Training and Doctrine Command’s second State of NCO Development Town Hall kicked off June 23 with a tighter focus and a new format.
This one emphasized leader development, which TRADOC Command Sgt. Maj. David Davenport calls “Line of Effort 1” of the NCO 2020 Strategy.
Hundreds of Soldiers logged into the online chat and chimed in on Twitter and Facebook. Topics included NCO Professional Military Education, changes to Structured Self-Development, plans for a common core of instruction in required NCO courses, the new Master Leader Course, an emphasis on communication skills at all levels of NCO education, functional courses such as the Senior Enlisted Joint Professional Military Education Course and the Battle Staff Noncommissioned Officer Course, and the potential benefits to Soldiers under the Army University system.
Davenport said the first State of NCO Development Town Hall, which was conducted in March, was a “huge success” but “too wide in focus.” Limiting the discussion allowed more time to drill into the topics, but several of the commenters and even the moderator noted that the time seemed to speed by.
The second town hall featured speakers from TRADOC in Fort Eustis, Virginia; the Combined Arms Center and Army University at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; and the United States Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas.
During the Webcast, Davenport announced that the next town hall, focused on talent management — Line of Effort 2 — will take place Nov. 3 and will follow the same format — three segments, with one in which Davenport has a chance to hit the chat board and interact directly with Soldiers.
Davenport noted that much progress had already been made on the NCO 2020 Strategy, even since — and partially because of — the last town hall. He said the Army had:
Developed a digital job book to track, manage and certify Soldiers’ core competencies
Established a standard for deferment from PME
Set scheduling priorities for all NCOs attending PME
Extended battalion and brigade sergeant major tour lengths to 30 months
Removed Command Selection List categories and adopted all-in policies for both selection and assignments for sergeants major
Defined broadening opportunities for the NCO Corps
Developed a comprehensive strategy establishing the One Army School System
Started work on revision of SSDs, improving the rigor and relevance of the courses and linking them to PME
Started working on establishing a common core throughout all six levels of PME
Developed a digital rucksack in support of the work being done with NCO professional development.
But most importantly, Davenport said, in just the past several months, the Army had reduced the backlog of NCOs needing to complete their next level of PME from more than 14,000 to about 8,000.
“I think that Line of Effort 1, as you can see, has a lot of momentum,” he said in closing the second town hall. “And, really, the hard work begins integrating everything that we’ve talked about tonight [on Aug. 3 and 4] when we have all the centers of excellence sergeants major, the school sergeants major, here, and they basically get an in-depth look at common core. They get some homework to do to come back, as we begin integrating all these ideas, all these concepts into PME to make it a reality.
“A lot of work is to be done, but there’s a lot of momentum moving in that direction, so I don’t think it’s a question of if it’s going to happen but when — when do we have everything in place not to penalize a Soldier, but … to make better sergeants and better staff sergeants? That is the end-state of everything that we’re doing for NCO 2020.”
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.
“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.
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.”
The NCOs who attended the first Noncommissioned Officer Solarium 2015 at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., didn’t know what to expect when they were invited to take part in the sergeant major of the Army initiative. About 80 of them, representing U.S. Army installations located throughout the globe, were asked to join and were assigned to work groups to focus on seven problematic issues facing the Army. However, once group presentations began before Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey during the outbrief session May 1, all agreed it was truly an honor to have participated.
During two-and-half days of brainstorming, debating and voting, the NCOs narrowed down recommendations on their given topics, which were to be presented to the sergeant major of the Army. The seven key topics were
To the NCOs’ surprise, they found they shared very similar concerns and perspectives with the nation’s most senior enlisted member of the Army.
“We were given the opportunity to voice what we saw from our foxhole, like me being at Fort Riley, Kan., is different than what my battle buddy is doing at Fort Bragg, N.C., and my other battle buddy is doing in Alaska,” said 1st Sgt. Robert V. Craft Sr., mechanical maintenance 1st sergeant with 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment. “To realize that we, at our level, have the ability to effect change is truly humbling. It was an honor to be here, to be selected from my command, to be viewed as being worthy to share this experience. It’s almost like we are a part of history.”
Dailey, Command Sgt. Maj. David S. Davenport Sr., TRADOC command sergeant major; Command Sgt. Maj. David O. Turnbull, Combined Arms Center command sergeant major; and Sgt. Maj. Dennis A. Eger, Mission Command Center of Excellence sergeant major, heard from the seven groups of NCOs at the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Combined Arms Center.
