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‘If you’re not bleeding, sweating and pushed to your brink … then you didn’t do enough’

By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

After a formal board interview and written test Tuesday night, the 2016 Drill Sergeant and AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year competitions kicked into high gear Wednesday, with the 15 competitors taking on challenges like a physical training test, day and night land navigation, basic rifle marksmanship and teaching new recruits.

Sgt. Maj. Kevin Artis, the G3/5/7 (operations/plans/training) sergeant major for the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training at Fort Eustis, Virginia, said he told the competitors their days and nights would be challenging through Friday, but he hoped they would stay motivated.

Staff Sgt. Martin Delaney, competing to be 2016 Drill Sergeant of the Year, reaches the last part of the hand grenade course, in which he had to name each grenade in the case and their function. (Photos by Spc. James Seals / NCO Journal)
Sgt. 1st Class Martin Delaney, competing for 2016 Drill Sergeant of the Year, reaches the last part of the hand grenade course, in which he had to name each grenade in the case and its function. (Photos by Spc. James Seals / NCO Journal)

“I expect the Soldiers here to do their best and strive to be the best they can be,” Artis said. “I expect them to show that they are top professionals, not only in the NCO Corps, but in their respective jobs.

“These are the top trainers in the Army, so we expect them to adhere to that standard,” Artis continued. “We expect them to be very professional and to execute all the tasks and requirements that we have laid out for them. Most of the tasks will be surprises to them. They don’t know what they are going to run into when they get here.”

Staff Sgt. Dominique Curry of C Company, 1-81 Armor Battalion, at Fort Benning, Georgia, is one of the nine NCOs competing to be named 2016 Advanced Individual Training Platoon Sergeant of the Year. As Artis predicted, Curry said the unforeseeable nature of the tasks he was being put through made the competition difficult.

Staff Sgt. Daniel Barsi, competing to be 2016 Drill Sergeant of the Year, instructs Basic Combat Training Soldiers in changing the direction of a column, column left, Sept. 7 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
Staff Sgt. Daniel Barsi, competing for 2016 Drill Sergeant of the Year, instructs Basic Combat Training Soldiers in changing the direction of a column, column left, Sept. 7 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

“It’s definitely a challenge,” Curry said. “Every day is a surprise. You really don’t know what to expect, so you are definitely on edge all the time. It’s a huge opportunity, not only for myself, but to represent Fort Benning. I’m definitely humbled. I’m out here to do my best and see where that takes me.”

Staff Sgt. Keith Lovely of D Company, 1-222 Aviation Regiment, 128th Aviation Brigade, at Fort Eustis, Virginia, is also competing to be AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year. Despite the surprises, he said he could predict one thing about the coming days: The events were only going to get more difficult.

“It’s going great so far,” Lovely said. “A lot of good NCOs out here competing against each other. It’s a lot of fun. I foresee it getting more difficult. I’m not saying it’s not already difficult, but we still have two-and-a-half more days ahead of us, so I think it’s going to get rougher.”

Staff Sgt. Brandon Laspe, competing to be 2016 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year, puts on chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense gear on during a station Sept. 7 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
Staff Sgt. Brandon Laspe dons nuclear, biological and chemical protective gear during the 2016 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year competition Sept. 7 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

 

Maj. Gen. Anthony Funkhouser, commanding general of the Center for Initial Military Training, was at the Hand Grenade Assault Course on Wednesday, watching as the competitors went through different stations demonstrating their knowledge of their craft, as well as their ability to pass that knowledge down to new Soldiers.

“It’s amazing the level of effort the sergeants put into this, to be very technically and tactically competent,” Funkhouser said. “You walk around here and you see them assemble and disassemble weapons, all the knowledge that we ask of them, the physical ability to do their mission, warrior tasks and battle drills. They are great role models. What’s really neat is that we have some trainees here from reception station — who haven’t even received basic training yet — learning from these guys as their role models.”

Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Wood, competing to be 2016 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year, conducts an in-ranks inspection Sept. 7 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Wood, competing for 2016 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year, conducts an in-ranks inspection Sept. 7 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

Staff Sgt. Tyler Cushing of C Company, 1-46 Infantry Battalion, 194th Armor Brigade, at Fort Benning, was one of the four NCOs competing for the title of 2016 Drill Sergeant of the Year. He talked about the preparation necessary for the difficult days ahead.

“I spent months preparing once I was selected as post drill sergeant of the year,” Cushing said. “Preparation was pretty grueling. A lot of physical training, a lot of mental training and a lot of studying. I feel very fortunate being able to compete against all these great drill sergeants.”

Sgt. Ryan Moldovan, E Company, 1-390th Infantry Regiment, 98th Training Division, 108th Training Command, is one of the two NCOs competing to be the 2016 Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year. He also spoke about his preparation in the past few months.

