Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville says his eye is on the service’s people in the coming year. It’s a wide-ranging priority that involves new software programs, leadership selection courses and investments for families.
But McConville is also closely watching the Army National Guard’s operational tempo, which has been increasing as Guardsmen across the country have been called up to deal with natural disasters, the coronavirus pandemic and social unrest over the past two years. Then there’s the upcoming move to take sexual misconduct charging decisions out of the chain of command, a major step for the military at large.
McConville sat down with Army Times ahead of the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference to discuss those matters. The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Thanks for taking the time to sit down with us. Can you lay out your “people agenda” for the upcoming fiscal year?
People, for me, [are] still the number one priority.
It’s been a year of the Guard and Reserve — we have asked tremendous amounts of them from helping defeat COVID to some of the storms we’ve had [and] wildfires. You name it, the National Guard has been involved in it, along with their overseas missions.
That’s an important point of why we want to continue what we’re doing with “people first.” We’ve got to have a [human resources] system — the Integrated Personnel and Pay System-Army (IPPS-A). We’re continuing to emplace that; it’s in the National Guard right now. And over the next 12 to 18 months, the intent is to get that completely fielded in the Regular Army and Reserves so we have all of our components on one system.
The intent is that we move from an industrial age personnel management system where we manage soldiers by two variables — their rank and their MOS — and we go into a much more comprehensive [talent] management system where we take advantage of their knowledge, skills, behaviors, and even preferences that they have.
We just set up a Software Factory. We put out a call for those who would be interested, and three of the people who signed up — one was a medic, another was an automotive mechanic, and another was a baker. That’s what their MOS was, and then we find out they’re actually world-class coders, and [now] they’re going to be coding for the Army.
The other thing that’s continuing to happen is [a focus on] getting the right leaders in the right place at the right time. So we’ve had comprehensive command assessment programs — the battalion command assessment program is on its third year; the colonels command assessment program is on its second year.
We’re standing up a command sergeant major assessment program that’s moving from the pilot into the actual execution. We’re running pilots for our first sergeant assessment program. We think it’s very important to continue these programs, and they’re continuing to improve the Army.
One of the things we learned from our assessment program[s] was that many of the officers that went through it said, “I wish I knew that these were our weaknesses and strengths before,” so we’re putting a program called Project Athena at the Command and General Staff College and the Captain’s Career Course where we identify those attributes that they’ll need for command. It’s about leader development.
[We also have] quality of life initiatives for our soldiers and families. We’re investing in housing. We’re investing in Child Development Centers. We’re working very hard when it comes to spousal employment, to make sure they have opportunities to keep their jobs or get jobs as they travel around. We’re taking a hard look at how we’re doing permanent change of station moves to stabilize more soldiers but also make sure they have good moves.
One quick follow-up: now that the battalion command assessment program is maturing, what data is there to show that these programs are selecting better leaders and creating better results on the ground?
We don’t [yet] have a sufficient amount of data to show the results of commanders in command, but what we do have is data that shows those that we found not ready for command [during the assessments]. We’ve had some officers who had some weaknesses, or what I would call “holes in their swing,” go through coaching and actually be able to address those weaknesses, and then come through the [assessment] process [again] and do much better.
Over the next couple years, I think we’re going to see that this is going to have an effect, because the officers that are coming up the ranks are going to know they’re expected to have a good command climate. They’re going to know they’re held responsible for how they deal with their leaders above them, how they deal with their peers, and how they deal with their subordinates.
I think we’re going to see more cohesive teams being developed. And I think we’re going to see better leaders getting the type of results that we need.
You mentioned this being the “Year of the Guard and Reserve.” What lessons is the Army drawing from this experience?
Louisiana and the Guard responded very well to [Hurricane Ida]. We responded to wildfires in California — the Guard participated in that. We responded to the earthquake in Haiti, and the Guard participated in that. And these are multiple operations going on at the same time.
Meanwhile, the Guard was still doing COVID [response]. Meanwhile, the Guard was still training. This summer I went out and visited the Guard at three different [training] locations. [I saw] three brigades all conducting training at the time, while all these other things were going on.
So first of all, I want to talk about just how well the Guard is doing.
And the second thing we have to do is be careful about the [operational tempo] on the Guard, and with some of the social unrest they have become a solution to a whole bunch of problems. I read that in [some states] they’re driving [school] buses now.
So it’s pretty amazing what we’re asking the Guard to do, and they have done a fabulous job of providing the support to the homeland and overseas, too.
In light of that Guard OPTEMPO, is there anything in the works for those troops who may be stretched thin by the last year-and-a-half?
One of the things we’re putting in place is what we call ReARMM — the Regionally Aligned Readiness and Modernization Model — and part of that is to look across the entire force and reduce the OPTEMPO on all of the units, because we’ve asked a lot of [our units].
And what we’re trying to do is reduce the OPTEMPO, give them more predictability, and give our [combatant command] commanders an idea of what [forces] they should expect to be available.
Then we’re able to put our units on a training cycle, then a mission or deployment cycle, and then a modernization cycle. We can see which units have the highest OPTEMPO and take that into account with some of the mission coming up.
So we’re going to a more predictable employment model for all of our units, because we are concerned about the OPTEMPO.
Army Secretary Christine Wormuth mentioned earlier this month that the Army is setting up a new office to handle sexual assault and harassment charging decisions outside the change of command, in line with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s guidance. Do you have a timeline on what that process is going to look like?
The secretary said there is planning going on to take a look at that.
There’s recommendations and there’s discussion about legislation, so the Army’s waiting on the final decisions. But [we’re] certainly looking at options to accomplish any type of directives that we’re given.
What I can tell you is we’ve restructured our Criminal Investigation Division and changed its name. It’s now got its first civilian [director, Gregory] Ford.
We’re also re-looking at our entire [Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program] — that’s in the process of being reorganized.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army. He focuses on investigations, personnel concerns and military justice. Davis, also a Guard veteran, was a finalist in the 2023 Livingston Awards for his work with The Texas Tribune investigating the National Guard's border missions. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill.