills, specifically written communication skills, would become integral to every level of PME.

In speaking about the need and structure of the MLC, Defreese said, “The other part of the Master Leader Course is that every student who got to the Sergeants Major Course would say the same thing in the initial critiques: ‘We’ve never been taught how to write, and now we get here and we have to write university-style papers.’

“So we’re backing that down to the Master Leader Course,” he said, “and over the next year, all the way down to the Basic Leader Course. We’ll have a writing assessment, and we’ll force them to improve their writing skills or communication skills, both [orally] and in writing.”

That set the chat board buzzing, with commenters concerned about implementation, assessment and instruction.

Huggins responded to some of those concerns during USASMA’s session.

Sgt. 1st Class Alan McCoy, staff administrative assistant with A Company, 94th Combat Support Hospital, and Staff Sgt. Tonya O'Connell, mental health tech with 176th Medical Brigade, practice public affairs skills in Seagoville, Texas. All NCOs will be required to improve their writing skills under TRADOC's education plans. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Kai L. Jensen)
Sgt. 1st Class Alan McCoy, staff administrative assistant with A Company, 94th Combat Support Hospital, and Staff Sgt. Tonya O’Connell, mental health tech with 176th Medical Brigade, practice public affairs skills in Seagoville, Texas. All NCOs will be required to improve their writing skills under TRADOC’s education plans. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Kai L. Jensen)

“There’s a level of angst, obviously, in the Army right now on the redesigns of the educational system,” he said. “We are not throwing you into the shark tank. We are putting a lot of energy into the instructors and the training of the instructors so that they can help. … This is not a, ‘Hey, you can’t write, we’re booting you out of the Army.’ This is, ‘The Army is becoming more educated, it has to be able to communicate better, and this is how we’re getting after it.’ ”

And he assured Soldiers that they would be given the tools to succeed.

“It’s not show up and be prepared,” Huggins said. “We’re going to help you get there.”

Many of the students who reached the Sergeants Major Course have been concerned about their writing ability, Defreese noted. But he also said that as the course has dropped multiple choice exams in favor of more thorough written exams and coursework, the failure rate has fallen because students learn and retain the information better.

Guyette said, “The rigor of the course really drives the students to force themselves to improve their skill in an area they have not had before. It’s something they’re not comfortable with, but we have to take them out of their comfort zones, give them these [tools]. And the outcome we’ve experienced with this course is that they’re improving their writing and briefing capabilities.”

Training and Doctrine Command’s command sergeant major, David Davenport, who led the town hall, spent the second half-hour of the session on the online chat board that accompanied the webcast. When he came back to the set, he said, “There are a lot of great questions coming in on the chat board, and I noticed a common theme about them: It’s really about the writing assessments and the writing courses that we’re putting into our Professional Military Education.”

To help answer some of those questions, Davenport brought Institute for NCO Professional Development Director Aubrey Butts back onto the set to further explain the Army’s plans to improve Soldiers’ communication skills.

Butts explained that a writing assessment had already begun in most iterations of the Basic Leader Course, using software, called Criterion, that evaluates writing. Soldiers are given immediate feedback on writing assignments, scored 1 to 6. Butts said the Army is looking for a minimum score of 3, but that score doesn’t affect graduation.

“We’re not only doing the assessment,” Butts said. “Score 3 and below and we’ll offer a self-improvement course, which should be improved in the next couple months.”

Further assessments will be extended into the Advanced Leader Course, the Senior Leader Course, the Master Leader Course and the Sergeant Major Course, and each Soldier’s assessment will be tracked over time. Butts said this will allow for a “longitudinal study” of NCOs’ writing ability.

“Right now, if you look at the Army, only about 21 percent of the people who go to school can write effectively,” Butts said. “And it’s a problem with the new NCOER. If you look at it — it’s short. It’s concise. You have to be to the point. And if we don’t teach our NCOs to write, No. 1, we’re going to select the wrong noncommissioned officers for promotion. Secondly, with all the new technology that comes out, you have to text messages and receive messages, and if you can’t put it in a concise format, you aren’t going to be able to get all the support that you need on the modern-day battlefield.”

During the chat, INCOPD and USASMA representatives indicated that TRADOC was working with the Army Intelligence Center of Excellence in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, to develop a complete writing program and curriculum that could be rolled out to all the Army’s centers of excellence.

Davenport noted that writing ability, as assessed during each level of PME, will be annotated on the new Department of the Army form 1059. That form should be out later this year, Davenport said on the chat, and TRADOC is working on writing assessment guidelines and standards.