Staff Sgt. Emanuel Olivencia, competing to be 2016 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year, works to camouflage his helmet during a station Sept. 7 at the Hand Grenade Assault Course on Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
Staff Sgt. Emanuel Olivencia camouflages his helmet during the 2016 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year competition Sept. 7 at the Hand Grenade Assault Course on Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

 

“I did a lot of studying, a lot of reading, reading deep into the regulations, looking paragraph by paragraph, looking into the weapons regulations and seeing what every little piece is called,” Moldovan said. “I did lots of running, lots of foot marching. I try to get to the range as much as I can, but it’s hard to because of my civilian job” as a UPS delivery driver in Canton, Ohio.

“I’m just glad to be here, glad to be competing, happy to represent the Reserves,” he said. “All of the NCOs who are here are great. They’re the best of the best; I’m proud to be counted among them.”

Staff Sgt. Mark Mercer, 2015 Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year, helped organize this year’s competition. He said his message to this year’s group was to give “110 percent” during each event.

“Don’t let Friday come and you say, ‘I didn’t leave it all out there at Fort Jackson,’” Mercer said. “Because if you’re not bleeding, sweating and pushed to your brink after the last event, then you didn’t do enough. You need to come out here and give it your all.”

As Major General Anthony Funkhouser, commanding general for the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training (from left); Sgt. Maj. Kevin Artis, the G3/5/7 (operations/plans/training) sergeant major for the CIMT; and Staff Sgt. Jacob Miller, 2015 Drill Sergeant of the Year, look on, Staff Sgt. Tyler Cushing conducts a disassemble/assemble/functions check on a weapon. Cushing is competing to be 2016 Drill Sergeant of the Year.
Maj. Gen. Anthony Funkhouser, commanding general of the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training (from left); Sgt. Maj. Kevin Artis, the G3/5/7 (operations/plans/training) sergeant major for the CIMT; and Staff Sgt. Jacob Miller, 2015 Drill Sergeant of the Year, look on as Staff Sgt. Tyler Cushing conducts a disassemble/assemble/functions check on a weapon. Cushing is competing to be the 2016 Drill Sergeant of the Year.

Competing for the title of 2016 Drill Sergeant of the Year are:

• Sgt. 1st Class Martin Delaney

• Staff Sgt. Tyler Cushing

• Staff Sgt. Dustin Randall

• Staff Sgt. Daniel Barsi

Competing for the title of 2016 Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year are:

• Sgt. 1st Class Jason Scott

• Sgt. Ryan Moldovan

Competing for the title of 2016 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year are:

• Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Wood

• Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Cummings

• Staff Sgt. Keith Lovely

• Staff Sgt. Jacob Meyers

• Staff Sgt. Dominique Curry

• Staff Sgt. Christopher Johnson

• Staff Sgt. Brandon Laspe

• Staff Sgt. Emanuel Olivencia

• Staff Sgt. Jonathan Sisk

PEO Soldier NCO obliged to return life-saving gear

By MARTHA C. KOESTER
NCO Journal

If it hadn’t been for some great noncommissioned officers who provided a steadying influence early in his career, Master Sgt. Corey M. Ingram might not have made it to Program Executive Office Soldier and the job he loves.

Ingram is a senior enlisted advisor to Project Manager Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment, or PM SPIE, which is part of PEO Soldier at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. PM SPIE oversees development of helmets, body armor, uniforms, parachutes, and other clothing and protective equipment.

The advanced combat helmet that saved Staff Sgt. Joseph McKenzie's life shows damages. Master Sgt. Corey M. Ingram presented McKenzie with the helmet during a ceremony in October at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Armando R. Limon, U.S. Army)
The advanced combat helmet that saved Staff Sgt. Joseph McKenzie’s life shows damages. Master Sgt. Corey M. Ingram presented McKenzie with his battle-scarred helmet during a ceremony in October at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Armando R. Limon, U.S. Army)

“I have had some really good NCO mentors,” Ingram said. “When I was a younger Soldier, I wasn’t the best Soldier. An NCO snatched me by the scruff of my neck and said, ‘You’re not doing it right. I see lots of potential in you, and I’m going to be your mentor for the rest of your career,’ and he honestly was my mentor for the rest of my career because I ended up being stationed with now retired Command Sgt. Maj. George R. Manning about three times. Then, I had three other really great mentors at Fort Sill [Oklahoma] which I really learned a lot from ─ Sgt. Maj. Thomas Miller, Sgt. Maj. Taylor Poindexter and Sgt. Maj. David Carr.”

He credits the four NCOs with shaping his career and putting him on the path to PEO Soldier.

“Where else can you go and touch the Soldier every day?” Ingram said. “Not just one or two Soldiers, but the whole Army at the same time. It’s incredible.”

It’s Ingram’s job to offer the voice of the Soldier to Col. Dean Hoffman IV, who is Program Manager Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment. Everything at PM SPIE is designed for Soldiers, and feedback is important. Ingram regularly solicits feedback from Soldiers during equipment fieldings, where units test the latest in what the Soldier touches, wears or carries. The results are taken to officers, then sent to scientists, who work to improve equipment for Soldiers.

