by MSG Joseph W. Frost
The United States Army experienced and overcame an abundance of capability gaps for many years. Capability gaps allow leaders at all levels to analyze and fulfill a need that improves some aspect of an organization. Leaders must understand the strategic-level impact of unresolved problems as they directly relate to the National Military Strategy and other strategic documents. Truthfully discussing the relevant problems allows leaders to critically and creatively think about feasible solutions to close a capability gap.
One unresolved gap in the Army is that an assignment in the United States Army Recruiting Command (USAREC) stifles noncommissioned officers’ (NCOs) career progression and competitiveness. Since many NCOs become temporary recruiters prematurely, Army senior leaders must implement a robust training incentive program and change doctrine to equate recruiting duty to key leadership time, offering career-enhancing opportunities for NCOs to remain competitive in their career field.
Recruiting is a three-year obligation and is one of the most challenging and complex broadening assignments. Army recruiters have a challenging mission of finding civilians who want to become Soldiers. The stressful and complicated environment requires extensive effort and commitment, testing NCOs’ leadership ability. Additionally, recruiting cultivates essential leadership skills that develop NCOs at a high level. In recruiting, NCOs learn and develop leadership skills they would not learn as a drill sergeant or in any other broadening assignment, making them more powerful and well-rounded leaders for positions of greater responsibility. Leadership competencies and attributes obtained or enhanced during three years of recruiting include adaptability, anticipation and resolution of complex problem sets, innovation, interpersonal tact, mental agility, confidence, and extending influence. This list could continue, but the point is that Army senior leaders need to recognize how developmental recruiting duty is, especially when creating versatile leaders is the goal for future promotion and assignment opportunities.
Specific tasks that recruiters face daily place NCOs well outside their comfort zone. For example, NCOs must have the skills to develop rapport and build trust with community officials, school faculty and teachers, parents, and many other civilian-related organizations. These skills improve NCOs’ ability to communicate and expand their leadership influence. However, NCOs avoid pursuing this exceptional assignment, not for the difficulty, but because they receive no beneficial incentives for performing the Army’s most critical mission: recruiting the Army’s future talent to prepare for winning the nation’s war.
History has proven that, for most NCOs, an assignment to recruiting duty impedes career progression in their primary occupation. Recruiting further compounds the problem by enabling ill-prepared NCOs to assume leadership roles upon returning to their primary occupation. Imagine in any other industry that an employer forces an employee to take an alternative position with little to zero career growth opportunity for their originally hired position. That employee’s morale, motivation, and commitment would decline drastically, resulting in minimal production and attrition. Similar effects occur with NCOs involuntarily sent to take a position in recruiting.
Further proving the legitimacy of recruiting’s leadership equivalency comes from a recent survey by the Army Forces Command Inspector General. The survey portrays a typical day for a variety of Army organizations. The survey concluded that “most unit leaders were unaware of what their Soldiers were doing, and almost all were out of touch and disconnected from their Soldiers” (Schwemmer, 2022, p. 4). The results showed a staggering level of leader absence and training deficiencies. The findings are mind-boggling to think that this type of leadership equates to key leadership time as prescribed in Army doctrine. Here is the point of highlighting this survey. These same disengaged leaders will receive credit for completing a successful 24-month key leadership prerequisite for promotion consideration. A question for senior leaders to consider is: How does that equate to effective leadership more than recruiting duty? Recruiters are more involved and engaged daily with both military and civilian personnel and have far more responsibilities and leadership expectations to uphold for being in a position of special trust and authority. The significance of this information lies with the most substantial problem about a recruiting assignment: NCOs become recruiters without completing key leadership assignments.
Career managers frequently assign NCOs to USAREC without completing their key leadership time. For example, infantry staff sergeants must complete two years in critical career-related leadership positions for centralized board members to consider them qualified for promotion (Department of the Army [DA], 2022). However, more than half of infantry staff sergeant assignments fill the needs for recruiting and other broadening positions (DA, 2022). The high demand to rapidly supply recruiting positions forces career managers to select infantry NCOs well before completing the minimal leadership time. Most career fields require similar periods of leadership to qualify for promotion consideration and experience comparable situations as infantry NCOs regarding assignment demands.
Further worsening the problem, evaluation board members and all career fields do not equate recruiting duties and responsibilities to meeting key leadership time and contradict doctrinal verbiage. For example, the career progression for field artillery NCOs annotates drill sergeant and recruiter as equally sufficient for competitiveness (DA, 2021). However, the fiscal year 2022 staff sergeant evaluation analysis showed that board members selected one recruiter compared to 13 drill sergeants out of the 32 NCOs identified as most qualified (Staraitis, 2022). This contradiction expands multiple career fields, further proving how common it is.