Several commenters asked how instructors would be trained to improve Soldiers’ writing skills.

“The faculty development program gives instructors more exposure to English, grammar and comprehension and [will] norm the grading standards against a rubric,” Guyette said of the MLC instructors. “Internally, USASMA will have to monitor to make sure that they’re executing that.”

Defreese added, “It’s not just the Master Leader Course. We’re going to send instructors to help teach ALC and SLC instructors how to do that grading and norming of written tests as we put written requirements into ALC and SLC.”

A representative from INCOPD said on the chat that Army University and the Combined Arms Center are “reviewing how cohorts address writing skills in PME.”

“In addition, USASMA will look at ways to incorporate instructional techniques to foster writing skills as a part of the NCO PME continuum, …” the INCOPD representative continued. “We intend to ensure that facilitators of learning have the training and tools required to provide meaningful feedback on writing standards as a part of NCO PME. This issue is being looked at by the Army University and USASMA.”

In closing out the writing discussion, Master Sgt. Michael Lavigne, who moderated the town hall, said, “I can see that that’s going to cause some angst in the next couple years as this is introduced because there are a lot of people who are great doers but not very strong writers. But if it’s progressive and sequential, they can start out young and develop as they go.”

Davenport concurred.

“And that’s the vision,” he said. “Understand that it’s a gap that we have right now, and it’s a way to close that gap over time.”

Preparation for Master Leader Course well underway, set to launch next year

Complete #TRADOCtown hall coverage

NCO Journal

Training and Doctrine Command is making sweeping changes to many areas of the NCO Professional Military Education, but perhaps the most noticeable is a new requirement — the Master Leader Course.

“There’s been a gap for several years in our NCO Professional Development system between the Senior Leader Course and the Sergeant Major Course,” Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis E. Defreese, U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy commandant, said during TRADOC’s State of NCO Development Town Hall 2.

The MLC will be rolled out in October 2017, and pilot courses have been conducted.

“We’ve done the first three pilots. It’s an absolutely outstanding course,” Defreese said. “The feedback was unanimous as far as what they thought the course would bring to the Army.

Sgt. Maj. Brian O'Leary, Master Leader Course instructor, facilitates a class during the first pilot of the MLC at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo by David Crozier)
Sgt. Maj. Brian O’Leary, Master Leader Course instructor, facilitates a class during the first pilot of the MLC at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo by David Crozier)

“One, that it was going to make the Army immediately better once we fully field it,” he said. “It was unanimous that it was the first time that NCOs felt like the Army was investing in their education. And then the third part was that they actually felt like their time wasn’t being wasted going to the course.”

Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Huggins, USASMA’s deputy commandant, added, “We refined it over those three pilots with the feedback from all the individuals who attended the course to what we’re going to produce now for the Army.

“One of the things I was really taken aback by as the comments came in is that they felt they would be immediately impactful to our Army as soon as they got back to their unit, and I don’t think there’s another course that has that,” he said.

One commenter on the town hall’s chat wondered how much of an effect a two-week course could have. Defreese responded, “Go to the course and you’ll see.”

He suggested reading an entry on TRADOC Command Sgt. Maj. David Davenport’s blog, written by a recent graduate of the course, Sgt. 1st Class Janna Escudé.

“The subjects themselves didn’t seem all that intimidating: leadership, management, operations, joint operations, Soldier readiness, and of course, communications. Fairly easy stuff, right? Well, let’s not forget we are transitioning from a tactical to an operational viewpoint,” Escudé wrote. “What did that mean to me? It meant I was now trying to see and plan for a much bigger picture than just my previous actions on the ground with my Soldiers. I thought I had some understanding, but I was nowhere prepared for the depth at which we would break down the operational environment.”

The course is 15 days straight, Defreese noted.

“It’s hard to describe how much more challenging it is than a Senior Leader Course or the Advanced Leader Course of the past,” he said.

Defreese, Huggins and USASMA Director of the Directorate of Training Charles Guyette fielded questions about many changes to NCO PME, but the MLC is one of the most obvious changes, and its implementation will pave the way for other adjustments.

During the town hall’s online chat, retired Command Sgt. Maj. Dan Elder – who was himself instrumental in improving the NCO Educational System while he was on active duty – asked where the instructors for the MLC would come from. Would they be “internal TRADOC positions or borrowed installation manpower?” he wondered.

Huggins said it would “probably be a combination to start.”

