A Fort Leavenworth professor is one of seventeen leading history scholars who will receive fully-funded research fellowships at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington for the 2016-17 academic year. These fellows will study on site at the Washington Library in Mount Vernon, VA, for up to six months beginning this fall.
Fellow Soldiers –
My name is Master Sgt. Elsi A. Inoa-Santos. I’m a 35V (Signals Intelligence Senior Sergeant/Senior Chief) and I’ve been in the Army for 15 years now. I currently work in the Institute for Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development, or INCOPD, at TRADOC, and am honored to have a front-row seat to the major changes underway with NCO development and education.
Earlier this month, I participated in the Army-wide State of NCO Development Town Hall, working behind the scenes to answer questions concerning the NCO 2020 Strategy. I thought I’d share with you a couple of observations from my vantage point.
I really believe that TRADOC is on the cusp of the greatest era of change the Army has ever experienced. For example, TRADOC is influencing current and future development to our professional military education, with efforts like the Master Leaders Course and the Executive Leaders Course.
TRADOC is also redefining NCOES, as the NCO Professional Development System, and breaking down barriers to new recruits. These changes are fueled by the fast shift into the digital world and the technologies Soldiers are using to engage with leaders, like the Army Career Tracker and MSAF-360.
Now, more than ever, (and certainly more than when I was a private) Soldiers have the ability to share their perspectives and have their voices heard. While the challenges are daunting, there are more opportunities than ever before to voice opinions with TRADOC and ask questions. More than 3,000 Soldiers did just that during the town hall by participating in the live chat. A lot of other Soldiers interacted with us through social media too. They used our event hashtag – #talk2TRADOC – with their comments and questions and all that tweeting ended up reaching more than 1 million Twitter users!
As one of the chat room operators, I had the opportunity to answer several questions related to the NCO 2020 Strategy, especially within the education arena. Like many of you, I’ve had to use different methods to fund my educational goals. I had to use my education entitlements (GI Bill and my Post-9/11 Bill) to support my PhD program which was (over $40,000 of education tuition) because I capped out of my Tuition Assistance I understand many Soldiers are seeking additional ways to pursue their degrees. Besides the GI Bill/Post-9/11 GI Bill, there are other options available to fund education such as military scholarships, federal grants, scholarships from schools, and other tuition assistance programs.
Soldiers also asked a lot of questions about military certifications. TRADOC is currently working on the Expert Action Badge and other NCO broadening opportunities. The EAB will recognize the next generation of competent and committed leaders, and gives all Soldiers an opportunity to compete for the Certification of Professionals.
As far as broadening assignments, there is a website anyone can visit to see what opportunities such as Congressional, Arroyo, and similar fellowships are available. Click here for more.
Also, did you know that you can apply to the United States Military Academy at West Point for educational and leader development purposes? This is a wonderful opportunity for Soldiers who are looking to increase their overall educational and leader development. USMA will even consider up to five waivers per year for Soldiers who were unable to apply before because of deployments. Check out these links for specific requirements: http://www.usma.edu/admissions/SitePages/Home.aspx and http://www.usma.edu/USMAPS.
Finally, I talked with a lot of Soldiers about S.T.E.P. (Select, Train, Educate, and Promote) during the town hall. S.T.E.P. was developed by TRADOC to solve school backlogs, enhance academic rigor, develop our core competencies, and most importantly, ensure we promote the best of the best.
Basically, S.T.E.P. ensures all Soldiers are provided full-career opportunities by shaping policies, while supporting and sustaining those of us who are highly capable and ready. At the end of the day, all of these great efforts are being developed to enhance the NCO Corps. As a professional Soldier, I really encourage you to read the NCO 2020 Strategy.
As we continue to move forward with the State of the NCO Development Town Halls, I invite you to take the time to ask questions about issues that matter to you. We are planning on hosting another one in a couple of months which will focus on professional development with regards to the Army University. This is a great opportunity to find out what ArmyU means to you.
If you want to be ahead of the game, I highly encourage you to read The Army University White Paper.
Again, thank you for supporting this great effort and for being part of the Army story!
Victory Starts Here!