Infantry staff sergeants’ career progression plan outlines that recruiting assignments will place NCOs in the top tier for promotion, and evaluation panel members must not disfavor them “due to reduced time in developmental assignments” (DA, 2022, p. 3). However, recent evaluation results for infantry staff sergeants with recruiting experience show a “significantly lower rate than their peers” (Turcotte, 2022, p. 11). This data is similar for several years of promotion results and sends the message to NCOs to not actively pursue recruiting duty. The inconsistency between doctrine and actual data is highly noticeable across the force and proves that senior leaders do not consider recruiting as a sufficient equivalency to leadership development.
Moreover, when NCOs without the required leadership time become temporary recruiters, they instantly and significantly fall behind their peer group by a minimum of three years. Consequently, recruiting’s high caliber selection criteria remove top-performing leaders from their primary career field, ruining their competitiveness to continue advancing within their field. As a result, the Army creates a culture that does not prioritize the preservation of exceptional Army leaders. Making matters worse, USAREC leaders do not allow NCOs to attend any career-enhancing schools for three years to remain proficient and competitive.
According to Hinds and Steele (2012), “Army leaders are lacking in developing their subordinates for future leadership roles” (p. 39). This quote holds true within the recruiting command. NCOs selected for a three-year recruiting tour do not have similar opportunities to pursue career-enhancing schools as their peers who remain in their primary occupation. For example, an infantry NCO assigned to a regular unit can enroll in multiple schools within three years, including Ranger School, Master Gunner Course, Battle Staff, and other career-enhancing schools. Infantry NCOs assigned to recruiting have no such opportunity, which worsens their chances of remaining a significant asset as infantry leaders. Unfortunately, USAREC has become so engaged and single-minded on the recruiting mission that senior leaders do not understand the negative impact of not cultivating NCOs’ skills in their primary field. Choosing to be risk-averse by not affording NCOs ample opportunities to participate in significant schools only causes diminished combat readiness. This counter-productive culture does not preserve leadership proficiency or growth, but implementing feasible solutions can resolve it.
The first solution requires Army senior leaders to rewrite doctrine for all occupations. Specifically, the recruiting assignment must have a statement in DA Pamphlet 600-25 portraying its equivalency to meeting key development requirements for every occupation. For example, NCOs who complete their recruiting assignment will receive the credit that satisfies their minimum required 24 months of leadership. Board members will view this assignment as a most qualified status among peers. This doctrinal update will help change the stigma about the recruiting command hindering careers. Updating doctrine is the first step to ensuring senior leaders understand, accept, and apply the change across the force. Senior Army leaders must reinforce this change by updating policy that matches doctrine.
Senior Army leaders can and must create a culture that accepts the recruiting position as a worthy and significant career path. This change occurs when leaders support doctrine through policy. Instilling the new perspective across the force on recruiting’s leadership equivalency skills will prove how vital the recruiting assignment is to the Army’s strategic plan and leadership development. Updating policy also requires senior leaders to educate the force to ensure cooperation.
Educating leadership and branch representatives at evaluation boards to not discriminate against recruiting and follow doctrine and policy is vital. Before a centralized board evaluation begins, panel members receive a briefing from branch representatives on selection criteria. Panel members combine this information with doctrine to evaluate eligible NCOs. Panel members and branch representatives must cooperate with doctrine and follow the policy changes to reverse the statistics on low selection rates for promotion from the pool of evaluated temporary recruiters. Focusing on senior leaders to change the status quo will permeate various leadership levels and ignite interest in volunteering for recruiting duty. However, changing doctrine, updating policy, and educating leaders must combine with USAREC commanders authorizing NCOs to attend various career-enhancing schools during their recruiting tours.
The final solution focuses on training and requires USAREC leaders to increase school enrollments for NCOs during the three-year recruiting duty. If NCOs continue receiving recruiting duty before completing key leadership positions, this solution will also aid in resolving the capability gap. This training solution will allow NCOs to complete career-enhancing courses consistently that directly relate to the desired skills for that occupation. However, career-enhancing courses always have quid pro quo expectations before USAREC leaders allow NCOs to enroll. Currently, NCOs can only hope to attend a school when they produce enlistments exponentially above their peers or earn awards like the NCO of the Year, which is unguaranteed and severely limits career advancement for most recruiters. Recruiting production should never determine whether or not NCOs attend a school that improves career skills and elevates promotion potential.
Furthermore, NCOs cannot attend certain schools, such as equal opportunity or master resilience, when the unit already has enough qualified personnel. USAREC leaders should not limit attendance to a school based on the number of qualified leaders. The decision results in a reduced skillset, diminished leader lethality, and hindered productivity, which affects the Army’s preparedness to fight complex wars against peer threats.