Huggins said a program for selecting instructors was in the works. He said instructors would have to be graduates of the program and take part in a faculty development program.

He said the course uses the experiential learning model, which is the new Army standard for education.

“Instead of just sitting and looking at PowerPoint slides, you’ll be put into an environment where you’ll have to have some shared content and understanding with your classmates,” he said. “It’ll be facilitated by these instructors, who have been through it, so that they know how to steer generally where they want the outcome to end up so there’s a visceral, physical response to the training. That’s going to allow you to remember what we taught you, not just see the Powerpoints and then turn it off when you’re done.”

It’s a model that’s been employed for years in the Sergeants Major Course, and will be increasingly used at all levels of NCO PME.

The first pilot was conducted at USASMA, which is based at Fort Bliss, Texas. The next two were at the National Guard Regional Training Institute at Camp Williams, Utah, and the Reserve Training Center at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Reaching across components was done by design, Defreese said. Because graduating the course is a requirement, the pilots at the RTI and the RTC will create a solid base of instructors in the total force.

“The National Guard and Reserves, I think, will do just as well with educating their sergeants first class promotable as the active Army,” he said.

In the coming year, Defreese said, USASMA will conduct several initial operating courses to increase the number of qualified instructors and to validate the locations where the MLC will be taught.

A representative from TRADOC’s Institute of NCO Professional Development wrote on the town hall’s chatroom that the MLC would be taught at 10 locations in the continental United States using existing NCO academies, RTIs or RTCs and that mobile training teams would be used for MLC iterations overseas.

The rollout next year will coincide with a change to Structured Self Development: SSD5, which takes place after the Sergeants Major Course, will be renamed SSD6. The newly created SSD5 will take place between the MLC and the SMC.

“SSD5 and MLC will launch at the same time, but the first students probably won’t have to have completed SSD5,” Defreese said.

And don’t worry, sergeants major. Defreese said if an NCO has taken SSD5, his or her ERB will just repopulate with the renamed SSD6.

Huggins, Defreese and Guyette said one of the great benefits of the MLC is giving sergeants first class promotable an idea about what roles and responsibilities most master sergeants have. They said most Soldiers know what a typical first sergeant “looks like,” but other staff positions are a little harder to understand from the outside.

“There was a significant gap between sergeants first class coming out of their Senior Leader Course and them getting prepared to go to the Sergeant Major Course,” Guyette said. “And what it was was making that transition from the tactical environment — where they were pushing troops — and getting into strategic and operational thinking. …

“The other element of the course, though, is that it challenges them to be more critical thinking, problem-solving, do research and then put in application,” he said. “Because now you have to communicate effectively (in) writing, you have to communicate effectively (in) talking, briefing.”

Master Leader Course’s launch is one step in overhaul of NCO education

NCO Journal staff report

A new Master Leader Course pilot begins this week as part of a revamping of NCO education and professional development.

“As you may or may not know, the Master Leader Course is now official,” said Command Sgt. Maj. David S. Davenport Sr. of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, speaking Oct. 14 during a forum at the Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition.

Command Sergeant Major of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, Command Sgt. Maj. David Davenport, shares his experiences with cadets during a recent visit to the U.S. Military Academy. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Vito T. Bryant / U.S. Military Academy Public Affairs)
Command Sergeant Major of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, Command Sgt. Maj. David Davenport, shares his experiences with cadets during a recent visit to the U.S. Military Academy. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Vito T. Bryant / U.S. Military Academy Public Affairs)

The first pilot of the course for sergeants first class is now being taught at Fort Bliss, Texas. The new course will eventually be required for promotion to master sergeant and is part of a renewed emphasis across the Army on NCO education.

There’s a push to eliminate the current backlog of over 14,000 NCOs who have not gone to their required professional military education, or PME, Davenport said.

“Deferments are causing a huge disruption,” Davenport said. In the future, instead of just saying that an NCO can’t go to school due to an operational conflict, commanders will need to say when that NCO can go to school, Davenport said.

PME requirements for promotion will no longer be waived for NCOs, he said, beginning next year.

Enforcing education requirements comes as a widening of STEP, which stands for selection, training, education and promotion. It was first used to require master sergeants and first sergeants to attend the Sergeant Major Academy to get promoted and now it’s expanding to all NCO ranks.

It’s simple, but everyone must understand, Davenport said, “You will not be promoted until you attend the appropriate level of PME.”

