FORT KNOX, Ky. (May 19, 2015) – While enlisted Soldiers and noncommissioned officers, or NCOs, may have heard talk that diverse broadening assignments are in their Army futures, many do not know where to go for information and guidance on making them part of their career planning.
While such documents as Army Regulation-621-7 and AR-621-1 lay out guidelines for specific educational opportunities, there is no overarching policy or regulation equivalent to Department of the Army Pamphlet 600-3, published in late 2014.
However, broadening for enlisted Soldiers, a parallel concept, is “the purposeful expansion of an NCO’s core military occupational specialty, or MOS, proficiency and leadership provided through diverse developmental positions, opportunities and assignments both within and outside their career management field,” said Aubrey Butts, director of Training and Doctrine Command’s Institute for Noncommissioned Office Professional Development.
“Broadened NCOs are better able to operate in a complex environment. We have learned much after our longest ground conflict. Looking to the future our leaders understand we must expand our learning options and embrace diverse-learning domains: institutional, self-developmental and operational. We as an Army must shore up our education system and provide meaningful opportunities for lifelong learning to win in a complex environment,” he said.
Soldier self-development and primary military education remain pillars of enlisted and NCO development, said Sgt. Maj. Michael Barbieri, a branch sergeant major with U.S. Army Human Resources Command’s, or HRC’s, Enlisted Personnel Management Directorate. But broadening assignments that take Soldiers out of their MOS or provide a new perspective on it have become key to growing the right kind of Soldiers for Army 2025 and beyond.
The aim, as articulated by Maj. Gen. Richard P. Mustion, commanding general, U.S. Army Human Resources Command, is “creating flexible, agile and adaptive leaders through education, experience and training.”
“It’s about getting people to do something a little bit different,” Barbieri said. “Downsizing drives a lot of that, it just comes with the territory. As the end strength number comes down, they’re going to expect more out of you. Everybody. Officer and enlisted.”
To make broadening possible, there are nearly 12,000 nominative positions open to enlisted Soldiers as they progress through the ranks, said HRC’s Command Sgt. Maj. Charles E. Smith. In addition to classic diversity assignments such as recruiter (5,000 plus), drill sergeant (2,000 plus) and advanced individual training platoon sergeant (about 700), there are a wealth of opportunities both inside and outside a Soldier’s MOS or career management field, and outside the Army itself, he said.
Barbieri said enlisted career paths differ from those of officers, “because theirs are a little more open. It’s not quite as structured as the officer career path.”
Opportunities range from assignments with the Defense Information System Agency to the Asymmetric Warfare Group to the White House Communications Agency, and include a number of staff assignments both within and outside the Army proper. Others involve meeting other Army requirements to fill equal opportunity and inspector general billets.
“There are opportunities. Obviously, not everybody gets a chance at all of them,” Barbieri said. “And it has to bring a benefit to the Army, otherwise it’s just a cool assignment. There has to be a tangible benefit to the Department of Defense.”
Barbieri said broadening assignments contribute to growing a Soldier’s operational and strategic experience and skills. At the same time they meet the current needs of the force while building the bench of leaders at all ranks envisioned by today’s leadership for Army 2025 and beyond.
“They have to be able to adapt, to operate in an environment outside of what they are used to. You have to get away from simple and move into complex thinking. If all they know is the tactical side of things, they’re going to fail when they get put in those strategic positions,” he said.
“There’s nothing wrong with loving what you do and wanting to do that, but you’ve got to be able to see the bigger picture. As the Army transitions, they’re going to be looking for somebody who is a little more diversified. They don’t want a one-trick pony, they want somebody with a deeper experience base,” Barbieri said.
Still, convincing Soldiers of the benefits of broadening assignments to their individual careers, sometimes has its challenges, he said.
“It’s varied everywhere I go. It seems like there are 10 percent that are all in, 10 percent who are, ‘no, don’t do that,’ and then everybody else is in the middle, waiting to see how things fall. For someone that’s outside an MOS, that’s not so technical, it’s a little more challenging.
“But the kicker is, if we’re going to make it a priority, make it important through policy or regulation, we have to ensure all senior leadership is on the same sheet of music,” Barbieri said.
Promotion boards have to show by their actions broadening has a real value to Soldiers, he said.
“Whoever’s going to be sitting on the centralized promotion boards is going to have to be able to open their minds. Right now we’re seeing a lot of people volunteering, but if they don’t see any return on the investment they are making – it’s a leap of faith. Especially with downsizing, if they think they’re going to fall behind their peers, that’s a big step for Soldiers to take.”
On the other hand, Barbieri said he also needs to educate Soldiers to manage their expectations.
“Broadening doesn’t equal promotion. To do well you have to push yourself, and that’s part of the whole concept: getting outside your comfort zone and pushing yourself to expand, to add to your skill set. There are opportunities, but it is what you make of it, like any job in the Army. Performance is everything,” he said.
“It’s a process of self-selection – determined or defined by matters of performance and the potential for leadership each Soldier displays,” Mustion said. “The way for every officer, warrant or enlisted Soldier is different. There is no model path or program that fits all.”
As boards recognize Soldiers, who take on more challenging assignments, the value of broadening will become more evident to all enlisted Soldiers and NCOs, Barbieri said.
“I interact with my peers and we have this talk all the time. I’m looking for the right person, at the right time, in the right place. That is the challenge. What can you do that’s going to make you more competitive,” he asked.