TRADOC’s final NCO development town hall airs March 30

Command Sgt. Maj. David Davenport, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command command sergeant major, shared some innovative changes to the U.S. Army's noncommissioned officers career paths via TRADOC at a townhall in February 2017. (Photo Credit: Master Sgt. Crista Mary Mack, U.S. Army Europe)

The Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, or TRADOC, will hold its final town hall on March 30, the fourth in the series that began last February. Over the past year, USAWTFM has supported this initiative as a means to both learn the latest news from the most senior leaders in the Army as well as building a line of communication with those same senior leaders.

Command Sgt. Maj. David Davenport, TRADOC’s senior enlisted leader, was nice enough to  do a virtual sit-down with USAWTFM and answer some questions in advance of the town hall broadcast. He answered the questions via email. Questions and answers are edited for length and clarity.

USAWTFM: What is TRADOC’s position on leaders at the battalion and brigade who still defer or delete NCOES dates based on operational requirements – particularly those low-density MOSs with few school dates and seats per year? We’ve received scores of reports from SGTs and SSGs deferred over things like CTC rotations or deployments where they go forward and don’t even fill MOS-related positions. The impression at the lower level is that their school seats are the billpayer for commanders and sergeants major who want to meet numbers requirements to qualify for unit awards.

CSM Davenport: The NCO 2020 Strategy (available at the TRADOC home page) charges leaders at all levels to understand their responsibility for continually developing other leaders.

Commanders must balance current readiness with Professional Military Education (PME) but, successful leaders recognize that continually developing their subordinate leaders is the key to the long-term readiness of the Army.  Senior leaders must hold subordinate leaders accountable for leader development.

The Army is obligated to develop NCOs through a progressive and sequential PME that has rigor and relevance.  Just 15 months ago, there was a backlog of about 14,000 soldiers and NCOs who needed to attend required developmental and leader training.  soldiers and NCOs have attended school and that number has been reduced to less than 4,000 today.  Training seats are available at Army schools. We developed a tool named Institutional Training Common Operating Picture (ITCOP) to show real time data to where and when the school seats are available (log onto my blog for more info).  It is the responsibility of leaders, both officers and NCOs, at the unit level to ensure their soldiers receive the PME they need to develop their job and leadership skills.

In January of this year, the Army made it a requirement under the Select, Train, Educate, and Promote (S.T.E.P.) initiative, that soldiers complete required PME before they are eligible for promotion to the next higher grade.  But I also understand that we will always have deferments because of medical, family, or operational situations. We are seeing deferments to continually to drop over the past several months since the policy has been announced – ALC down 100 and SLC down 180 just in the last two quarters.

So if a deferment is submitted, the memo contains the date the command wants the soldier to go to school. This is done to prevent another deferment or no-show to fill our schools to capacity, so the questions becomes if not now…but when do you want them to go to school.

We acknowledge that we have to spread school seats across the fiscal year especially for those low density MOSs that you mentioned. What I mean by that is, if a MOS is (allocated) for 100 seats across the year for two classes, we need to go in and spread those seats across five classes in order to provide more opportunity and flexibility in getting soldiers to school. Because we are aware of the upcoming surge in selections, our team, along with HRC, has already begun requesting additional seats to not only provide training, but to make sure we have this flex with scheduling.

Just a reminder – we are only about 15 months into this new policy and process. We have learned a lot and continue to solicit feedback from the force and Commands. Quarterly, I host an enterprise schools meeting with all of the Army commands (ACOMS), national guard, reserve component and Human Resources Command CSM to improve the process and identify issues.

Commanders have to balance the readiness of their organizations to meet their wartime requirements – combat training centers, gunnery, regionally-aligned forces, etc. Getting our soldiers to professional military education is even more important now that soldiers receive the education and development they need to grow into leaders needed by the Army to operate in the Multi-Domain Battle environment of the 21st Century (Learn more about Multi-Domain Battle at the TRADOC home page).

What I could use the help on are those soldiers that ARE NOT ready to go to school due to medical readiness, height/weight, APFT, etc. We need the Chain of Command to identify them sooner, take appropriate action at unit level, and develop a corrective action plan so we don’t waste a seat for others.

USAWTFM: We’ve seen an extract of FRAGO 4 – and we’re curious about the upcoming Year of the NCO. How will this version differ from the one previously? It seemed as though every Army event simply had the “Year of the NCO” tagged on, offering nothing of any real substantive value to the NCO Corps or the formations they served.

CSM Davenport:  The Year of the NCO is planned for 2020 so details of what will be included in the campaign continue to be developed.  It is safe to say that contributions of NCOs, past and present, to the Army and the nation will be highlighted.  The working group has developed several ideas to have specific outcomes within organizations to recognize and remind us of the role of the NCO in our Army. Additionally, the importance of NCO Professional Development to include a program of lifelong learning will also be emphasized with completion of all the work being conducted in our NCOPDS and contained in our NCO2020 strategy. So it will be more than a tag line and will not be DL – but actionable outcomes down in the organizations to remind our soldiers, officer corps, civilians and families members of what it means to be an NCO, serve as a steward of the profession, and the important role we have in preparing soldiers to fight and win when we are called upon.

USAWTFM: We’ve has been a big supporter of the Town Hall process, especially as you and your staff have made every effort to be inclusive of, shall we say, “non-traditional outlets.” This is NOT typical of the rest of the Army, particularly at a 4-star headquarters. What makes you so comfortable dealing with outlets like us – is it our audience? What message do you feel our audience isn’t getting through normal, traditional channels?

CSM Davenport: First of all I trust you – I am comfortable with, along with this headquarters, to interact with media outlets that have shown they provide fair and balanced coverage of our activities.  There are a number of media outlets we routinely work with, but in an effort to reach that segment of soldiers and government civilian employees who may not visit these sources, we’re working to include non-traditional outlets, including, to extend our reach to additional groups within the Army. As I have said many times, I am trying to communicate with our soldiers about the future so we can get constructive feedback to what we are doing or to provide context to why we are doing it. So many times I hear or see comments purely based on uniformed personal opinion. But when we or leaders take the time to explain the idea, concept, direction or provide understanding, there is a totally different outcome. Lastly, I accept that there will be some that does not agree with what we may be doing, so we do things like the Town Halls, conduct pilots to inform the decision makers to determine what is best for our Army.

USAWTFM: Since we always push a little, here’s a bonus question – with the release of the online conduct memo, do you think the Army will take more of a rigid stance to irreverent humor sites like ours, or are they going to go harder at those sites connected with inappropriate behavior?

CSM Davenport: The Army’s recent Online Conduct Memo is not about a stance against any “irreverent humor sites” per se, but about ensuring our soldiers uphold the Army Values and conduct themselves in accordance with Army policy and regulations at all times.  Funny or memorable things happen in units that become things we talk about years later. Even I have humorous stories about basic training or other touch points in my career that I share with friends and family. It’s a part of being a soldier for life. But when it becomes disrespectful, replaces the chain of command, or violates professional conduct…It goes against everything we are as professionals charged with being the best our country has to offer.  soldiers and civilian government employees represent the Army while at work, in their communities, and online. A profession we have been working to establish for over 240 years that prides itself on dignity and respect.