“For the most part, growing up in the military as junior leaders and even at our [senior] level you get in the mindset at certain times of, ‘I may not be able to fix the big picture, but I can fix what’s below me,’” said Master Sgt. Keith E. Marceau, current operations NCO, United States Army Pacific. “I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be in an auditorium with my peers in front of the sergeant major of the Army, TRADOC sergeant major and FORSCOM sergeant major, shaping the future. We have the ability to influence the whole Army in many different functions, and I truly believe that the sergeants major took stuff from us that they will implement.”
Participating NCOs were eager to share their views with Dailey and offer a snapshot of the Army from the perspective of senior leaders who work directly with Soldiers.
“There was that element of teamwork,” said Master Sgt. Sylvorne W. Walters, brigade NCO for 501st Sustainment Brigade, 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command. “One of the ways you motivate a Soldier is to make him feel like he’s part of the fix, and that’s exactly what they have done to us ─ they have allowed us to be part of that.”
Guided by skilled facilitators who kept the NCOs focused on the mission at hand, the Soldiers bonded over shared views and the unusual opportunity to connect with their peers in an effort to help Dailey shape the Army.
“I was just very impressed with [Dailey], sitting there listening to every single NCO whether they were on this side of the fence or that side of the fence,” said Master Sgt. Aaron W. Carter, brigade fires NCO for the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Division. “He took everything he received; he was constantly writing. He’s going to make a difference, and it came from us.”
“I really didn’t know what to expect. I just knew to keep an open mind,” said Master Sgt. Cynthia Hodge, operations NCO for 426th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team. “[I enjoyed] not just working with my branding team but also the other NCOs, my peers and seniors. You feel really humbled because we have an opportunity to make change. I definitely have got to go back [to my installation] and share what I have learned here.”
With two wars largely behind them, the senior NCOs welcomed the opportunity to possibly effect change in the Army during the current era of downsizing.
“It’s really going back to quality Soldiers over quantity,” Marceau said. “[That means] building that talent pool that’s going to train Soldiers with limited resources, and having the Soldiers that want to be a Soldier 24/7 instead of 9-to-5.”
“The message [my group] hopes that [the sergeant major of the Army] received from us is that in order for us as the NCO corps to re-establish Army standards, we have to hold Soldiers to a standard,” Craft said. “[We need to change] the mindset of the Army. We have been an Army at war. Our focus has been deployment. We have forgotten as an Army how to be a Soldier in garrison.
“We have to be given the opportunity to retrain our Army, and the mindset of our Army has to change because we as leaders ─ as NCOs, as well as officers and Soldiers ─ the only mindset we have known for the past 14 years is deployment mode. We have to get back to basics, to doing PT, to sergeants’ time training, actually taking the time and opportunity to train our Soldiers as opposed to taking the time to prepare for our next deployment.”
It became very clear to the noncommissioned officers assembled during the first Noncommissioned Officer Solarium 2015 Outbrief session at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., which key Army topic of the seven discussed was the most critical to Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey. If physical fitness benchmarks continue on the current path where 40 percent of Soldiers are overweight and body fat standards are too lenient, it will pose a severe detriment to Army readiness, and the Army and nation will suffer for it, Dailey said.
The Sergeant Major of the Army urged about 80 participating noncommissioned officers May 1 during the event at the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Combined Arms Center to take accountability for their physical fitness and set the example for their Soldiers.
“You don’t get good physical fitness unless you do physical fitness,” Dailey said. “[I say] good for you if you have the guilt for not doing [physical training]. Let that run on your brain all day long. I hope it eats you apart if you did not do physical fitness this morning. Hopefully that in turn will drive you to do it tomorrow.”
Call for excellence
Dailey, Command Sgt. Maj. David S. Davenport Sr., TRADOC command sergeant major; Command Sgt. Maj. David O. Turnbull, Combined Arms Center command sergeant major; and Sgt. Maj. Dennis A. Eger, Mission Command Center of Excellence sergeant major, heard from a focus group of NCOs who suggested that the Army needs a better tool to assess physical readiness training (PRT) instead of the “outdated” Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT).
“There are units and posts out there conducting different types of physical training such as CrossFit and P90X. … They have not bought into what the Army standard is,” said 1st Sgt. Jason M. Lambert, combat engineer 1st sergeant with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 6th Engineer Battalion.
Lambert was the speaker for the physical fitness group. For the Solarium, NCOs were divided into seven work groups. Each group was asked to present their recommendations to the Sergeant Major of the Army on the seven most problematic issues facing today’s Army. The other key topics were talent management, education, culture, training, vision/branding and practicing mission command.
