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A recent promotion board tasked with examining the files of first sergeants and master sergeants came upon a stunning realization: Not only were senior NCOs gaining weight to an alarming degree, they were miraculously getting taller.
So either these senior noncommissioned officers had all experienced latent growth spurts, or there was some funny business going on with the height stats.
The promotion board concluded the latter, and issued a rare and candid smackdown in its after-action report.
Not only did the board call out the E-8 population for having “too many overweight soldiers in the zone of consideration,” but they also called for accountability of raters and senior raters tasked with filling out the NCO Evaluation Reports.
In its report, the board stressed that raters must correctly annotate soldiers’ height and weight data.
“As soldiers gain weight over time, they often, according to their NCOERs, grow in height” so they will be in compliance with Army’s weight control regulation, according to the Regular Army Sergeant Major Selection, Training and Promotion board that met in June. It was easy for the board to suss out potential cheaters by simply comparing the height in the NCOER with Enlisted Record Briefs and Academic Evaluation Reports.
The board noticed a second problem: Some raters overemphasize the PT success of an E-8’s subordinates at his or her command, rather than the individual. This was a red flag to the board to dig deeper and examine the E-8’s personal score.
“The Excellence block is too often checked and not backed up with substantive bullets in the physical fitness section,” the board reported.
“Far too many NCOs are given credit for increasing Army Physical Fitness Test scores in the formations that they lead rather than their own scores. The message this sends to the board is that the NCO has a low APFT score,” they reported.
Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler praised the board for its “candid observations” and said he wasn’t surprised to see tough talk from the group, which is tasked to “identify deficiencies.”
“The Army does a great job of policing itself … in this case, the board members are doing what I would expect of senior NCOs,” Chandler said in a written response to Army Times’ questions. “They are policing their peers — they’re being standard bearers and stewards of our profession.”
Chandler was hesitant to put blame on the promotion-eligible E-8s when it came to inflated height statistics.
“It’s really the leaders — raters and senior raters — who should be addressed on the subject of accurate data. They hold the key to ensuring the proper assumptions are made about their troops; they’re the individuals who sign these NCOERs. Raters and senior raters must correctly annotate their Soldiers’ data,” Chandler said.
Chandler agreed with the board regarding physical training, and cautioned against raters overplaying a unit’s PT successes.
“I think the point is, sometimes raters think they are helping a Soldier, when instead they may be adding more scrutiny to his or her record,” Chandler said.
'Body mass index problem'
While raters may be to blame for the fudged facts, a big responsibility falls to the general population of first sergeants and master sergeants evaluated for advancement.
These E-8s had a “body mass index problem,” the board found.
In other words, enough of them failed a basic Army standard to warrant a serious course correction.
Chandler stressed that overall “the Army NCO Corps upholds the standard every day.”
“That is why our NCO Corps is emulated across the globe and trusted by the American people,” he said. “I trust that the few who do not embody and uphold the Army standard will be identified and either mentored so they improve or understand that they run the risk of finding themselves on a QSP list.”
The Qualitative Service Program is one of the Army’s primary force-cutting tools, targeting soldiers for involuntary separation in overstrength specialties.
Chandler noted that weight gain can be a particular challenge for longer-serving soldiers.
“For me, as my age has increased, the time and attention to maintain my fitness has also increased,” Chandler said. “I suspect other senior NCOs have the same challenge.”
But weight gain is not exclusively an E-8 struggle.
When looking across the force, separations for Army Physical Fitness Test failures and unsuccessfully completing the Army’s weight control program have risen sharply in recent years.
Last year, 1,379 soldiers were let go over the PT test, up from 1,287 in 2012 and just 497 in 2011. Weight-related separations jumped from 870 in 2011 to 1,815 in 2012 but stayed flat at 1,823 in 2013.
They are on track to dip, but only slightly, this year. Through the third quarter of 2014 there have been 1,181 weight-related separations.
The spike is not all that surprising when you consider that in March 2012, Chandler announced the Army’s drawdown plans would include a stricter enforcement of standards. This accounts for the sharp rise of weight- and PT-related separations, said Army G-1 spokesman Paul Prince.
Chandler said it wasn’t that rules were relaxed during wartime, but there was less attention on enforcement.
“I do think war has a way of sharpening your focus on those things that help you accomplish your wartime mission, while returning to home station affords you time to focus on the things that make a force ready for the next wartime mission,” he said.
Army regulations require soldiers who have two consecutive APFT failures to be separated, if they have no medical limitations.
Soldiers who fail to meet the body fat standards are subject to involuntary separation. The soldier can be separated for failure to make satisfactory progress in the Army’s weight control program, or for not meeting the standard for the 12 months after leaving the program.
Soldiers are evaluated for weight and height about once every six months, typically during their physical fitness tests.
The Defense Department has taken on weight issues by introducing the Army-developed “Go For Green” program in dining facilities, which gives color ratings to all foods served: red, yellow, green, in order of least to most healthy.
Army medicine has spearheaded a “Performance Triad” that gives troops tips for getting quality sleep, exercise and nutrition.
Board panelists specifically recommended that the Army make more use of this Triad.
So what is it?
The Army’s Performance Triad includes a series of pilot programs that began last September. A number of installations have since launched triad-related fitness challenges.
Target behaviors under the plan include taking at least 10,000 steps a day, exercising at least 2 ½ hours a week, sleeping eight hours a day and eating at least eight daily servings of fruits and vegetables. During trials, squad leaders were asked to pass along the program’s basics to their soldiers via weekly lessons.
But the plan doesn’t only apply to those in uniform: The Army declared August “Performance Triad Month,” stressing the program’s application to military families, especially children heading back to school.
You should expect to hear more about the Triad, which has buy-in all the way to the top.
“We are getting Soldiers, and more importantly leaders, to understand how the Performance Triad affects readiness,” Chandler said. “I’m excited to see where this new way of thinking will take us.”
Get more information at https://www.facebook.com/PerformanceTriad, or download the Performance Triad app by searching “Performance Triad” in the iTunes App Store or Google Play.
The sergeant major board concluded its report by noting that “the Army is a microcosm of America, and as Americans get fatter, so do soldiers.
“This trend needs to be reversed, and personal fitness and appearance needs to be stressed. The health of the force requires this.
“By improving the health of our Army we will strengthen our profession and improve the health of our nation by the example we set.”
Staff writers Joe Gould, Kevin Lilley and Tony Lombardo contributed to this report.