A decade after taking drill sergeants out of Advanced Individual Training and replacing them with AIT platoon sergeants, the Army is planning on bringing the drill sergeants back.
Though the idea has been floated in the past, during TRADOC’s fourth State of NCO Professional Development Town Hall, Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Gragg, the command sergeant major of the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training at Fort Eustis, Virginia, said the plans are now moving forward. Drill sergeants could be back in AIT as soon as October 2019.1
“The goal is to get [drill sergeants] back,” Gragg said. “We know the force would like them there. We know there is a deficiency in Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills. We know there is a decrease in the level of discipline.”
The announcement of a timeline for drill sergeants’ return to AIT came after Master Sgt. Michael Lavigne, the town hall moderator, asked Gragg why there is no AIT platoon sergeant badge like there is for drill sergeants. The lack of a device has been one of the problems in getting NCOs to serve as AIT platoon sergeants.2
“We have inquired about [an AIT platoon sergeant badge] on several occasions, asking what can we do to incentivize the AIT platoon sergeant program,” Gragg said. “We have a challenge in meeting and maintaining AIT platoon sergeants in the force with the numbers that we need. We are habitually not at that 100 percent mark that we’d like to be. Though we are mandated to man to that level, we’re not there. Often it’s because individuals have no desire to come out there and do it because there is nothing in it for them. The drill sergeant gets a badge and some special pay. The instructor can earn a badge. I can’t do anything for my AIT platoon sergeants. In the process of understanding that, that’s why we’re going to go back to making them all drill sergeants.”
One of the few incentives for serving as an AIT platoon sergeant is that it is a broadening assignment that helps noncommissioned officers get promoted. Between 50 percent and 70 percent of AIT platoon sergeants get selected for promotion.3 But even that incentive comes with caveats.
“The only challenge that I do have with them is that, in comparison to their drill sergeant brethren, they may not get promoted in the same fiscal year because of the simple fact that when that drill sergeant takes their DA photo, they have something in their photo that says they are doing that special duty,” Gragg said. “My AIT platoon sergeants, when they take their photo, they don’t have anything on there. If there’s nothing in that photo that says they are performing that duty — if they don’t have an evaluation on the board file by that time, they won’t see it — so the board won’t necessarily be able to give them credit for that duty. That following year, when they have an evaluation on file, they get picked up.”
In response to a comment in the town hall online discussion board, Sgt. Maj. Brian Lindsey of the Institute for Noncommissioned Officer Professional
Development at Fort Eustis, Virginia, disputed the idea that AIT platoon sergeants’ job was “babysitting Soldiers.”4
“The impact of the AIT platoon sergeant at that level is crucial to when that soldier leaves there,” Lindsey said. “When I’m in AIT, I’m learning my job. It’s crucial that a Soldier leaves there with confidence and is competent when he gets to his first unit of assignment. So, you’re not a babysitter. You should be a great coach, teacher and mentor to ensure when a Soldier gets there, he is a force multiplier for that organization.”
Any leadership failures by AIT platoon sergeants is solely the fault of a flawed system that didn’t give them what they needed to succeed, Gragg said. The move to return drill sergeants to AIT should improve that system.5
“For my AIT platoon sergeant brethren out there who would think this is a slap on them, it is not,” Gragg said. “Because those same individuals who are AIT platoon sergeants will be the same exact individuals who will be the drill sergeants. What we’re trying to do is give them more tools to be successful.”
Sometimes, those tools are something as simple as the distinctive drill sergeant hat.6
“Right now, I can’t give [AIT platoon sergeants] the infrastructure to be successful,” Gragg said. “They are out there at a 1-to-40 ratio by regulation, but actually they’re out there at a 1-to-120 ratio sometimes in their organizations. How does an individual control a crowd of 120 when in a uniform that looks just like theirs? If you are not vertically gifted and taller than everybody, then they can’t see you. If they can’t see you, those individuals don’t self-discipline unless they hear you, so your sphere of influence is 3 meters around you, eye-to-eye. But if I put distinctive headgear on you, that sphere of influence is increased to 30 meters or so. People around you start self-policing; therefore, those self-policing habits will hopefully become lifelong habits and increase the discipline inside the force as we go along.”
