Quartermaster Corps' top enlisted Soldier discusses issues, initiatives affecting ranks
April 24, 2014
FORT LEE, Va. (April 24, 2014) -- It has been one year since Command Sgt. Maj. Spencer L. Gray joined Brig. Gen. John O'Neil IV to form the leadership team of the Quartermaster School and Corps. During that time, the Georgia native has traveled the quartermaster universe, assessing operations and talking with troops across the personnel spectrum. The information he gained oftentimes elicits the slogan:
"The Army's sustainment think-tank and premier learning institution delivering game-changing professionals and solutions."
That expression has been commonplace to those assigned to the Combined Arms Support Command over the past 22 months. That's when CASCOM and Fort Lee Commanding General Maj. Gen. Larry D. Wyche assumed command and not only made it a mission description but gave it a mantra-like existence.
It didn't mean much to Gray upon his arrival. He was fairly oblivious to its significance, having spent the bulk of his career in tactical units, detached from the institutional and doctrinal side of the sustainment community.
"I thought it was just a slogan," he recalled. A few weeks into his tenure, he changed his mind.
"When I became a member of the team and saw the enormous work and the deep thinking that goes on in the sustainment arena and how it supports the frontline war-fighters, I was absolutely amazed," he said. "That's what we do at CASCOM."
Now that he's grasped the concept and seen the work firsthand, Gray's challenge as RCSM is to continue to improve upon the "think-tank" and "professionals" within the framework of the Corps's mission priorities.
One of those priorities, sexual harassment and assault, has been a vexing problem within the Army and is a top concern of the Army's Chief of Staff. Gray said openness, awareness and a robust Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Training program are the keys to changing the culture and stemming the occurrences.
"This is a serious campaign, and every leader has to talk about it," he said. "I tell commanders and NCOs that when our AIT Soldiers arrive at their organizations, they are well-versed and trained on SHARP. That training has fostered a measure of trust in our leadership, and the new Soldiers are not afraid to talk about the subject. We need to build upon that trust."
While talking with troops throughout the QM community, Gray said he is witnessing growing concern about Army downsizing. The current plan is to reduce the active force from 570,000 to 490,000 by fiscal 2017. At least 10 brigade combat teams are scheduled for elimination under the plan. Thirteen composite supply companies will be activated beyond the brigade level to make up for the losses, said Gray.
"We're going to accomplish that through a decrease in some of the water and fuel capabilities in the brigade support battalions," said Gray. "That will open up opportunities for Soldiers at the division and corps level."
Gray said although the overall reduction numbers are substantial, he doesn't expect the Quartermaster Corps to take a big hit because most of the Corps' military occupational specialties are balanced. In the interim, he said, Soldiers should not be complacent and implement plans to enhance their professional development.
"Do everything possible to set yourself apart from your peers," he said. "At the same time, make it a part of a five-year plan that includes an exit strategy."
Soldiers who may separate from the Army or lack an exit strategy should consider the numerous credentialing programs available in the quartermaster career field that may aid them in their job hunt, said Gray. They can gain certifications and licensures for everything from food service to forklift operations. More information can be found at https://www.cool.army.mil.
As the Army downsizes, Gray said there will be an increased emphasis on re-invigorating the force's expeditionary capabilities. He said the Army lost some that during 12 years of war in Southwest Asia, where units heavily relied on contractor support to fulfill various logistical requirements.
"We have to get back to operating as true field units," said Gray. "What happens when you eliminate all of those contracts we've had the past 12 years? At some point, units will be required to fend for themselves in the field and build relationships with others to get the things needed to perform their missions. That's why we need to start re-emphasizing those skills, making sure we provide Soldiers with the tools to succeed in a true maneuver environment."
Continuing on the education front, Gray said the QM Corps has made changes under the Army Learning Model 2015, initiated to meet the educational needs of Soldiers in current operational environments and leveraging technology to achieve them.
"One of the things we're doing is developing ways to better our schoolhouse instructors," he said. "Currently, there are two mandatory instructor courses, but there are roughly eight more within the CASCOM an instructor can take that will further his or her development. We are currently in the process of creating a model that points out where they need to be during their tenure."
While there is an emphasis on improving instructor development, there also are efforts to improve courses and programs. The Enlisted Aide Program, for one, has undergone a major overhaul, said Gray, noting that several organizations contributed to the effort.