OK, you missed it live. But it’s a week later, and you still haven’t found the time to watch the NCO Professional Development Town Hall? Allow The NCO Journal to give you a little inspiration.
The following are a few excerpts from the conversation to whet your appetite. You can hear much more on these topics, plus plenty of others, by watching the full town hall here.
Moderating the town hall was Master Sgt. Mike Lavigne of the 1st Infantry Division. Answering questions were Command Sgt. Maj. David Davenport, command sergeant major of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command; Aubrey Butts, director of the Institute for NCO Professional Development; Sgt. Maj. Annette Weber, G1 and G4 sergeant major for TRADOC; Command Sgt. Maj. Brunk Conley, command sergeant major of the National Guard; and Command Sgt. Maj. Jim Wills, command sergeant major of the Army Reserve.
Select, Train, Educate, Promote
The first question of the night came via video, from Sgt. Joseph Wilson, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division: “With the new STEP program, a Soldier has a certain time frame to attend the corresponding NCO Education System upon promotion. For smaller career fields that offer the Advanced Leader Course a few times a year, this creates a backlog of highly qualified NCOs and hinders their progression. Is there any plan in the future to fix this?”
Davenport: “Sgt. Wilson, I think your question really gets at capacity. Do we have the capacity to train? We do. But when you go in and look at the allocation of school seats, especially as you indicated, in low-density MOSs, we have to make sure we are spreading those seats across the year so that Soldiers have the opportunity to attend those schools.”
Weber: “I think it also gets back to communication. Soldiers have to communicate with their branches, their leaders, and get their thoughts out there, so that we can get them into those schools that they need to go to.”
Conley: “Especially in the low-density MOSs, and especially in multiple-phase courses, it’s very challenging for our Soldiers who have a three-phase course. … One of the things my command sergeant major advisory council in the National Guard is looking at is, if a Soldier shows good faith and attends phase one of a course, we’re looking at adjusting the policy so that we could promote them upon completion of phase one, conditionally. If they’ve shown good faith — they’ve gone to school, they’ve met height and weight, they’ve met PT — we promote them pending completion of the follow-on courses. Then, if they don’t complete, that promotion would be taken away. But it starts the clock on time in service, time in grade, and if they’ve shown the effort to finish the first phase, I think we need to look at that.”
Wills: “We are going to have to work together and probably look at some of the challenges we’ve had in the past, we will need to look at the size of the classes … the student-to-instructor ratio, so that we can conduct more frequent classes and allow more opportunities, especially for the Guard and Reserve.”
This question came via Twitter: “Are Army University and its programs accredited, and by whom? And if not, when are these expected?”
Butts: “Right now, Army University isn’t accredited. However, we are going to use the joint transcript to record all Soldiers’ experience and education. We want the Soldier to be able to get a degree from the college they want a degree from.”
Davenport: “If there is any cohort who benefits from the Army University concept, it’s the noncommissioned officer cohort. Because what Army University does for us is it takes our education and our experience in leading Soldiers and it puts it in terms that academia understands. It translates into college credits.”
This question came via the chat board: “How does the Army reconcile the fact that broadening assignments, such as drill sergeant and recruiter, have a little role in being selected for promotion during centralized selection boards?”
Weber: “The proponencies are updating their messages to the boards, so that information will get to the boards, because those jobs are very important jobs to the different CMFs (Career Management Fields).”
Lavigne: “It is safe to say it’s weighted differently, though?”
Davenport: “Of course, by CMF. Because they have a view of what they think makes a successful master sergeant or whatever grade we’re talking about, and the proponents write that guidance.”
Wills: “It’s important for the Army Reserve Soldiers to understand that once they go out to that broadening assignment, they need to go in, do their time and move on to another opportunity. We have a lot of folks who want to, kind of, homestead an opportunity. They don’t want to get out of it.”
Master Leader Course
This question came via the chat board: “How will the Master Leader Course be implemented? Is it residency, online or MTT (Mobile Training Team)?”
Butts: “It’s going to be in some form or another, all three. However, we’re trying to get it to residency or MTT.”