- Gragg, Michael, “TRADOC State of the NCO Development Town Hall 4.” YouTube. April 10, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvF3_3BdDTc
- Lavigne, Michael, “TRADOC State of the NCO Development Town Hall 4.” YouTube. April 10, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvF3_3BdDTc
- Gragg, Michael, “Town Hall 4.” April 10, 2017.
- Lindsey, Brian, “TRADOC State of the NCO Development Town Hall 4.” YouTube. April 10, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvF3_3BdDTc
- Gragg, Michael, “Town Hall 4.” April 10, 2017.
There was a lot to discuss at TRADOC’s fourth State of NCO Development Town Hall. But what seemed to grab the most attention and questions from noncommissioned officers was the proposed Expert Action Badge.
The Expert Action Badge recently went through a concept evaluation at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. It is meant to test Soldiers on their Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills, but many of the details are still to be finalized, including whether it will even keep the name of Expert Action Badge.1
Though the Expert Infantryman Badge and Expert Field Medical Badge already exist, the Army wants to create a badge that validates the warrior skills of the vast majority of Soldiers who aren’t in infantry or medical MOSs, said Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Gragg, command sergeant major at the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training at Fort Eustis, Virginia.2
“We’ve had a badge since 1945 for the infantrymen to validate their infantry arts,” Gragg said. “We’ve had a badge since 1965 for medical personnel to validate their medical arts. What we don’t have is something for the other 75 percent of the Soldiers who are out there to validate their proficiency in their basic Soldier skills. So what we want to do is offer them the opportunity to validate their basic Soldier skills to a professional level.”
The idea for the badge was unveiled in March by Command Sgt. Maj. David Davenport, command sergeant major at U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. The online forums for the town hall showed many NCOs were skeptical, with many complaining that the badge would be too easy to get.
“I know there are some thoughts out there that it’s going to be, ‘Everybody gets it,’” Gragg said. “No. It’s not a participation trophy. The infantryman does his infantry tasks every day, but yet only about 25 percent of them get the badge when they go compete for it. All we’re saying is that on an annual basis a unit would be able to offer the opportunity for their Soldiers to compete and certify in their Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills to a professional level and earn a badge saying, ‘I am expert in my skill set.’ Not saying you’re going to get it because I can guarantee you there will not be a 100 percent pass rate.”
The badge would be an opportunity for superior Soldiers to step up and show their skills, said Command Sgt. Maj. Scott Schroeder, command sergeant major at U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.3
“Everybody should go out and seek opportunities for excellence,” Schroeder said. “I have much more respect for somebody who steps up, goes out and works to earn an Expert Action Badge, and perhaps fails, versus somebody who just says, ‘I’m not going to do that.’” As the online discussion forums sometimes became heated, Gragg asked NCOs to control their emotions and look at the big picture. The big picture is the Army comes away more prepared to take on modern conflicts.4
“We get to the base of the mountain, and from there you can only see the peak of it,” Gragg said. “But once you get to the top of the mountain, you can see the entire picture. I would ask them to climb the mountain and see the entire picture. We’re not trying to cheapen anything. What we’re trying to do is enhance our Army. We’re trying to increase Soldier readiness. We want that infantry brother, when he or she is out there on a guard post, when the guard comes to relieve them, that the individual who comes up and is assigned that weapon knows exactly what’s going on with that weapon. That the infantryman can say, you got it, and walk away and feel comfortable knowing that he can sleep well tonight.