Master Sgt. Corey M. Ingram, left, senior enlisted advisor for Project Manager Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment, holds the advanced combat helmet that helped save Sgt. Christopher Thompson’s life. Participating in these ceremonies helps Ingram raise awareness to PEO Soldier’s PM SPIE. (Photo courtesy PEO Soldier)
Master Sgt. Corey M. Ingram, left, senior enlisted advisor for Project Manager Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment, holds the advanced combat helmet that helped save Sgt. Christopher Thompson’s life. Participating in these ceremonies helps Ingram raise awareness to PEO Soldier’s PM SPIE. (Photo courtesy PEO Soldier)

“The stuff that I do here really makes a difference in a Soldier’s life because the equipment we give them is going to keep them warm in the Arctic and it’s going to keep them alive in combat,” Ingram said. “I didn’t know what this place was when I got here. Soldiers need to know that there’s an organization here that is specifically designed for them and their protection.”

Raising awareness

Ingram is on a mission to make Soldiers aware of his organization.

When a Soldier is injured in combat, the Soldier’s equipment is collected and sent to a lab for analysis, all in an effort to determine whether the Soldier’s equipment was instrumental in defeating the threat it was designed to thwart. If the Soldier requests the equipment’s return, PEO Soldier reunites Soldiers with the equipment credited in saving their lives.

“Every time I go and give back a piece of equipment to a Soldier, I let them know where it came from and how it was tested,” he said. “I’m not specific, but I let them know it was tested extensively. ‘If you wear this, it will save your life.’”

Ingram and Hoffman traveled in October 2015 to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, to reunite Staff Sgt. Joseph McKenzie with the battle-scarred helmet that saved his life four years ago in Afghanistan.

“I am glad to get this back,” McKenzie said at the ceremony. “It is a piece of history; my history, anyway. It was a piece of my life that was pretty intense.

“For some of you guys who have not been downrange yet, this is kind of a wakeup call,” McKenzie told Soldiers at the ceremony. “Make sure you take this stuff serious because you never know what is going to happen.”

In March 2011, McKenzie of the 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, was hit by a bullet “right where the night vision goggles mount on the helmet,” he said.

Hoffman explained to the Soldiers at the Schoffield Barracks ceremony that the Army does all it can to provide them with the best possible protective equipment so they can come home to family and friends. Inspectors randomly select helmets and hard armor plates from each production lot and shoot them to ensure the equipment meets Army standards, Hoffman said.

A week and a half after he was shot in the head, McKenzie said he “was back in the gym, thanks to my helmet.”

“If McKenzie hadn’t been wearing his helmet, he wouldn’t be here,” Ingram said. “That was four years ago. Now, he has a 17-month-old son and a wife.”

His stint at PEO Soldier has impressed upon Ingram many times the importance of wearing combat equipment, he said.

“I had a guy shot in the chest, and my former boss, Col. Glenn Waters of Fort Sill, Oklahoma, his side Small Arms Protective Insert was returned to him. He was shot in the side during combat, and you could see where the bullet went into his side plate. I had no clue that I would be the one giving those things back. Col. Waters had a side SAPI that had been damaged in combat, and now I’m here. Now I know where it came from. It came from this office.”

Leadership skills

As Ingram winds down his 27-year career in the Army, he plans on finishing his Ph.D. in multidisciplinary human services with an emphasis on public policy. He said he will take with him a great sense of satisfaction, knowing that he was able to have an impact on Soldiers’ lives in combat. Someday, he even hopes to throw his hat in the ring and run for political office. Ingram is confident in his leadership abilities, having learned them as an NCO.

“Learning leadership as an NCO has really prepared me for life after the Army because as an NCO you deal with Soldiers and people every day, you counsel every day, so it was natural for me to fall into the human services path,” he said.

Education is also very important to Ingram, and he urges other NCOs as well as his successor at PEO Soldier to further their studies. Ingram credits his drive to solid NCO mentorship and rejects any excuse to not get an education.

“The excuses of ‘I don’t have time; I’m in the field,’ no. I got probably 60 credit hours on deployment,” Ingram said. “There are always computers. … ‘Don’t tell me what you can’t do, [I tell Soldiers.] Tell me how you’re going to do it because there is always a way.’

“My mother, aunts and uncle grew up in Grenada, Mississippi, and they were amongst the first 277, as they called them back then, ‘colored children’ integrated into the white school system in the 1960s,” he said. “They were harassed, they were beaten and they had bricks thrown at them. My grandmother said to me, ‘I only wanted my kids to have the same thing that the other kids had.’ That’s why I want to get all the education I can so that their sacrifices were not in vain.”

 

Contact PEO Soldier

PEO Soldier encourages Soldiers to communicate their questions and ideas, said Debi Dawson, PEO Soldier Strategic Communications. “Ask the PEO NCOs” is a website that Soldiers may use to email questions about uniforms and equipment. Soldiers may find it at www.peosoldier.army.mil/feedback/contactForm.asp?type=csm. Soldiers are also urged to reach out through the Soldier Enhancement Program at www.peosoldier.army.mil/sep/index.asp where Soldiers may propose a technology or equipment item.

PEO Soldier’s NCOs put Soldier safety first

By MARTHA C. KOESTER
NCO Journal

Making sure Soldiers come home to their families is paramount at Program Executive Office Soldier. That’s why it’s so important to the noncommissioned officers who work there to ensure that Soldiers are given the best, most up-to-date protective equipment in the world.

