Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler said Structured Self-Development bridges the gap between operational and institutional experiences, and helps to make a well-rounded NCO. (Army)
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A couple of deployments and a big fitness test score will no longer guarantee your next promotion. New rules and requirements will ensure promotions not only acknowledge past performance but also recognize future potential — and will steer soldiers through the processes by which stronger leaders are made.
Pinning on another stripe will require more schooling and leader development. Special duty as a recruiter or drill sergeant will better your chances as combat deployments diminish and all things become equal.
"As an Army, and me personally, we are committed to the semicentralized promotion system," said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler. "But you can't just stay static and say what happened 10 years ago is good for today. Expectations change. We give soldiers the opportunity to achieve those standards, and those that meet and exceed those standards will be promoted."
Structured Self-Development brings the biggest change. There are no more excuses for putting off these five 80-hour courses. Every soldier must complete his respective SSD level before attending courses under the Noncommissioned Officer Education System.
Perhaps you didn't want to go to school anyway. Chances are, you know a soldier who found a way to avoid school and still get another stripe. No more. Promotion will soon be impossible without completing the required courses.
As of Oct. 1, junior soldiers will be required to complete SSD-1 before they attend the Warrior Leader Course.
In addition, soldiers must complete:
• SSD-2 before attending the Advanced Leader Course.
• SSD-3 before attending the Senior Leader Course.
• SSD-4 before attending the Sergeants Major Course.
• SSD-5 after completing the Sergeants Major Course.
The strong emphasis on SSD and professional schools is all about leadership. SSD bridges the gap between operational and institutional experiences, and helps to make a well-rounded NCO, Chandler said.
The multifaceted plan strives to develop career timelines that align personnel and training policies, and prepare leaders for the challenges of today's operational environment. It also provides a foundational knowledge upon which institutional instructors can build — and take you to the next level of leadership.
The Army already has seen stronger success in WLC by soldiers who have completed SSD-1, Chandler said. The program works, and that is why the Army is backing it up with such strong rules.
No SSD means no NCOES. No school means no promotion. No promotion means you are not staying in the Army.
"This is an up-or-out system," Chandler said. "When you stop moving up, you are eventually going to move out through either [end term of service] or retirement. You've got to do this structured self-development."
It may be tough to find time for SSD in your current schedule, but Chandler has put senior leaders on notice: This is a necessity. He holds senior leaders responsible to see that it is done.
The SMA said Big Army won't micromanage a unit or command's training plan, but soldiers must have adequate time to complete SSD and schools.
"I expect of my first sergeants and sergeants major throughout the Army to be personally involved with all aspects of leader development," he said. "And I hold them accountable to ensure their soldiers have the opportunity and achieve the requirements the Army has laid out for them," he added. "If they are not doing that, or any other thing a first sergeant or sergeant major should be doing, I am going to scrutinize whether they are among the best.
"It is about leader accountability. You set the example and enforce standards and discipline. Part of that is making sure your soldiers are getting the opportunities and are aware of what they need to do to grow as soldiers and leaders."
Chandler said the failure of a senior leader in this regard would have implications on that soldier's assignments and advancements.
For example, nominative sergeants major are those who serve under the direct command of a general officer. Selection of such leaders can be tight, and therefore the chances for one who failed to get his soldiers through SSD and school will be slim to none.
As SSD gets blocks of time in the training plan, other soldiers are working to keep the technical aspects of SSD and distance learning running smooth.
For example, some soldiers in the Army Learning Management System were not aware of errors because the pop-up screen meant to alert them remained hidden behind other screens. Technicians have since fixed that code.
In the near future, information will be more evenly distributed across the information network, Chandler said. The Army also is looking at apps that will allow you to work on SSD.
In addition, each soldier's SSD status will show on his or her Army Knowledge Online main page.
Army Career Tracker also will be fully implemented this year. This one-stop online tool helps plot careers, assignments, training and education. The tracker delivers personalized information that takes account of an individual soldier's experiences, education, training and needs.
It also shows the general career progression of other members of a soldier's peer group.
The Army also is looking at every promotion point you get and asking whether it best reflects the needs of the Army.
"These factors, military and civilian education, deployments, awards, decorations, [physical training], do all of those things still matter to us?" Chandler said. "Are the points appropriately distributed?"
Deployments are one example. Senior leaders are scrutinizing the points soldiers receive for deployment. It's not a matter of whether you should get them, but how long they should last. For example, should a deployment four years ago make a difference in this year's promotions?
And professional improvement is always a top priority. The Army now gives up to 10 promotion points for credits earned through professional credentialing and licensure. That affects soldiers in 23 career management fields and more than 140 MOSs in combat arms, combat support and combat service support.
A new Noncommissioned Officer Evaluation Report will align the NCOER with leader doctrine FM6-22, specifically leader attributes and competencies. The new evaluation also will eliminate over-inflation by ranking soldiers, similar to the way officers are ranked against their peers.
The new NCOER will probably come in two versions: one for the junior population and one for the senior NCOs. Performance will have a greater focus for young soldiers while more emphasis will be placed on leadership skills as the soldier moves up the ranks. Expect changes in how "excellence," "success" and "needs improvement" are defined.
Senior enlisted personnel in the company and battalion will have greater influence with the NCOER. It will give the first sergeant or sergeant major a place to acknowledge that the review is accurate and within the tenets and principles of the governing regulation. Professional courses will be improved, and more soldiers will attend.
Soldiers who ran to the sound of the guns for the past 10 years have missed the opportunity to go to a number of career-broadening schools. And many took courses that were significantly to accommodate deployments.
Chandler is working with Training and Doctrine Command to expand course length as dwell time increases. A redesign of the Warrior Leader Course is one example. The once-30-day course was reduced to 15, then had a few more days added. But soldiers and leaders are vocal that more time is needed to instill foundational principles in these young leaders.
TRADOC is now conducting two pilots — one at Fort Bliss, Texas, and another at Fort Hood — to determine the correct course length. Some soldiers are calling for a return to the 30-day course. Chandler is not willing to cite a specific number until the pilot programs and subsequent analysis are done.
WLC can expect some big changes, with the Advanced Leader Course likely to be next.
Officials also look to take advantage of the innovative leadership skills taught at the Ranger School, the Reconnaissance and Surveillance Leader Course, the Army Reconnaissance Course and the Asymmetric Warfare Adaptive Leader Program.