“The outcome is readiness because that is priority number one,” he said. “What we want to do is increase readiness overall. Right now at the concept event we have going on at JBLM, we have 53 Soldiers going through it. Of those 53 Soldiers, 25 of them didn’t even know how to wear their protective masks properly. I understand that’s a leadership challenge, but often when leadership fails, a policy has to be inserted to ensure that leadership does their job.”
With many of the complaints focusing on the new badge perhaps degrading the importance of the infantry badge, Davenport reiterated that the badges aren’t competing against each other.5
“It’s not to say one has more value than the other,” Davenport said. “It’s about improving individual proficiency, getting that expertise and rediscovering a culture of training your Soldiers.”
As the concept stands, Soldiers attempting to earn the badge would do 30 Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills, plus five mental tasks to be chosen by a commander. Gragg said they are making adjustments to make sure that those who earn the badge demonstrate exceptional proficiency, not just the basic ability to complete the tasks. 2 There will also probably be some surprise extra events.
“[These extra events are] not necessarily something that is a Warrior Task and Battle Drill, but we are using those to determine the flexibility of the force to see how far we can take this event to make sure that we get the professional Soldier that we want,” Gragg said. “You’re going to have to work your butt off to get this badge, and when you get it, you’ll be proud of it, because you have demonstrated exceptional performance over an extended period.” Several NCOs suggested a name change for the badge, an idea that Davenport said he appreciated.6
“We solicit that kind of feedback,” he said. “That’s why we are moving from the PowerPoint concept and putting it in Soldiers’ hands, organizations’ hands, to see if it does create value for our Army. Does it improve readiness? The naming of it is subject to change. That’s good constructive feedback right there.”
Though the Expert Action Badge has yet to be approved by the Army and is at least several years away from getting final approval and being available for
Soldiers, at least one town hall commenter was ready to get to work, asking what he should do to prepare himself.
“For an individual to start training for the EAB right now, I would encourage him to start focusing on his Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills,” Gragg said. “Becoming extremely proficient on those, because that’s going to be the basis of the test. There are going to be some physical challenges to the test. There is going to be an APFT requirement. There is going to be a forced foot march. Those things you can continue to improve. Work on your physical fitness. Even with the Expert Infantryman Badge and Expert Field Medical Badge, the tasks themselves usually aren’t what break people down. It’s the physical demands over the testing period that makes people lose their mental acuity and so they make a mistake.”
- Davenport, David, “TRADOC State of the NCO Development Town Hall 4.” YouTube. April 10, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvF3_3BdDTc
- Gragg, Michael, “TRADOC State of the NCO Development Town Hall 4.” YouTube. April 10, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvF3_3BdDTc
- Command Sgt. Maj. Scott Schroeder in discussion with the author, March 2017.
- Gragg, Michael, “Town Hall 4.” April 10, 2017.
- Davenport, David, “Town Hall 4.” April 10, 2017.
Well, there you have it folks, we have successfully completed four State of NCO Development town halls. I know some of you may snicker at the “successful” part, but it’s the truth. One of the toughest struggles we have at U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command is getting information out to the force, primarily to our junior Soldiers and leaders. The changes we make in today’s Army are going to affect those individuals the most, so ensuring they have information as to what we are working on has always been of the utmost importance. These town halls have contributed to not only being able to answer your questions directly, but they have also provided an opportunity to gather feedback as well as improve the NCO 2020 Strategy and several initiatives.
Each town hall deliberately touched on various topics within the strategy, with the intent of informing Soldiers and leaders about how TRADOC is revolutionizing leader development for noncommissioned officers over the course of their service. The first town hall covered the strategy in general, which generated a lot of buzz because of the discussion on STEP (Select, Train, Educate, Promote) and professional military education. Now a year later, STEP is old news and making a huge difference in the development of our NCOs. The feedback we received from you, both negative and positive, was far more than we ever expected, so it didn’t seem right to stop there. The next town hall covered the development effort within the strategy. It also hit on some very popular topics. The implementation of the Master Leader Course drew the most feedback and questions, especially from our senior NCOs. The most common questions being “Why now? Is it required for STEP? Who is required to attend?” This year’s master sergeant list holds the first group that is required to attend.