Upon arrival, NCOs quickly learn that everything at PEO Soldier revolves around the Soldier.

Soldiers train on an M2A1 .50 Caliber Machine Gun mounted on an M205 Lightweight Tripod in May 2014 at Fort Bliss, Texas. PEO Soldier’s NCOs are assigned to gather feedback from Soldiers who train on new equipment. (U.S. Army photo)
Soldiers train on an M2A1 .50 Caliber Machine Gun mounted on an M205 Lightweight Tripod in May 2014 at Fort Bliss, Texas. PEO Soldier’s NCOs are assigned to gather feedback from Soldiers who train on new equipment. (U.S. Army photo)

“Everyone is here because they want to be here to help the Soldier,” said Master Sgt. Corey M. Ingram, senior enlisted advisor to Project Manager Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment, or PM SPIE, which is part of PEO Soldier at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. “Everyone is here to do what they can to protect the Soldier in combat to make sure they come back to their family.”

Tasks vary for each noncommissioned officer who works at PEO Soldier’s four Program Management Offices, which are responsible for managing the life cycles of what Soldiers wear or carry. The one constant, though, is their job description. NCOs serve as subject matter experts and are typically tasked with soliciting feedback on equipment fieldings or trials. NCOs are there to speak for the Soldier.

“I get firsthand feedback on the products that we are issuing to the Soldiers in the field, to get a better understanding on what their acceptance is,” said Master Sgt. Robert Campbell, senior enlisted advisor to Project Manager Soldier Warrior, or PM SWAR. “I bring that feedback to our engineers and discuss it with them because Joe in the field is not going to talk to a civilian or give their correct answer to an officer. … We get to the nuts and bolts of, ‘How do we fix this and get the right equipment for the Soldier.’

“It helps to have the NCO here to be that middleman or to be the good-idea policeman,” Campbell said. “There are a lot of good ideas out there, but are they really conducive for the mission? That’s what we are here for.”

‘Life and death’ decisions

A Soldier aims an XM-25 weapon system during training at Aberdeen Test Center, Maryland. PEO Soldier’s NCO seek Soldiers’ feedback during equipment fieldings. (U.S. Army photo)
A Soldier aims an XM-25 weapon system during training at Aberdeen Test Center, Maryland. PEO Soldier’s NCO seek Soldiers’ feedback during equipment fieldings. (U.S. Army photo)

To provide the very best in military equipment, NCOs take their roles seriously as senior enlisted advisors in the four Program Management Offices of PEO Soldier ─ PM Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment, PM Soldier Sensors and Lasers, PM Soldier Warrior and PM Soldier Weapons.

“A split-second decision can mean the difference between life and death, so that’s why it’s very crucial to get the Soldiers’ feedback as well as mine,” said Master Sgt. Reiko Carter, senior enlisted advisor to Project Manager Soldiers Sensors and Lasers, or PM SSL. “Something as simple as saying that this button doesn’t work or this button isn’t good, that can make the difference in lives being saved. It’s crucial for our organization not only to get the Soldiers’ feedback but to get my feedback as well.”

“I have been the Soldier on the battlefield,” Campbell said. “I have been the squad leader, a platoon leader and a first sergeant, so I have had experiences in different levels of authority to understand that some of this equipment that the Army is developing may or may not be something I want to use on the battlefield. I give the engineers the firsthand knowledge of experience of what the Soldiers will actually use or what they actually want.”

Getting a new piece of equipment in Soldiers’ hands requires a lot of evaluation and collaboration. Equipment fieldings are necessary, where Soldiers extensively train on new equipment and are asked to offer an assessment.

An advanced marksmanship instructor with PEO Soldier instructs a paratrooper on using a thermal imaging scope at night in January 2013 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Noncommissioned officers who serve as subject matter experts attend fieldings where Soldiers are trained on equipment. NCOs gather feedback and report back to PEO Soldier. (Photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod / U.S. Army)
An advanced marksmanship instructor with PEO Soldier instructs a paratrooper on using a thermal imaging scope at night in January 2013 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Noncommissioned officers who serve as subject matter experts attend fieldings where Soldiers are trained on equipment. NCOs gather feedback and report back to PEO Soldier. (Photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod / U.S. Army)

“We reach out to Soldiers by going to the fieldings and getting their feedback,” Campbell said. “Anybody can sit and do a survey after their training. But then if Soldiers want to go home, they may scribble on that survey real quick and give us the firsthand response versus after they get back to their unit and they start using this equipment. Then, their minds change.”

The feedback wouldn’t end there, though. PEO Soldier’s NCOs often reach out again, the NCOs said.

“We take pride in the equipment we issue to the Soldiers, and we make sure we get feedback from them even a year later,” Campbell said. “We go back to them and say, ‘What do you think of it? Is it still working for you? What needs to be fixed? What can we do to make it better?’”

Some NCOs, such as Carter, prefer to undergo training on the new equipment right alongside Soldiers. It further develops a rapport with Soldiers, which helps during feedback, he said.