"We've conducted a 360-degree, comprehensive review of the program," he said, pointing out it suffered from personnel assignment irregularities and other problems. The EAP assigns Soldiers to work as members of general officers' personal staff. "One of the things we've done with the program is implement a panel that is responsible for reviewing records and selecting personnel. I'm confident the new program will ensure flag officers are afforded the most professional Soldiers and raise the level of trust."
The QM School is also looking to revamp its instructional programs in general as the Army moves toward more rigorous courses of study as it pertains to leader development. Gray said today's Soldiers are very intelligent and highly educated, so curriculums have to be refined to match learning levels.
"We have to look at getting Soldiers up to the graduate-level of study," he said. "If we don't, we're wasting their time. We have Soldiers today who don't have to study or read and can still pass an exam. That's not good business. We need to develop a more rigorous curriculum. Soldiers need to be challenged to a greater degree."
Gray also said the Corps is in the midst of fine-tuning a leader development program in accordance with the Army of 20/20, the moniker for the Army's strategy and vision for operations in the near future. He said an important part of that vision is the QM Regiment's intent to produce NCOs who are adequately trained in troop-leading procedures but who are also adept at higher management functions.
"We need to develop a training package that is rigorous, encourages critical thinking and emphasizes the military decision-making process," said Gray. "There are many organizations in the field that asking for that type of NCO, so we're working on a program that determines requirements at various levels of the career ladder."
Gray dismisses the notion that the strategy is about requiring NCOs to perform the functions of officers.
"The intent is on producing NCOs who can better support officers, not replace them," he said.
Talent management is also a focus of the Corps leader development strategy. Gray said what worked for him in the area of career management does not meet the Army's needs today.
"We're talking about broadening the assignments for NCOs," he said. "We have to do a better job of putting people in the right position for the appropriate length of time.
"For example, the Army is no longer looking for a sergeant first class who gets promoted to master sergeant, becomes a first sergeant, then stays in the position until he or she makes sergeant major," he said, noting it can sometimes take five years. "When that happens, that individual has a one-dimensional mindset and the skill-set is limited.
"On the other hand, if you require senior NCOs to take some other type of operational assignment, then they are put in the position to attain skills they wouldn't normally get as a first sergeant. The result is a mature, multi-dimensional master sergeant."
In the aspect of NCO promotions, Gray said the Regiment is looking to make the system more equitable.
"Everybody who comes in the Corps should be provided with the opportunity to move up the ladder to the position of regimental command sergeant major," he said. "They should not be limited based on their MOS or career path. If they are somehow stagnated, it should be based on their performance."
Gray cited the progression of a petroleum lab specialist (92L) NCO as an example. Those Soldiers, because they belong to a low-density MOS, don't typically get the same amount of troop time when compared to the other quartermaster MOSs such as 92F, a petroleum supply specialist. At the grade of E-8, however, 92L NCOs are converted to 92F and subsequently must compete with those who have more troop experience.
"The potential is not going to be the same, and the records are not going to match," said Gray. "One of the things we're looking at is opening up certain positions that have been limited to those in certain MOSs. That way, more Soldiers are afforded the opportunity to gain potential for increased levels of responsibility."
Aside from the subject of promotion, Gray said the QM Corps Honors Program has been scaled down the past few years due to budget constraints. The program, which recognizes those who have made significant contributions to the Corps, has traditionally been held during Quartermaster Symposium Week. In recent years, it has been held on one day during an outdoors ceremony. Gray said that doesn't mean the program isn't getting the attention it deserves.
"We must never allow the profession to slip away from us," he said. "Money is tight, and it may get tighter, but we are doing everything we can to maintain the ties to our profession."
This year's program is scheduled for June 6 at the 262nd QM Battalion Parade Field.
The past year has been an eye-opening experience, said Gray. His travels to other installations, and the feedback provided by Soldiers and civilians have provided him with unique perspectives about the profession as he works to support the Quartermaster General's agenda on a wide range of projects and initiatives. He said he is encouraged, appreciative of the experience and looks forward to helping shape a Corps that is more responsive to the ever-changing needs of the Army.
"I've never been prouder to be a quartermaster," said Gray. "The past year has taught me so much and provided me the opportunity to better understand how the Corps operates. I can move forward with the assurance that I have thousands of dedicated professionals who are working every day to make a difference. I can assure them that General O'Neil and myself are putting forth efforts commensurate with theirs as we continue to support our Army today and in the future.
For more info and further discussions, visit www.facebook.com under RCSM Spencer L. Gray.