We had more questions and comments from our junior population on the changes coming to common core and structured self development, or SSD. We listened when you said redundant training needs to come out, as well as the mandatory training that is already required at the unit level. I feel the force is going to be very pleased with the changes we have made to better these initiatives.
The third town hall concentrated on talent management. What was so great about this town hall was that we focused on developmental positions and assignments, both inside and outside of the career management field. We wanted to make sure that you not only knew about the variety of opportunities available to enhance your careers, but to allow you to hear success stories as well. Some of you just need to realize that while you may very well be the right man or woman for a job, you first may have to do a little paperwork, compete and work hard to show that you deserve it. The sky’s the limit, but you have to believe that you can do it.
This last town hall was the culminating event, focused on being a steward of the profession. This one was by far the most unique because some of the topics discussed have not yet been approved. Basically, they are still in the drafting stage, and your comments and feedback are only going to improve upon the concepts we have thus far. Some of you were pretty passionate in your responses. Believe it or not, that’s what I wanted – so that we are developing exactly what the force needs.
I know there’s still a tremendous appetite to talk one-on-one with leaders. TRADOC’s leaders cannot travel to every post, camp and station – but there are still ways to connect. I encourage all leaders to really talk with their Soldiers, but they should educate themselves first so they can be ready to answer questions.
I couldn’t be more pleased with the overall outcome of these town halls. Your support and participation has only made the NCO 2020 Strategy that much stronger, which means the same for your development in the future. Our mission remains the same, stay true to the strategy and help to educate our cohort of competent and committed NCOs of character, as trusted Army professionals who are ready to thrive in a complex world.
If you missed any of the town halls, they can be found here on my blog page at http://tradocnews.org/category/straight-from-the-csm/ as well as on other TRADOC media channels.
But before I go. This week, I also thought I’d share the blog space with our moderator, Master Sgt. Mike Lavigne, so you could hear his thoughts on the series.
Master Sgt. Michael Lavigne shares his experience as part of the State of NCO Development Town Hall series:
A little over a year ago, TRADOC made me an offer I couldn’t refuse – moderate a town hall, broadcast live from Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, focusing on the initiatives in NCO 2020, the future of NCO professional development. The rules were simple – a panel of senior NCO leaders would discuss changes coming to the Army, and I would take questions from the live audience watching online and pose them to the experts.
The response was overwhelming.
The outpouring of questions showed there was a gap in informing the force. Over the course of the next year and three subsequent broadcasts, TRADOC has looked to fill that gap, both through the broadcasts, follow-up communication to answer questions we couldn’t get to during the show, and to correct common misperceptions.
Soldiers and civilians have shared videos of the town halls, and the clips from them focusing on specific areas, through social media hundreds of thousands of times, across a variety of platforms and sites. Troops have sounded off through those same channels with a clear message – they’re hungry for more of this one-on-one engagement. And leaders are listening, recently U.S. Army Human Resource Command also held a town hall to address Soldier’s personnel specific questions.
I am extremely proud to have had a role in this series of broadcasts, and enjoyed learning as much as I have from the nearly two dozen subject matter experts who came to participate. I’ve been able to see parts of the NCO 2020 Strategy go from concept to reality in that short time, and I’m excited to see the rest of it come to fruition in the coming years.
It’s great to look back on what we’ve accomplished in the past year – but as soon as we take the 30 seconds to do that, it’s time to get after what’s next.
I hope you’re as excited as I am to see what’s next.
Until next time … Victory Starts Here!
CSM David Davenport
Watch the State of NCO Development Town Hall 4 below.
FORT MEADE, Md. (Army News Service) — While tackling concerns about the Expert Action Badge, senior enlisted leaders stressed Thursday in a virtual town hall that the goal of the badge is to enhance readiness, not discount the efforts of infantrymen or medics with similar skill badges.