“That way, I can experience what they experience,” Carter said. “I can see it from their perspective. It’s my opportunity to get that real-time feedback. When you’re out on the range with the Soldiers and they see you going through it, they understand that we’re actually trying to make sure we are giving them the right capability.”

Although technology may be improving every day, PEO Soldier is committed to lightening the load Soldiers carry.

“Throughout these past 13 to 14 years of conflict, ounces turn into pounds and pounds turn into pain for Soldiers,” said Master Sgt. Jason Barton, who recently brought his tactical skills to PM Soldier Weapons as senior enlisted advisor. “So how do we make our inventory lighter for the Soldier? How do we make it more ergonomic, but still safe? I have been in the Army about 25 years, and I have back problems. Most of my peers do, to some extent, as well. But how do we keep our Soldiers as safe as we can and not injure them in the process when they are in all of those different types of environments?”

“It’s imperative to have this type of a position for an NCO at PEO Soldier,” Campbell said. “It gives us the capability to get the right equipment in the Soldiers’ hands versus turning them into Christmas trees, just making up all this new equipment and saying, ‘Here, use this.’ Not everything we build is the right thing. Not everything we build is what we need. So we’ve got to work hand in hand with [many organizations and people, including] the materiel developers to discuss where our gaps are. It all has to go together before we can actually get something into the Soldiers’ hands.”

Different side of the Army

NCOs more accustomed to working among large Soldier populations may experience culture shock when first arriving at PEO Soldier. Though they are no longer directly in charge of Soldiers, they soon find that they play an equally important role in keeping Soldiers safe on the battlefield while containing costs. The NCOs also bring a fresh perspective and expertise to the organization.

“I have the responsibility of making sure that [civilians, scientists and engineers] are doing the right thing for the Soldier,” Campbell said. “PEO Soldier needs that NCO-experience level mainly because the Soldiers don’t have a voice when it comes to all this equipment. Squad leaders, team leaders and platoon sergeants at fieldings are going to talk to me and give me the true answer versus when they see my colonel and tell him, ‘Everything is going great, sir. No problem.’ When the Soldier sees the first sergeant or platoon sergeant, he or she is going to say, ‘This is messed up. We need to fix this. This isn’t working for us.’ So that’s where I come in.”

Because the NCOs work closely with civilians, scientists and engineers, they get to see the latest in military protective equipment and often collaborate on projects, offering their input from a Soldier’s perspective. The opportunity gives them a chance to glimpse all of the options available to Soldiers on the battlefield.

“The equipment and the innovative technology we have today is really an enhancement to the Soldiers on the battlefield,” Campbell said. “We want to give them that capability, but at the same time the Soldiers can’t forget the fundamentals ─ the linear map, compass and other basics. We stress that, too, as part of our training. We let Soldiers know that even though they are getting this equipment and technology has taken off, we still need to make sure we keep the fundamentals.”

Once they have learned what PEO Soldier can do for the average Soldier, the organization’s NCOs are eager to spread the word about it.

“I want to relay to Soldiers that there are civilians and Soldier retirees who are working for our team,” Barton said. “Soldiers are their focus and purpose. I think if you know you have the support behind you, it changes your outlook. Fellow Americans are working to take Soldiers into the future, to make them more dominant on the battlefield.”

“I get to touch every Soldier, [in every location], every day,” said Ingram, who frequently participates in ceremonies to reunite Soldiers with the equipment that saved their lives in combat. “The stuff that I do here really makes a difference in a Soldier’s life. … I didn’t know what this place was when I got here. Soldiers need to know that there’s an organization here that is specifically designed for them and their protection.”

PEO Soldier’s NCOs are well aware of the broadening opportunities their roles as senior enlisted advisors afford them. They are immersed in another side of the Army that Soldiers don’t usually get to see. These NCOs know the professional skills they have gained will benefit them long after they have left the Army.

“When I first arrived, I had a conversation with a former program manager who put me in the mindset of making sure I understood that everything I do here at PEO Soldier has a strategic impact,” Carter said. “Here, I have the opportunity to make a change strategically to the whole Army while I am alive. Just realizing that helps me appreciate what I do and be mindful of the impact I want to leave, knowing that I did something that will make a change and a difference in the way the Army operates.”

“I never knew this place existed being down in a unit,” Campbell said. “I never knew about PEO Soldier until I got to this level. That young Soldier needs to know that we exist. Once we get the word to them and let them know what we are here for, that gives young Soldiers a better understanding of the Army as a whole. This equipment is coming to you, but how does it get to you, where does it come from, who builds it, who makes it? They don’t know all that, and if Joe learned a little bit more about what PEO Soldier does for each of them, that opens up their minds and opens up avenues that they can look at to broaden their horizons.”

 

 

Contact PEO Soldier

PEO Soldier encourages Soldiers to communicate their questions and ideas, said Debi Dawson, PEO Soldier Strategic Communications. “Ask the PEO NCOs” is a website that Soldiers may use to email questions about uniforms and equipment. Soldiers may find it at www.peosoldier.army.mil/feedback/contactForm.asp?type=csm. Soldiers are also urged to reach out through the Soldier Enhancement Program at www.peosoldier.army.mil/sep/index.asp where Soldiers may propose a technology or equipment item.