Therefore, to overcome these concerns, all recruiters can attend a career-enhancing school at least once yearly, regardless of school length. For example, infantry NCOs can attend Ranger School any time during their three-year tour, the most sought-after school for promotion competitiveness. Attending multiple career-related courses throughout recruiting will keep high-performing leaders relevant, sharpen proficiency, and improve promotion potential. Implementing this guaranteed Army-mandated incentive will require USAREC leaders to manage resources and time more efficiently.
A training-focused solution requires Training and Doctrine Command and USAREC leaders to consider funding and course availability. Military schools must have available enrollment slots to accommodate the recruiting force’s training needs. Therefore, class sizes or the number of courses scheduled may need to increase to meet the demands. Additionally, with more recruiting NCOs attending training each year, funding must match this priority. Since most recruiting offices have extremely far travel distances to military installations, temporary duty funds can quickly deplete due to airfare, hotels, and per diem expenses.
Therefore, USAREC must request and defend a budget increase or request to reallocate funds. Meaning money should fund training instead of spending money on high-cost, unproductive recruiting events. The validity of this budget goes back to the capability requirements to keep junior and senior leaders prepared to defend the nation and allied partners while improving lethality and competitiveness within their career field. Minimizing travel expenses can resolve this area if funding cannot match training needs. Instead of paying for per diem and hotels, USAREC will require NCOs to receive a meal card and live in temporary barracks, reducing expenses drastically. Nonetheless, being stewards of the Army profession should be a priority among strategic leaders when collaborating on budget requirements to fund the new training incentive for recruiting duty.
The guidon for Headquarters Company, Recruiting, and Retention School is uncased during its Activation Ceremony on Oct. 4, 2016. Source.
For NCOs to remain competitive in their line of work, Army senior leaders must revise doctrine to correlate recruiting duties with essential leadership time and develop a thorough training incentive program because many NCOs prematurely transition to USAREC, limiting their career-enhancing opportunities. Although recruiting offers tremendous leadership skills, this temporary assignment creates a considerable gap that impedes NCOs from sustaining competitiveness within their career field, reducing their relevance, productivity, and lethality when they return from a three-year recruiting stint.
Implementing an incentive program that authorizes all recruiters to enroll in one career-enhancing school yearly will improve leader effectiveness and sustain the career skills necessary to remain competitive. Combining that with a doctrinal change to equate recruiting responsibilities to all military occupational specialties’ key leadership requirements will create a culture where NCOs want to pursue this broadening assignment. Together, these solutions will not only improve the individual but will also improve USAREC’s image and the Army’s warfighting capabilities.
Department of the Army. (2021). U.S. Army noncommissioned officer professional development guide: Field artillery (CMF 13) career progression plan (Smartbook DA PAM 600-25). https://api.army.mil/e2/c/downloads/2022/07/12/0c98f657/cmf-13-final-10-aug-21.pdf
Department of the Army. (2022). U.S. Army noncommissioned officer professional development guide: Infantry (CMF 11) career progression plan (Smartbook DA PAM 600-25). https://api.army.mil/e2/c/downloads/2022/10/19/0c4aa606/cmf-11-final-18-oct-22.pdf
Hinds, R. M., & Steele, J. P. (2012). Army leader development and leadership: View from the field. Military Review. Retrieved April 14, 2023, from https://www.armyupress.army.mil/Portals/7/military-review/Archives/English/MilitaryReview_20120229_art010.pdf
Schwemmer, J. G. (2022). Inspector general (IG) report: Day in the life inspection. United
States Army Forces Command. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/63ac58edac97035ec3c43c24/t/642c12402276160d67d33b47/1680609875403/FORSCOM+IG+Day+in+the+Life+2022.pdf
Staraitis, J. R. (2022). Career management field (CMF) 13 statistics of the FY22 staff sergeant (SSG) evaluation board. Human Resource Command.https://www.hrc.army.mil/asset/25968
Turcotte, J. R. (2022). Fiscal year 2021 regular Army (RA) and Army reserve active guard reserve (AGR) staff sergeant evaluation board. Office Chief of Infantry. https://www.benning.army.mil/infantry/ocoi/content/pdf/FY21%20SSG%20Evaluation%20Board%20Analysis_%20FINAL.pdf
Master Sergeant Joseph W. Frost joined the Army in 2001. He is an Army Recruiter with a background in Field Artillery and the Signal Corps. He has held numerous positions at the tactical and operational level, most recently serving as the operations sergeant major for Nashville Army Recruiting Battalion. He is currently attending the Sergeants Major Course at the Noncommissioned Officer Leadership Center of Excellence at Fort Bliss, TX. He currently holds a Bachelor of Science in Management.
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