“Our recommendation is to modify the APFT to be more realistic and have it revolve around PRT concepts,” Lambert said.
TRADOC Command Sgt. Maj. David S. Davenport Sr. acknowledged that the APFT does not match the doctrine on physical fitness.
“Why is everybody doing P90X and Cross Fit? Because they’re training to max the PT test; it’s not about their unit mission,” Davenport said. “If you talk to [Soldiers] about Afghanistan, they think stamina is important. It’s not about how many push-ups you can do. We have got to figure out how we’re going to assess overall fitness. … Fitness is tied to everything we do in our Army.”
Priorities and the mission
Solarium discussions frequently crossed over into several key topics as the NCOs in focus groups presented their recommendations. First Sgt. Robert V. Craft Jr., mechanical maintenance 1st sergeant with 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, discussed consequences for Soldiers who fail the APFT.
“My group came to a consensus that we have begun to accept substandard performance in order to make numbers for mission,” Craft said. “[If Soldiers are being retained] in order to be able to accomplish our missions, it basically leads the average Soldier to believe that PT isn’t important and shape isn’t important. The only thing that matters is the mission.
“At the end of the day, it’s our responsibility as NCOs, bottom line, but the problem arises when we as NCOs do our part [to begin the separation of a Soldier], [and then a commander says] to retain that Soldier and fix it,” Craft said. “I can’t fix a Soldier if the Soldier has quit. I can do more with less if I didn’t have to worry about that bottom 10 percent.”
Noncommissioned officers in the group that focused on talent management noted that the Army needs to improve how select personnel are identified for broadening assignments, such as recruiters and drill sergeants.
“We’ve recently been embarrassed in the media by recruiters having improper relations with recruits; also a sexual assault response coordinator who embarrassed his organization by his actions in Texas,” said Master Sgt. Danny Ibarra, a secretary of general staff for 21st Theater Sustainment Command Operations and Support. “We need to screen [for those positions] a little bit better. There currently isn’t a standardized selection process, and the command sergeant major’s involvement is key.
“Having the command sergeant major vet and interview these personnel could help stop putting these people in the wrong assignments,” Ibarra and his group said.
Dailey said talent management in the Army is under review and that changes to the process are being considered.
“I think that we have to put talent management in the hands of every leader throughout every organization,” the sergeant major of the Army said. “It was once described to me as not about managing the top 10 percent [of Soldiers]. That’s real easy. The challenge is what do you do with the bottom 40 [percent of Soldiers].
“Everybody’s fighting for that quality individual, and there’s not enough [of them] to go around,” he said.
NCOs also discussed the successes and failures of Army branding campaigns and whether or not they identified personally with any of them. NCOs in the focus group on branding said the current campaign, “Army Strong,” does not resonate with them.
“We feel that we need something that speaks more as far as who we are, what we are and why we do it,” said Sgt. 1st Class Cornelius Cowart, operations NCO for 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade. “We need something that’s a little more timeless. For instance, a lot of us in here can relate, even 20 years later, to ‘Be All You Can Be.’ It still speaks to our veterans, active-duty Soldiers and even some of our younger Soldiers.”
The sergeant major of the Army agreed with Cowart and his group about the timeless appeal of “Be All You Can Be”. However, Dailey urged NCOs to consider the message they convey to the public as walking “billboards” for the Army.
“Every Soldier is a billboard; we’re all billboards, and there actually are enough of us to make a difference nationally,” he said. “You can control what your own billboard says. It’s a big old billboard, and it’s going to get more attention than the one that’s on the side of the road.”
Dailey spoke of the new transition assistance program called Soldier For Life, which prepares service members for post-Army life by ensuring that he or she has all of the necessary tools, opportunities and counseling.
“Here is our problem as I see it ─ the Marine Corps is very good at what they do,” Dailey said. “You can chapter out of the Marine Corps, and you are a Marine for life. A Soldier can retire out of the Army, get paid benefits for the rest of his life and still talk bad about the Army.”
Dailey thanked the NCOs for their work during the Solarium and said the discussions generated will have a profound impact on what he will advise the Chief of Staff of the Army and the Secretary of the Army. Dailey said the Solarium was not just an exercise, but an event that must be done on a regular basis.
“We [in senior leadership] sometimes lose touch; this is our way of getting back in touch with reality,” he said. “You NCOs are the representation of just that. This is a reality of what is going on across our Army … because you are at the heart of where organizational leadership begins.”
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