Town hall sparks online discussion; Davenport urges #Talk2TRADOC talks continue

By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

Out of sight of the cameras, a team of more than 30 people had just spent two hours quickly and professionally answering questions from noncommissioned officers on Facebook, Twitter and a chat room as part of an NCO Professional Development Town Hall on Thursday at Fort Eustis, Virginia.

The team fielded many questions during the night, calling in experts when they could, and passing other questions to the six people filming live in the studio. It was late, and the team was tired, but Command Sgt. Maj. David Davenport, command sergeant major of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, wanted to let them know their efforts, however appreciated, weren’t finished. Davenport had asked NCOs to continue to use the #Talk2TRADOC to provide feedback and ask questions on social media channels, and he wanted to make sure those questions received answers.

With the chat room questions displayed at the front of the room, a group of NCOs and experts answer questions during the town hall. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester)
With the chat room questions displayed at the front of the room, a group of NCOs and experts answer questions during the town hall. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

“I know a lot of effort went into this, but our work doesn’t stop here,” Davenport told the team at the end of the night. “We can go high-five one another and have fun tonight, but tomorrow we have to get right back in there and start rowing the boat. We need to answer those questions, because our word is our bond to the Soldiers. If we say we are going to answer and we don’t, they will immediately point the fingers at us and say, ‘See, I told you they don’t care; they’re not listening.’”

Building a foundation

Hundreds of NCOs filled the chat room during the town hall, and questions flooded in on social media. Davenport said he felt the event built a good foundation for continued discussions.

“I think when you’re open and honest with Soldiers, and you sincerely want the best for them, that’s when you build trust,” Davenport said. “Hopefully, I built some trust with the force tonight, and they know I’m trying to think through this as we build toward the future.”

One of the behind-the-scenes experts answering questions on social media was Liston Bailey, chief of the Learning Innovations and Initiatives Division of the Institute for NCO Professional Development. Bailey said he thought the forum provided some short, credible answers to NCOs, which they could use to follow up with their chain of command or other sources.

A group of NCOs and policy experts quickly answer questions posed during the town hall. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
A group of NCOs and policy experts quickly answer questions posed during the town hall. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

“We received a lot of questions about how Soldiers are going to manage their careers, and their concerns about the feasibility of being successful as they move from grade to grade,” Bailey said. “Questions about opportunities for broadening assignments were another big topic. Soldiers are interested in their growth and development and their access to information.”

Panel teams together

Charles Guyette, director of the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy’s Directorate of Training, participated by answering questions in the live chat room during the town hall broadcast. He said there were many questions concerning professional military education.

“The questions were very thought-provoking and relevant to the force,” Guyette said. “You can tell there is a need for information out there because there are a lot of things they are not aware of. There’s some misinformation. There are misconceptions about NCO PME and the NCO professional development system. This helped better inform the Soldiers out there, especially related to their professional military education. We want to get this right, make sure they understand what they need to do to get to those courses.”

Liston Bailey, chief of the Learning Innovations and Initiatives Division of the Institute for NCO Professional Development, left, and Amy Haviland of U.S. Army Public Affairs, respond to NCO questions on social media while the town hall plays on the screen. (photo by Jonathan Jay Koester / NCO Journal)
Liston Bailey, chief of the Learning Innovations and Initiatives Division of the Institute for NCO Professional Development, left, and Amy Robinson of U.S. Army Public Affairs, respond to NCOs’ questions on social media while the town hall plays on the screen. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

Both Command Sgt. Maj. Jim Wills, the command sergeant major of the U.S. Army Reserve, and Command Sgt. Maj. Brunk Conley, the command sergeant major of the U.S. Army National Guard, were part of the on-camera panel taking questions from the force.

“It shows that we are one Army team,” Conley said. “When Sgt. Maj. Davenport asked both me and Sgt. Maj. Wills to attend, it showed that we’re all in this together and we’re one team, one fight. It’s a pleasure and an honor to be here.

“We’re going through a lot of changes right now, and the Soldiers are concerned,” Conley said. “They have a lot of good questions about how this affects them and what they need to do to be successful. They want to hear senior leaders’ thoughts on how this is going to affect the Army, the Guard and the Reserve.”

The two-hour town hall has been posted to TRADOC’s YouTube page for those NCOs who couldn’t watch it live. It may be found at: https://youtu.be/5z1QDL2qWts. Also, check the NCO Journal at http://ncojournal.dodlive.mil/ next week for a complete report on the questions and answers from the town hall.

The event is over, but the conversation continues, Davenport said.

“This is not just a one-time event soliciting feedback from our Soldiers,” Davenport said. “If they want to continue the dialogue, we have all the social media outlets, we will answer all the questions. But more importantly, they can follow me on the blog that I do. It’s tradocnews.org. You go on that page and you see Straight from the CSM, and that’s my blog site. I solicit feedback on there to things that we are talking about. That feedback has really made a change in our Army in everything from structured self-development to the STEP policy.”

Rapid Equipping Force’s NCOs keep Soldiers in the fight

By MARTHA C. KOESTER
NCO Journal

During the initial stages of conflict in Afghanistan in 2002 as U.S. Soldiers were clearing caves used by foreign and insurgent forces, the Army found itself in dire need of materiel technology to help thwart IEDs and victim-borne explosive devices. Soldiers were using unsophisticated technologies to search caves and bunkers rigged with booby traps and grenades, resulting in multiple casualties. Urgent solutions were needed to keep Soldiers in the fight. A task force was formed, and the PackBot tactical robot soon followed, giving Soldiers visual confirmation of obstacles on the frontlines.

The successful project led to the establishment of the U.S. Army Rapid Equipping Force, which would quickly procure and deliver nonstandard, specific solutions with a goal of 180 days or less to ease the urgent challenges that Soldiers were facing.

NCOs have a key role

Having direct access to Soldiers is critical to the REF so it can maintain a quick turnaround, which at 180 days is a faster timeline than the ones traditional acquisition systems and organizations face. Whether reaching out to Soldiers in an expeditionary lab in the field or gathering feedback from deploying or returning units, outreach programs are essential to the mission. The REF, which is headquartered at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, canvasses the commercial and government realm of technology to mitigate capability gaps. Noncommissioned officers are vital to its process.

Sgt. 1st Class Michael Wayne Dessecker, an operational advisor for the Rapid Equipping Force’s outreach team, says Ex Lab projects are often first developed into a working plastic version from 3D printers in order to cut down costs and to check its form, fit and function. (Photo by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)
Sgt. 1st Class Michael Wayne Dessecker, an operational advisor for the Rapid Equipping Force’s outreach team, says Ex Lab projects are often first developed into a working plastic version from 3D printers in order to cut down costs and to check its form, fit and function. (Photo by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)

“An NCO brings knowledge and experience with him to individuals who have not had that type of experience before,” said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Wayne Dessecker, an operational advisor for the outreach team. “A majority of the acquisition career field is fielded by officers at field-grade level. They have either not been in the fight for several years or have never been in combat arms MOS’s. NCOs bring that firsthand knowledge and experience, so we can give them appropriate feedback and collaborate with them to find the best piece of equipment to fill those capability gaps.”

The REF draws on NCOs’ skills heavily because combat experience comes in handy when collaborating on technology.

“For any NCO to come work at the REF, he or she must have been a combat leader, which means you must have done time as a platoon sergeant and you must have met your minimum requirements for the next position,” Dessecker said. “Most of us have two or three years of combat experience as platoon sergeants, not to mention that we did our staff sergeant time in combat arms positions. So we bring all of the information from the squad level to the platoon level to the company level.”

“As an infantry NCO, being at the REF is a significant change from what NCOs are used to,” said Sgt. 1st Class Justin Fulk, an outreach and assessments team member. “This assignment requires tact, cohesion and a level of collaboration with civilian peers, vendors, high-level leadership and academia, which the typical infantryman would normally never have to worry about. That being said, it’s an excellent broadening opportunity, which requires a lot of on-the-job learning, and I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity.”

Equal partners

The NCOs may be of lesser rank than the officers they work with, but they are considered peers because of their technical and tactical experience, Dessecker said.

“When we say something on a strategic or tactical level that is necessary to consider [for project development], everybody in the room listens to us,” Dessecker said. “Additionally we have the flexibility to perform just about any mission because of the way that we were brought up in the Army.”

NCOs who are part of the REF are afforded the opportunity to form productive working relationships with academia, other Army organizations and civilians, Fulk said.

“It’s rewarding because infantry NCOs rarely get the opportunity … to develop a prototype piece of equipment and become a part of the solution,” Fulk said. “It’s amazing how quickly an NCO who works side-by-side with an engineer can create a solution that works from both an engineering and a Soldier perspective. Most Soldiers do not have the background to create a complete product from scratch, and most engineers do not have the background to create a Soldier-proof product that will work in the environments faced today. Together, though, we can create finished prototypes and help mitigate a capability gap.”

A contractor with the Rapid Equipping Force, left, shows Capt. Steven Caldwell  how to adjust solar panels to increase solar energy collection in September 2014 in  Afghanistan. (Photo by Sgt. William White / U.S. Army)
A contractor with the Rapid Equipping Force, left, shows Capt. Steven Caldwell
how to adjust solar panels to increase solar energy collection in September 2014 in
Afghanistan. (Photo by Sgt. William White / U.S. Army)

“Working with scientists and engineers was a challenge at first, because we had to learn from one another,” said Sgt. 1st Class Brian Pessink, the REF forward team’s NCO in charge. “The NCO helps them understand how the military functions. Most NCOs who come into the organization have never worked in an environment with scientists or engineers, or really, any civilians. They provide us with a plethora of knowledge to take back with us when we, the NCOs, have to transition back into a regular Army unit and lead troops.”

In the effort to give Soldiers quick access to technologies while out in the field, the REF deploys expeditionary labs, or Ex Labs, to connect Soldiers with scientists and engineers from the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command. Ex Labs are containerized engineering hubs designed to be transported to the most remote of bases. They deploy with an NCO, who is ready to meet with Soldiers and clarify equipment issues to the on-site engineers. Ex Labs come equipped with state-of-the-art equipment, such as 3D printers, computer numerical control machines and fabrication tools.

