TRADOC holds boards by video saving Army dollars
August 6, 2013
FORT SILL, Okla. -- When Soldiers go to a board, they limber up their minds and steady their courage to face a group of higher-ranking Soldiers who judge them on what they know and what they don't. This board was different. There was still judgment on execution and precision, but it wasn't face-to-face; it was video to video. In an effort to save money, the Training and Doctrine Command held their Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier of the Year board and winner announcement by video teleconference.
"This is no less important than it's ever been because it's being done via VTC. It does seem a little bit strange that you're out there and I'm here," said Gen. Robert Cone, TRADOC commanding general. "All of our civilians are taking home 20 percent less pay for the last month of the year so that's the kind of thing we have to understand and be sensitive about spending."
Sgt. Curtis Bittner, B Battery, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Field Artillery, and Staff Sgt. Roberto Mendez, B Battery, 3rd Battalion, 6th Air Defense Artillery, represented the Fires Center of Excellence in the competition.
They stared into the face of a camera in McNair Hall's Regimental Conference Room July 30 and answered the line of questions firing off from speakers and a large screen. They came back Aug. 1 to find out how they fared against their peers.
"I was pretty anxious last night. It's like being a little kid on Christmas Eve," said Bittner. "I just felt like I won. And then I came up here and my heart was beating real fast and they announced my name -- it's the best feeling in the world."
Bittner and Staff Sgt. Benjamin Steele, Initial Military Training Center of Excellence at Fort Jackson, S.C., were announced as the TRADOC Soldier and NCO of the Year, respectively.
"I'd like to congratulate each and every one of you for aspiring to compete -- to be the man or woman in the arena -- to step forward and say 'I'm going to take a shot at this.' I will guarantee you just because of your participation and just because of the preparation you have made, you are, in fact, a better Soldier or noncommissioned officer and your units are better for having had this experience" said Cone.
The plan for the first ever VTC board and winner announcement was designed 10 months ago.
"The first thing I said was we need to figure out how to do this very, very cheaply," said Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Dailey, TRADOC CSM. "We threw some ideas around. I said well, 'What can we do for zero dollars?"
Dailey said it was important to keep the integrity of the competition intact. Each Soldier had to complete the other portions at the nearest noncommissioned officer academy. The Soldiers at the academy then sent the results to TRADOC.
Another part of the competition that was done at individual posts tested each Soldier on how well they could speak to the media. The recording was sent to the public affairs command sergeant major and the score was added to their overall points.
Mendez said he and Bittner both practiced answering questions into a camera the day before the board which added an extra challenge.
"When you're in person you're able to look at the person who is talking to you. While you're doing it in VTC you're pretty much looking at the camera, because if you look off to the screen you're not going to be staring at the person on the other side so it was kind of hard to listen to someone's voice and look at an inanimate object," said Mendez.
"It's definitely different," said Bittner. "This is probably going to be the future right here. It is interesting to say I'm one of the first to actually do it this way at such a high level. I thought we, as an installation, did really well in how we set everything up."
Dailey said the VTC was a success and was a well organized effort by TRADOC and the 11 posts participating. Those competing agreed.
"I know units take boards very seriously; this is just another great way to keep that going," said Mendez's sponsor, Sgt. 1st Class LeArthur Williams, 3-6th ADA. "The VTC is still effective. It'll save units a lot of money as far as TDY trips."
Bittner and his sponsor, Sgt. James DelNero, 2-2nd FA, walked away from the VTC and the round of congratulations already discussing training for the Army's Best Warrior competition at Fort Lee, Va., Oct. 15-17. Bittner said he knows he still has to do his job, but he plans on spending a lot of time on staff duty.
"Studying is never going to slow down. Even when all the board stuff is over you should continue to study. It's part of your job. You should be educated. Now [I'm] focusing on this big competition and I'm sponsoring a Soldier in the post-level board next week. We're all about getting all of our Soldiers up to where we are."