FORT EUSTIS, Va. — With the new year came a number of changes in Army noncommissioned officer professional development, and NCOs can expect more changes coming soon, said Command Sgt. Maj. David S. Davenport Sr., U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s senior enlisted adviser.
These changes are part of a larger effort called the NCO 2020 Strategy, which, according to Davenport’s blog “represents an analytical, data-driven process for evolving the Noncommissioned Officer Education System of today into the Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development System of tomorrow.”
Below are some of the recent changes, along with advice from Davenport on how NCOs can prepare and what to expect.
1. The new NCO promotion system
Why it’s important: As of Jan. 1, Select, Train, Educate, Promote, or STEP, is how Soldiers will get promoted. Davenport explained it as:
S – “Select” means Soldiers who meet Army standards – based on their performance and potential – get the opportunity to compete for promotion.
T – “Train” recognizes the operational domain’s responsibility in training Soldiers.
E – “Educate” represents the formal education and training of developing leaders – that’s what TRADOC does. Education ultimately leads to “P.”
P – “Promote” means Soldiers who have met all requirements will earn the rank and be officially promoted by U.S. Army Human Resources Command.
What’s changed: Unlike STEP, the previous promotion system didn’t place a value on education, Davenport said.
“We thought that just because you did something over and over, that certified you in that core competency. Knowing the standard from doctrine and knowing the standard from something that has been handed down over time are two different things.
“Through formal education, we make sure that noncommissioned officers are certified in their core competencies before being promoted.”
Bottom line: NCOs need to know STEP is the standard.
“Beginning Jan. 1, STEP is the manner in which you get promoted in our Army.”
He explained that once NCOs become eligible for promotion, they have 18 months to complete their professional military education in order to pin on the next rank.
Davenport said he thinks the force is starting to realize the value of educating its noncommissioned officers because TRADOC has seen an increase in the use of formal school seats.
“Right now, we have a backlog of Soldiers needing school, and they’re our priority,” Davenport said. “But if we don’t get our Soldiers to school on time, and if they’re not prepared to go to school, what we’re going to have is a promotion backlog, not an education backlog.”
2. The new NCO Evaluation Report
Why it’s important: The new Noncommissioned Officer Evaluation Report, or NCOER, took effect Jan. 1, and although the new system is different, Davenport said it was a needed change that will strengthen the backbone of the Army.
What’s changed: The new NCOER system incorporates a number of changes, including more narrative-style writing and three different evaluation forms, based on rank: the direct level form for E-5, the organizational level form for E-6 through E-8, and the strategic form for E-9.
“It’s really a complete change in the way we’ve been doing business,” he said. “And of course, when there’s change, there’s apprehension about the effects … but Army senior leaders think this is the right direction for the NCO cohort – to truly recognize excellence and those who set themselves apart.”
Bottom line: In addition to knowing the standards, NCOs need to know themselves.
“Anytime we talk about a standard, NCOs need to know the standard,” Davenport said, recommending Soldiers attend training workshops to understand not only the NCOER process, but also why the Army needed a new NCOER system.
To familiarize themselves with the new NCOER system, Davenport suggests NCOs read ADRP 6-22, as well as two supplements: the U.S. Army Performance Evaluation Guide and the NCOER Performance Measure Supplement.
TRADOC’s command sergeant major also advises NCOs to have self-awareness in order to take the initiative to improve or excel in areas that may be lacking on their evaluations.
3. Basic Leader Course
Why it’s important: The Basic Leader Course, previously called the Warrior Leader Course, teaches noncommissioned officers the foundation of what they need to know – and be able to do – as NCOs.
What’s changed: In addition to the name change, which will benefit Soldiers as they transition from the Army, Davenport said there will be drastic changes to BLC, including a required written communication assessment that will follow Soldiers throughout their career. This assessment will determine each NCO’s proficiency in listening and verbal and written communication skills at each level of PME.
“At every NCOPDS course, they will build on that assessment,” Davenport explained. “They will get reassessed and we can see their progress – or lack of progress – as they move forward.”
Additionally, there will also be changes to the Service School Academic Evaluation Report, more commonly known as the Department of the Army Form 1059.
“You may be tracking that we retooled the 1059,” Davenport added. “We’re going to start putting grade point averages on there, enumeration of class standing, as well as height, weight and (Army Physical Fitness Test) data, so it truly will be a picture of performance as you attend NCOPDS, or PME courses.”
Bottom line: Davenport said all the subjects in BLC are currently “on the table,” as leaders look at ways to improve the course.
“We’re looking at really getting back to what we need noncommissioned officers to be able to do,” he said. “What are those core competencies – those knowledge, skills and attributes that we want our sergeants to have.”
4. Master Leader Course
Why it’s important: The Master Leader Course fills the PME gap between the Senior Leader Course and the Sergeants Major Academy – a gap that could potentially last several years. The second – and perhaps more important reason – is that it’s required for promotion.
“With the implementation of STEP, if you’re going to get promoted to master sergeant, STEP created a requirement that you have to have the formal PME – the ‘E’ in STEP – before you can pin on master sergeant rank,” Davenport said.