“We help identify the tactical problems and even provide immediate solutions in some locations, using the Ex Labs,” Pessink said. “The NCO can give Soldiers who are deployed equipment and tactical knowledge that will help their organizations be successful on any battlefield. I always feel like I’m making a difference in the development of a REF solution, assessment or event.”

“A Soldier will come in and tell us about a problem with equipment,” Dessecker said of the Ex Lab process. “The NCO can translate that information to the engineer to get the right piece of equipment built or created so that that Soldier’s capability gap will be filled.”

Ready to assist

Though the REF’s NCOs easily can find themselves juggling 20 to 30 projects, the organization wants to get the word out to units and Soldiers that they are ready to handle urgent equipment challenges that may crop up.

Sgt. 1st Class Justin Rotti, a combat developer for the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Fire Cell, tests a developmental handheld precision targeting device for the Rapid Equipping Force in July 2014 at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. The device allows Soldiers to engage targets with precision munitions and provide digital connectivity to related units. (Photo by John Hamilton / White Sands Missile Range Public Affairs)
Sgt. 1st Class Justin Rotti, a combat developer for the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Fire Cell, tests a developmental handheld precision targeting device for the Rapid Equipping Force in July 2014 at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. The device allows Soldiers to engage targets with precision munitions and provide digital connectivity to related units. (Photo by John Hamilton / White Sands Missile Range Public Affairs)

“A lot of Soldiers don’t know we exist, and down at the Soldier squad level that can be a big problem for us,” Dessecker said. “Part of our outreach program is to engage with units before they deploy, so that every Soldier knows what’s going on. But in theater, one of the things I like to do is go to lunch and dinner at different dining facilities and pick a table full of Soldiers and tell them what kind of capability I bring so they can engage me. Within a few days, those Soldiers I talked to will tell their buddies or their platoon sergeants [about us] or they, themselves, come in [to tell us about a problem they were having]. Every Soldier has a problem [with equipment]. They just don’t know how to fix it. We are an avenue to help fix those problems.”

The document that kicks off the production process is the submission of a REF 10-liner. The simple document gathers information about the capability gap and operational intent for the equipment solution.

“Any Soldier can write one of these,” Dessecker said. “Basically all Soldiers have to do is tell us who they are, what the tactical problem is, what concept of your operation is this tactical problem representative of, what you see as system characteristics that will define the problem or define the piece of equipment that will help you solve that problem.”

The Army deputy chief of staff gave the REF director the authority to validate requirements in order to ensure that these quick-reaction solutions get top priority to meet Soldiers’ and units’ needs. Once the 10-liner is submitted and validated, the REF begins canvassing industry- and government off-the-shelf technologies and working with partners to determine potential solutions. Ex Lab projects are often first developed to get a working plastic version of the prototype. A 3D printer is used because it’s cheaper to work with plastic and also to check the form, fit and function of the solution, Dessecker said.

The REF’s intent is to address urgent requirements for specific units and create a general solution the entire Army can use. It’s a challenge that the REF’s NCOs embrace.

“I want NCOs who can come in here with 12 to 14 years of experience in the Army, who have platoon sergeant time,” Dessecker said. “They can come in here, influence the piece of equipment that they will use as future platoon sergeants, first sergeants and battalion sergeants major. We want to be able to use their tactical experience here for a little while, get them in the acquisition process, to understand the different realms that are in the Army and then go back to the tactical side of the fight and bring the information forward. It will make them better leaders and middle managers in the Army in the future.

“Prior REF NCOs are our most valuable communication assets because they go back to the Army with the knowledge from here,” he said. “Our former NCOs … can identify the problems now. [Experience with the REF] brings a new perspective. You now have an outlet to request something to fix the problem instead of having to deal with it with what little resources you have.”

The REF’s NCOs play an integral part in influencing the Army’s technology of the future.

“If you [as an NCO] do well in your job, you’re smart and you’re able to be flexible and adjust your environment, you will move from working with Soldiers to getting them the piece of equipment that will keep them going in the fight,” Dessecker said. “If you’re an NCO and you want to directly affect the pieces of equipment that Soldiers are using instead of complaining about what Soldiers get, then this is the type of place you need to come to. We have direct influence on what new and emerging technologies Soldiers will get in the future.”

The NCOs recognize the value of the skills they have acquired working for the REF, expertise that will keep them relevant in the evolving Army.

“The NCO provides knowledge that helps get the warfighters the best equipment to fill their capability gaps,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jose Laboy-Correa, a logistics team member. “In the logistics division, we draw on our deployments and assignments at other unique organizations to ensure that REF solutions make it to the warfighter. NCOs make a difference because they have an understanding of the needs of Soldiers deployed all over the world. All NCOs are able to influence the types of solutions that are equipped to units in theater.”

“I will have a huge sense of accomplishment [when I leave], Fulk said. “I feel I am able to make a big impact on Soldiers and the Army through the work accomplished at the REF.”