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Army training, recruiting marches on despite COVID-19 challenges

As the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe, locking down much of the United States in its path, the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command still had a job to do — recruit new soldiers and train the ones they had.

Gen. Paul Funk, TRADOC commander, talked with Army Times ahead of the Association of the U.S. Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition about how the command continued, and learned new ways of doing business, along the way.

“We’ve trained almost 500,000 soldiers this year, converted 600 classes to digital content to keep them moving, adapted our entire ROTC summer cap and used Operation Agile Leader to train in 72 locations to reduce the risks of COVID while training the officers of tomorrow,” Funk said.

Funk said as the outbreak surfaced and began impacting the United States in force in March, they took a two-week pause, which helped them to setup their medical resourcing and understand the space and options they had available.

Beyond set training, recruiting had to continue — the cycle of replacing exiting soldiers and growing new talent from the bottom up wouldn’t wait.

“Our recruiters have just been superb,” Funk said. “We were way ahead when COVID hit. We hit some turbulence but I suspect you will hear the Army has made its end strength again.” (This interview was conducted at the end of September.)

While recruiting is a full-time duty for some soldiers now, efforts during the July three-day virtual event called “Army Hiring Days” saw 6,500 interview appointments made with prospective recruits in the virtual campaign.

A move to digitalize content was put into overdrive. Converting 600 classes normally might have taken up to three years to do, but in this case it was set in motion and accomplished in four and a half months.

As the regular business of TRADOC rolled along, new initiatives continued.

Waypoint 2028 is how TRADOC is matching its training to the larger Army modernization efforts, which include vast improvements for areas such as Long Range Precision Fires, Ground Combat Vehicles, Future Vertical Lift, Soldier Lethality, Air Defense and Synthetic Training Environments, among others.

The number is focused, Funk emphasized.

“The majors at the Command and General Staff College at the intermediate level of education will be battalion and brigade commanders in 2028,” he said. “We have to make sure we start building and optimizing who’s going to lead our forces.”

As for those commanders now taking over such units, the Army held its first Battalion Commander Assessment Program in January, which aims to dramatically alter how the force selects future battalion commanders.

That effort has now bumped up the chain to include colonels in the Colonels Command Assessment Program.

During at least two major stages in their careers, Army officers will go through a battery of tests and interviews along with their standard reviews to determine if they have a future in leading soldiers at higher echelon.

But assessments won’t necessarily wait until the officer has a leaf on their uniform. Project Athena aims to begin increased and tailored assessments of young officers' warfighting, physical fitness, leadership, cognitive, communication, mental toughness and interpersonal skills.

The project complements BCAP and CCAP, helping officers begin the process of unit leadership beyond the platoon or company level years in advance of their crucial assessments.

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