Davenport: “We’ve gone through a pilot at Fort Bliss, Texas. We did an iteration at Camp Williams, Utah; the National Guard hosted that. And next week at Fort Knox, Kentucky, Sgt. Wills will have the second pilot of the MLC. We’re getting a lot of positive comments back about the rigor. … It’s not the First Sergeant Course, if I can get that plug in there. This course is really designed to start making those senior noncommissioned officers aware of the transition from the tactical level of our Army to the operational, and giving them a glimpse into the strategic level.
“Dr. Butts is exactly right. We will do it brick and mortar. We’ll have the ability for MTT. And then we will do it by distance learning for the reasons we talked about earlier, for our Guard and Reserve, to make sure they’re not penalized. Because STEP applies to everybody. It’s not just staff sergeants and sergeants first class. If you want to become a master sergeant, our gap analysis said you have to be certified in those core competencies before you move forward.”
This question came via video, from Sgt. 1st Class Caleb Barrieau: “With all the educational distance learning systems out there that our Soldiers are using to get their civilian degrees with, what is TRADOC doing to update or improve the SSD courses so that they are more interactive and valuable as a tool so that our Soldiers are completing their institutional training requirements?”
Davenport: “I hear a lot about SSD, and the comments are that it’s not to standard, and I somewhat agree. So, what we’ve done is we’ve formed a working group down at the United States Sergeants Major Academy and have begun a review of SSD-1 all the way up to level six.
“I’ve heard from the force. They want some type of academic grade to come as a result of this rather than just a ‘go’ or ‘no go’ and they want it to count for something. We’re working on that. Another comment that has come from the force is that if a Soldier doesn’t understand, or just tries to check the block, lock them out. We’re working on that, as well.”
This question came via the chat board: “Do we plan to bring drill sergeants back into the AIT (Advanced Individual Training) environment?”
Davenport: “We are moving forward with putting drill sergeants back into the AIT training environment. It’s a recommendation. Of course, we have to see about funding, but we’re trying to do everything we can to make sure our Soldiers are successful when they transition to their first unit of assignment.”
This question came via the chat board: “What does equivalency mean in our NCOES? If it means the same standard for the active component and Reserve component, and the Reserve component has a hard time meeting the standard of the active component, should the standard be adjusted? Do we expect the same standard across all three components when it comes to NCOES?
Conley: “The standard is the standard. Period, end of discussion. There is no active component/Reserve component standard: It’s an Army standard. Our Soldiers don’t want any different standard than anybody else who’s going through any course, any training, any event.”
This question came via Twitter: “How are senior NCO boards affected by the new NCO Evaluation Report and rater profiles?”
Davenport: “I don’t know yet, because we haven’t experienced it. We don’t know how the board will interpret this. We will learn a lot during this next promotion board.”
Conley: “It has to be OK to get a ‘C.’ A ‘C’ is a passing grade. You want to get to the ‘B,’ and maybe your first year or the first time you’re evaluated as a staff sergeant, you’re not as good as somebody who has been doing it two or three years. Maybe you get a ‘C’ your first year, and you say, ‘OK, what do I need to do to get up here to a “B” and an “A” when it’s time for me to be considered for promotion.’ If you don’t get a true evaluation, you don’t know what to improve on.”
Weber: “I’m really excited about the new NCOER because I think it forces leaders to really sit down with Soldiers and counsel Soldiers. … It gives you that opportunity to sit down with your leader so that he or she can tell you what you are doing or not doing, and how to get to where they need to get.”
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.
“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.
“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.”
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/JtAgPNpzy4kAlso, 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.”
Photo credit: A group of NCOs and policy experts quickly answer questions posed during the town hall. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Feb. 18, 2016) — “The message is that STEP is important, and if you want to get promoted, you’ve got to get to school,” said Command Sgt. Maj. David S. Davenport Sr.
Davenport, who serves as the command sergeant major of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, or TRADOC, spoke during a media roundtable, Feb. 17.
STEP stands for “select, train, educate, promote,” and on Jan. 1, it became the roadmap that noncommissioned officers must follow if they want to be promoted.
STEP requirements for promotion are as follows:
— To make sergeant, Soldiers must complete the Basic Leader Course, formally known as the Warrior Leader Course.
— To make staff sergeant, sergeants must complete the Advanced Leader Course.
— To make sergeant first class, staff sergeants must complete the Senior Leader Course.