If approved, Soldiers would compete in 30-plus warrior tasks and battle drills, as well as up to five mental tasks, for a chance to wear the badge on their uniforms, like the Expert Infantryman Badge or Expert Field Medical Badge.
“It’s not an ‘everybody action badge’ or everybody gets it,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Gragg, with the Center for Initial Military Training. “You’re going to have to work your butt off to get this badge and when you get it you’ll be proud of it because you’ve had demonstrated exceptional performance.”
While infantrymen have had a badge to validate their skills since 1945 and medics started theirs in 1965, Gragg said, the EAB would give the other 75 percent of Soldiers the opportunity to earn one.
Today’s Soldiers have also been lagging behind in their basic skills, which could affect mission readiness, he said.
“The reason behind it is that right now our Soldiers aren’t necessarily proficient at warrior tasks and battle drills,” he said during the town hall, hosted by the Army Training and Doctrine Command.
He added the Soldier’s Creed starts off saying that those in the Army are “trained and proficient” in those skills. “All I’m asking you to do is to show it,” he said. “That’s all it is.”
Still in the conceptual phase, more than 50 Soldiers are taking part in testing the EAB idea at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.
Some of the requirements for Soldiers may include a 12-mile foot march to be finished under three hours while carrying a load of 35 pounds; a physical fitness test with 80 percent in each category in their respective age group; and being able to locate three out of four land navigation points within two hours.
Shotgun and AK-47 rifle skills could also be part of the challenge. If a Soldier were to receive two “no-gos” on an event, their testing would end.
“As you can see this is not a given, you’ll have to earn it,” said Command Sgt. Maj. David S. Davenport, the top enlisted advisor for TRADOC.
Davenport previously told reporters that if signed off on, Soldiers could start seeing the EAB by October 2019.
But some Soldiers, particularly those in the infantry, have expressed dismay in rolling out such a badge.
Gragg asked them to look at the logic of the Army having this type of badge. “We’re not trying to cheapen anything,” he said of the EIB and EFMB. “What we’re trying to do is enhance the Army. We’re trying to increase Soldier readiness.”
Davenport added: “It’s not a competition; it’s not to say that one has more value than the other.”
Enlisted leaders hope the badge will lead NCOs to rediscovering a culture of training their Soldiers. The assumption, Gragg said, is that the competition would cause Soldiers to do more training at their home station as they prepare for it.
“You don’t go to the marathon not understanding how to run a marathon,” he said. “You do some training before you get to the marathon.”
Another badge is also under consideration, this time for platoon sergeants who frequently lead up to 150 Soldiers going through advanced individual training.
In 2008, the Army removed drill sergeants in AIT environments, and with that came the loss of a drill sergeant badge and special pay for those in charge of troops.
“We have a challenge in meeting and maintaining AIT platoon sergeants in the force with the numbers that we need,” Gragg said. “Often times, it’s because individuals have no desire to come out and do it because there’s nothing in it for them.”
That could all change if the Army goes back to AIT drill sergeants, which is expected to occur October 2019. “The goal is to get them back,” he said. “It’s a matter of us getting the money in place and making it happen.”
(Follow Sean Kimmons on Twitter: @KimmonsARNEWS)
Command Sgt. Maj. David Davenport, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s senior enlisted adviser, explains why leadership development is critical to the Soldiers of tomorrow’s Army. Davenport and subject matter experts will discuss noncommissioned officer leadership development during the TRADOC State of NCO Development Town Hall 4 March 30 at 11 a.m. EDT.
Lead from the front, and make the force better for the future. Join the town hall live March 30, and learn more about being a steward of the profession: https://go.usa.gov/xXqYY
Soldiers can also ask questions on TRADOC’s Facebook page or tweet questions to @tradoc using #TRADOCtownhall.