The new fiscal year brings challenges both old and new for the Army — full implementation of a new fitness test, concerns over barracks conditions and more.
Ahead of the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference, Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston sat down with Army Times to discuss those topics and preview new ones as he prepares for his final year as SMA.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Which of your initiatives from fiscal 2022 do you think made the biggest difference across the force?
Without a doubt it’s the monthly prevention meetings I have with the senior command sergeants major in the Army. We get CSMs from Korea to Italy on a call for two hours a month and talk through how we can prevent the harmful behaviors.
What I found was that I wasn’t personally doing enough to work on this; and as an Army, I think we weren’t doing enough to share best practices. The idea here is we look at data from across the Army and see where we’re trending down and talk to those leaders about something they’re doing differently.
From there, another unit can say “that’s a good idea, I’ll try it at my installation.” Then they come back and say if it worked or didn’t work, and we see if it’s something we need to take to the rest of the Army. We’re already seeing results, some of the initiatives seem to be working and we have a few that will become Army programs.
One of those was a QR code that the 82nd Airborne put up in the barracks to see when and where leaders were visiting their soldiers. They found that in the areas with a more consistent presence, there was less crime and a decrease in the harmful behaviors.
18th Airborne Corps expanded it to the rest of the corps and I’m going to recommend we get it out to the entire Army soon. Next, we’re going to link it with work orders so leaders can check progress and make sure they’re being addressed in a timely manner.
As you enter your final year, what initiatives are still unfinished business?
How we receive soldiers is something I’ve been working on for a few years. Last year, we got authorizations for reception companies — meaning a soldier could be assigned to a job there and it wasn’t “borrowed military manpower.” That was a big step in filling those positions with quality NCOs.
When you have a great NCO there to receive a soldier, it can set the tone for the entire assignment. Transitions are incredibly stressful, so as much as we can do to make it seamless, the better our soldiers and their families will be.
I’ve really been pushing for better mentorship programs in the Army. There’s a difference sometimes between talking through something with a leader and talking through it with a mentor. We want soldiers at every level to have that. There are a couple of initiatives working toward that goal.
Adding onto Project Athena, which is a self-assessment program soldiers take part in during professional military education, we’re looking at how to add a button there to request a mentor. For senior enlisted, we are launching a pilot at the Sergeants Major Academy to pair students with a senior CSM who can help them through that transition from master sergeant to sergeant major.
It’s a big transition, so the smoother we can help make that, I think it will help improve the overall environment at the battalion level and make the climate in those units a little better.
There were significant strides on ACFT implementation and the body fat study. What’s the fitness standard outlook for the force?
The fitness standards aren’t changing right now. The ACFT went live Oct. 1 for active duty, active guard and reserve, for all initial military training ending after the 1st, and professional military education beginning after the 1st.
Regarding the body composition study, we have received the results and we’re looking at the data to see what, if any, changes we’re going to recommend. Ultimately, we’re not going to approve anything that makes us less fit and less ready. It’s going to be the science that drives any change.
Barracks conditions have made headlines recently. What challenges does the Army face in addressing soldiers’ concerns?
It’s having timely, adequate, predictable, and sustained funding. It is incredibly challenging to forecast barracks projects over the next five years when you don’t know how much money you will have. There are a lot of requirements in the Army and the funding isn’t unlimited. Having the predictability to know what we can and can’t do is really important.
Time is another factor. When you look at something like Smoke Bomb Hill, it will be a couple of years before new barracks are constructed.
Any time we have to do that, there’s the question of what happens to the soldiers in the meantime. At Fort Hood, since 2017, we’ve spent $557 million on 38 barracks. That meant having to figure out the best option available to still house the soldiers living there. We are working very hard on this and we’ll average over a billion a year through 2030 to build, renovate and sustain our barracks.
Your time as SMA is starting to wind down. How do you hope soldiers remember you?
I’ve never been very concerned about my legacy. I do hope that sometime in the future, after some of these initiatives are in place, they can see that our Army is better. I hope our teams are more cohesive than ever and we’re the most trained, most disciplined, and most fit we’ve ever been. That’s what I really want.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.