— To make master sergeant or first sergeant, sergeants first class must complete the Master Leader Course.
— To make sergeant major, master sergeants or first sergeants must complete the Sergeant Major Course.
— Sergeants major and command sergeants major who are selected to work for general officers must additionally complete the Executive Leader Course.
IMPORTANCE OF STEP
The STEP program “will help our noncommissioned officers become even more professional so they can operate as adaptable leaders in the chaotic and complex world as described in the Army Operating Concept,” Davenport said.
The other important aspect of STEP is that it will provide a talent management tool “to retain and promote the best of the best,” he said.
STEP will ensure that “a Soldier’s stripes will not just be an indicator of rank or pay — it will be an indicator that each NCO has been appropriately trained as a leader,” he added.
MAKING THE GRADE
It’s not enough that NCOs just show up for school, Davenport said. They must also display competency in the classroom.
To grade that, Department of the Army Form 1059, “Academic Evaluation Report,” has been “retooled,” he said. “We want to start talking about grade point averages, how students did on their writing assignments,” and so on. Also, there’s room on the form for instructors to write about the student’s “competency attributes while they were in the course.”
The NCOs are not the only ones who must make the grade. So too does the schoolhouse, he said.
“We’re making sure [NCOs] have a first-class experience in the classroom,” he said. “Once we have them in the school house, we have to ensure the [program of instruction] is relevant and that it has some rigor behind it and is taught by first-class instructors.”
To ensure the new Master Leader Course, or MLC, is up to par, Davenport said the Army has conducted two pilot studies and is in the process of starting a third, he said.
The first two pilots were with the Army National Guard and Army Reserve and the third will start next month with the Regular Army, he said. Once the third is complete, the MLC becomes a program of record beginning Oct. 1.
Regarding the pilots thus far, “we’ve gotten great feedback,” he said. “The Soldiers liked the rigor behind it.”
Students actually need to prepare for the class even before they arrive, he said. Soldiers who prepared said they had an edge, he noted.
Soldiers also reported liking the “reflective time” that was provided, he said. While Soldiers are given a lot of material to absorb, and that they will be later tested on, they were also given “time to absorb the material. And then we come together to process it and see how well they retained the information.”
One of the biggest misconceptions regarding MLC is that it’s like the old First Sergeant Course taught at Fort Bliss years ago, he said.
“It’s much more than that,” he said. “We’re helping them transition from that tactical level to the operational level and we’re actually exposing them to some strategic-level thought and experiences. For instance, mission command; what does that really mean and how does it differ from the old command and control?”
STEP ATTENDANCE RECORD
As of last fall, about 14,000 NCOs were “in the black-log,” meaning they were promoted to various grades in the NCO Corps, but had not received their formal PME,” Davenport said.
Since that time, the numbers have improved, with several thousand getting their professional military education (PME), and over time, the backlog should dwindle, he said.
Units need to ensure their Soldiers are slated and ready to go to school, and Soldiers need to ensure their requirements are met, such as physical fitness and so on, so they get in on time, he said.
CLEARING UP A MISCONCEPTION
During his town halls, Davenport said that a popular misconception regarding STEP is that TRADOC “doesn’t have enough capacity to get them in school. We do have the capacity.”
STEP “is the number one thing that comes up in the town halls and I think it was one of the most popular blog entries when we first announced it” last year, he noted, adding that it’s the “most emotional” topic he’s encountered thus far with NCOs.
PME NAME CHANGE
Lastly, Davenport said that the Army announced that the Noncommissioned Officer Education System would be renamed the Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development System, or NCOPDS.
NCOPDS reflects a new “organizational framework to develop the next generation of competent and committed NCOs,” Davenport said. “The reason we did that was so the force can understand that it’s more than just the education — it’s the experiences you get doing various jobs, it’s about stepping outside of your comfort zone, taking on a broadening assignment — ranging from drill sergeant to recruiter to working with industry — so it’s changing the entire system.”
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. – Brig. Gen. John S. Kem, Provost of the Army University and Deputy Commandant of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, recognized 41 faculty members for their published scholarly works during a ceremony at the Lewis and Clark Center Aug. 25 at 3 p.m.