Other upcoming changes include:

  • Establishing the NCO Professional Development System (per HQDA EXORD 235-15
  • Renaming of the Warrior Leader Course to Basic Leader Course
  • Using a Digital Job Book that documents all training for Soldiers as part of the Digital Training Management System, or DTMS
  • Redesign of the Sergeant Major Academy
  • Establishment of the Institution for NCO Professional Development, or INCOPOD
  • Development of an Executive Leader Course for command sergeants major
  • Publicizing more broadening opportunities for NCOs
  • Providing a “Digital Rucksack” to students that includes course materials, apps and technical manuals
  • Requiring Army Service School Academic Reports or DA 1059s to include date of a Soldier’s last physical fitness test, along with a height and weight statement

The effective date of the last change and others may be determined by a proponency conference taking place this week, Davenport said.

The changes will be “revolutionary,” not just “evolutionary” like past changes to NCO professional development, said Davenport and retired Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston, who served as moderator for the panel discussion.

“Noncommissioned officers and their Soldiers must be ready to perform (their) missions in an increasingly complex world in which they find themselves today,” Preston said.

“This is an opportunity for the NCO Corps to take charge of NCOES, of how we educate our non-commissioned officers,” said retired Command Sgt. Maj. John D. Sparks, who is now director of TRADOC’s Institute for Professional Development.

“You’ve got to own NCOES,” Sparks told NCOs in the room about rebalancing the NCO Education System.

“Training is the fulcrum for manning and equipping,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Scott Schroeder of U.S. Army Forces Command.

“We must develop systems and policies” that enable PME to sync with deployments and operational missions, Schroeder said. He and retired Lt. Col. Ernie Boyd of FORSCOM discussed the new Sustainable Readiness Model, or SRM, which will be used for Army Force Generation.

Many broadening opportunities for NCOs exist in the Army today that are not used to full advantage, Sparks said. Davenport said there will be a “shaking up” of broadening opportunities, to ensure all of the opportunities are widely known.

“We’ve got to define what broadening is,” Schroeder said, explaining that the term is used for everything from fellowships to drill instructor assignments.

A “hybrid solution” needs to be developed to meet both operational and educational requirements, Schroeder said. More frequent classes might be one solution, he said.

Leveraging technology might be another, Davenport suggested.

One thing is certain, Schroeder said: “We can’t go back to where we used to be. We can’t continue to do business as usual.”

The solutions can’t be made “in a stovepipe,” Schroeder said, and must be discussed “across our staff sections.” While G3 (operations and training) is usually the proponent for schools, G1 (personnel) and other sections also need to be involved.

More guidance on NCO professional development is expected in December, Davenport said, with a third fragmentary order to be released in the spring.

USASMA begins work on new Master Leader Course

NCO Journal

The Army has announced plans to create a new level of the NCO Education System — a new Master Leader Course that will be a branch-immaterial course attended by NCOs after the Senior Leader Course and before the Sergeants Major Course.

Senior NCO leaders say they identified a knowledge gap within the E-8 population. To address the issue and better prepare master sergeants and sergeants first class promotable for their responsibilities, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command tasked the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas, to create the MLC.

Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis E. Defreese, USASMA’s commandant, said the academy plans to start a pilot course by fall of 2015. The course would be implemented Army-wide after three iterations of the pilot, he said.

Filling the gap

This knowledge gap within the force was caused in part when the Army developed Skill Level 6 a couple of years ago, Defreese explained. Both E-8s and E-9s were once classified as Skill Level 5 personnel, but once Skill Level 6 was developed, many critical common tasks shifted to E-9s. That said, it remains unclear which critical tasks should be assigned to Skill Level 5, he said.

“You have clear tasks, conditions and standards that have been established for an E-7,” said Charles Guyette, the director of USASMA’s Directorate of Training. “When you get into Skill Levels 5 and 6, those tasks have not been fully developed as far as understanding what the tasks, conditions and standards are going to be. … We really have to get into the meat of the tasks and how we are going to write them in order to develop the lesson plans and get them into a course [format].”

To analyze the tasks that should be assigned to E-8s, USASMA hosted a critical task site selection board. Board members, including command sergeants major and battalion commanders selected from across the Army, gathered at USASMA in October. They agreed that there was a knowledge gap at Skill Level 5, and that many master sergeants entering the Sergeants Major Course have not been prepared for their studies. The board partially blamed the fact that it is often more than five years between the time an NCO attends the Senior Leader Course and the time he or she is selected for the Sergeants Major Course, which has been made even more challenging in the past few years.

The board identified skills and attributes E-8s should possess and areas of study that should be taught in a potential Master Leader Course before NCOs go to the Sergeants Major Course, including oral and written communication, critical thinking and problem solving, management, preparing and conducting briefings, and knowledge of the military decision-making process.

“When we elevate an E-7 or an E-8 from a company level organization and move them up to the battalion level and higher, they [often] have had no experience in how the headquarters operates as far as the interaction between staff agencies,” Guyette said. “So they are coming in with a very hard learning curve to grasp and comprehend what they have to do to get integrated, and what their role and functions are within that staff.”

“I’ll quote one of the board members,” Defreese said. “Command Sgt. Maj. Brunk W. Conley, who is the National Guard CSM, said that when he was a sergeant first class, a platoon sergeant, he kind of knew what he would need to do as a first sergeant because he watched his first sergeant every day and was mentored by him. But when he made E-8 and was reassigned to a corps staff or to a two- or three-star [general’s] staff to work as an NCO in a staff section, he had never seen that before. That was a huge gap in learning.”

Defreese said the new Master Leader Course will significantly improve NCOs’ ability to see the bigger picture and to understand mission command. After completing this course, NCO graduates will be better able to “understand, visualize, direct, assist, train and lead,” he said.

NCOs at the E-8 level need to know more than just how to do their jobs well, Guyette said. They need to understand the art and science of leading.

“I always use baseball as an analogy,” Guyette said. “If I’m here to learn how to be a first baseman, I’m going to learn everything I need to know to be a first baseman. But if I need to learn about how to coach — send signals to the baseline coaches or whether the batter has to bunt, swing away or steal, that’s the science of playing baseball. So we’ve got to teach NCOs – get them away from just knowing what their job is to the science of understanding the Army.”

Developing the course

USASMA staff members working to develop the MLC are in the first phase of the ADDIE, or Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation, process. As it is early in the process, there are many unknowns about the course, and Defreese said that before decisions can be made, USASMA must analyze carefully the Army’s needs and seek input from every corner.

USASMA began by conducting focus groups with sergeants first class, master sergeants and sergeants major who were at the academy and on Fort Bliss. They were asked to rate 321 critical common tasks on their importance to E-8s. Following these focus groups, the critical task site selection board convened, which included the command sergeants major of TRADOC, U.S. Army Forces Command, the U.S. Army Reserve and the National Guard, three battalion commanders, company commanders and other nominative command sergeants major from TRADOC, FORSCOM and U.S. Army Materiel Command. Board members discussed the tasks and what NCOs need to know to be the best master sergeants possible.

“[The board was asked] to do the same thing that the [earlier] focus groups did … evaluate the importance of all of those critical tasks we think an E-8 should have,” Defreese said. “We also had discussions with that same group of senior leaders – verbalized what we think an E-8 should possess as far as attributes and skills and knowledge. … We are analyzing the results of that critical task site selection board now.”

After reviewing the board’s recommendations, USASMA staff members will categorize the critical tasks into the Army’s three domains for learning: the organizational domain, the institutional domain and the self-development domain. That means the tasks will be separated into those that should be taught within a unit, those that should be taught at an institution, and those that should be an NCO’s responsibility. Once they know which tasks should be taught at an institution, they will then be able to determine how long the new Master Leader Course needs to be, where it will be taught and how much of it will be offered through the Army’s online learning systems.

Defreese said USASMA is directing all available resources into creating the new course, as it takes about 450 man-hours to develop one online hour of instruction, and 60 man-hours to develop one hour of face-to-face instruction. He wants to have it ready as soon as possible, he said, but emphasized that USASMA staff members will do whatever is necessary to ensure the course is exactly what the Army needs.

“The USASMA staff is working feverishly to get this done,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Tedd J. Pritchard, USASMA’s deputy commandant. “[It’s our duty to] provide the right training at the right time for the right Soldiers to go out there and have these strong leadership abilities and skills.”

The U.S. Army promoted Master Sgt. Frank Munley from the rank of sergeant first class, effective Feb. 1. Command Sgt. Maj. Lebert Beharie, senior noncommissioned officer for the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command congratulates Munley on his promotion. Munley is assigned to the office of the RDECOM command sergeant major. (U.S. Army Photo)
The U.S. Army promoted Master Sgt. Frank Munley from the rank of sergeant first class, effective Feb. 1. Command Sgt. Maj. Lebert Beharie, senior noncommissioned officer for the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, congratulates Munley on his promotion. Munley is assigned to the office of the RDECOM command sergeant major. (U.S. Army Photo)