What’s changed: “It’s not the old first sergeant course of days gone by at Fort Bliss, Texas,” Davenport said. “It’s really about beginning the transition from the tactical level to the operational level. And, it’s about having a bigger understanding of how the Army runs.
“It’s not necessarily the administrative tasks that they may have heard about in the old first sergeant course,” Davenport explained. “Remember – master sergeants can be both primary staff NCOs, and they can be selected to be first sergeants, so we want to make sure there’s balance within the course.”
Bottom line: NCOs need to be prepared.
“We’re not wasting time in the classroom to catch everyone up,” he said. “In the self-development domain, you’ve been given the read-ahead assignments, and it’s expected that you do the coursework before coming to the course.”
Davenport said students should go online – before they attend the Master Leader Course – and read the required materials provided by the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy.
5. Executive Leader Course
Why it’s important: The Executive Leader Course is the formal education requirement between sergeant major and the promotion to nominative sergeant major.
What’s changed: Previously, the course was only for nominative sergeants major – those who worked for general officers; however, the course is now part of the NCOPDS.
“If we really want to have STEP be the standard, then we need to make sure that anytime someone’s selected for a promotion – going from sergeant major to nominative is a promotion – that there should be a formal ‘E’ – an education portion,” Davenport said.
Bottom line: The end result is more educated, trained sergeants major.
“After the board releases those sergeants major eligible to compete for nominative positions, they’ll get a school slot, and they’ll get educated for the chance to compete.”
After the board releases sergeants major who are eligible to compete for nominative positions, they are assessed by a panel and receive a school slot. The sergeants major then receive formal education for the chance to compete for the position.
“Over time, this will build depth in our NCO Corps,” Davenport said.
Why it’s important: Davenport defined broadening as the experiences inside and outside the Army – the diversity that creates a well-rounded NCO. However, it’s also more than just drill sergeant, recruiter or (Advanced Individual Training) platoon sergeant experiences; broadening also includes working with industry or fellowships, like the USASMA fellowship.
What’s changed: Davenport and his team began developing the new career map to better explain broadening to Soldiers so they will have an understanding of opportunities and can leverage the Army Career Tracker. Although not every proponent has the opportunity to work with industry, teams are looking at ways to tie programs together.
Bottom line: NCOs need to know and leverage career maps and take advantage of broadening opportunities.
“Your talents and attributes are the most important combat multiplier our Army and nation can rely on,” Davenport said in a blog post on broadening. “It is imperative we identify your talents, develop them and optimize them for our nation’s national security, the future of our force and for the future of our society as you become veterans employing your talents in the civilian workforce.”
7. Army University
Why it’s important: The newly established Army University demonstrates the force’s commitment to education, Davenport said, beginning with a Soldier’s first day in the Army.
“As that Soldier raises his or her right hand and they go into basic training or (one-station unit training), we want them to have an understanding that they’re enrolled in Army University, and they’re gaining credit right then and there … on day one of their experience in our Army.”
Davenport said Army U will also benefit NCOs by eliminating redundancies in training throughout PME, making a more efficient use of Soldiers’ time.
“Army University is going to be a great multiplier to the work we’re doing with NCOPDS because of the collaborative synchronization of resources.” he said.
What’s changed: As the Army aligns to a university-type model, Davenport said some of the changes will include an increased rate of innovation within classrooms and instructors who are trained to a common standard.
Bottom line: There’s a lot of power in Army University, Davenport said, and one of the overarching benefits of Army U is that it will synchronize force, which will, in turn, create a stronger Army.
“If we’re doing something with the NCOs, which we are, it’s nested with what the officers are doing or the warrant officers are doing, to include our great civilians on the team,” he said.
Davenport said he’s excited about the changes, which he refers to as “revolutionary, not evolutionary,” and encourages Soldier feedback via his blog to improve processes and affect changes along the way.
“Soldier feedback is hugely important to me; I can’t tell you how many questions and ideas have come in through the blog,” he said, adding that many of the areas where TRADOC is looking at improvements – including Structured Self-Development – came from Soldier feedback.
Another way Davenport is soliciting feedback is through an upcoming live-streamed town hall on the state of NCO development March 3 from 5-7 p.m. EST. Here, Davenport, along with other subject matter experts, will explain some of the recent and upcoming changes and what they mean for the Army NCO Corps.
“This is just not a bumper sticker. A lot of hard work has gone on behind the scenes to affect this change,” Davenport said.
To learn more about the live-streamed town hall or to watch, visit www.tradoc.army.mil/watch.
Photo credit: First Sgt. Kevin Mulcahey and Sgt. Nicholas Tarr, a troop medic, both with Bravo Troop, 1st Squadron, 172nd Cavalry Regiment, prepare to move during an air assault exercise at Fort Drum, N.Y., Aug. 13, 2013. The 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team was participating in an Exportable Combat Training Center rotation in preparation for a Joint Readiness Training Center rotation in 2014. (U.S. Army photo by P Staff Sgt. Sarah Mattison)