By Joe LacdanOctober 25, 2017
WASHINGTON -- Recruiting efforts to grow the Army, preparing veteran Soldiers for life as civilians and manning the Army's new security force assistance brigades, are top priorities for the Army's G-1.
During the 2017 Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition, Oct. 11, Lt. Gen. Thomas Seamands discussed an array of issues and new initiatives that surround management of Army personnel.
For instance, Seamands said the Army plans to offer financial incentives to retain more of its non-commissioned officer corps, and to also increase the number of candidates for officer school from 500 to 1,000. Gender integration efforts continue as well, he said, as 550 female Soldiers await assignments in combat and armor career fields.
The service also expects a greater focus on recruiting. Seamands said that the Regular Army should increase its number to 540,000, citing a goal announced earlier by Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley.
Those new efforts demonstrate the Army's push to boost its numbers and retain more of its talent pool.
"They show that we're growing so that we'll have additional capability," Seamands said. "I think it talks about our talent management, because with gender integration, anybody -- male or female -- has the ability to have any specialty to train and contribute in that way. And the last thing is leveraging technology to make sure we take care of Soldiers and their families."
One example of leveraging technology is the Integrated Personnel and Pay System-Army, or IPPS-A, which merges multiple existing pay and talent management systems from the Regular Army, Army National Guard and Army Reserve.
The National Guard's 54 pay networks, for instance, will be merged into IPPS-A, said Col. Gregory Johnson, with the Army's G-1. He said the new system will save time and help Soldiers receive their pay more promptly.
"Once you have everybody in the same system, there's a direct readiness in that," Johnson said. "Now you can start to see the strength very easily and the readiness very easily ... direct readiness impact for our commanders is what they really care about."
Johnson said that IPPS-A also tracks specific skill sets of Soldiers to help commanders better assess talent in their units.
"They'll see their talent much better in their formations," Johnson said. "So for instance, it's not just I have an infantryman at the grade of E-6. What does that infantryman really bring with him? Has he travelled around the world? We're going to track all that.
"From our perspective it's really revolutionary -- really transformational. It's really drawing the Army to the 21st century."
One goal for recruiting command, Seamands said, is closing the gap of Soldiers who finish their first enlistment and those who don't.
To help achieve that goal, earlier this year the Army officially implemented the Occupational Physical Assessment Test, or OPAT. The OPAT, a physical fitness evaluation given to recruits, is meant to provide the Army with a good idea of what types of career fields those recruits are best suited to.
The goal of administering the OPAT is to ensure that when those recruits finally enter the Army, they have been placed in career fields where they are most likely to succeed.
The general also said he hopes Soldiers share the positive impact the Army makes on Soldiers' careers and that Soldiers share that impression of the Army with American communities.
"A Soldier who hangs up the uniform, whether it's after five, 10 or 30 years ... oftentimes they'll give back to the community as teachers, law enforcement, or first responders and make our communities better," Seamands said.
While the Army met its end-strength goals for Regular Army and National Guard Soldiers, it must continue those efforts, Seamands said. And to help retain skilled NCOs, he said retention will shift from offering extensions to encouraging Soldiers in valued career fields to re-enlist. Bonuses will also be offered.
Soldiers who transition to the civilian workforce often struggle to find meaningful work there in the career fields they excelled at while in uniform. One reason for that, Semands said, is difficulty getting civilian certifications for the skills Soldiers learned in the Army.
Seamands said the Army is working to rectify that problem, where appropriate. For instance, the Army is working now to help combat medics get certified to become EMTs as civilians.
Recruiters face a stiff challenge as the Army tries to increase its end strength.
Seamands said one roadblock there is that only one in three young Americans are able to meet Army standards. Among those who can meet standards, Army recruiters must compete for that talent with college recruiters, civilian employers and other military branches.
In May, the Army announced the establishment of the first of six Security Force Assistance Brigades. The first of those SFABs is headquartered at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Five of those SFABs will reside in the Regular Army, and one will reside in the Army National Guard. Their mission will be to conduct training with the militaries of allied nations, such as in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa. The SFAB concept, for the first time, institutionalizes that advise and assist mission, which the Army has been conducting in the past in a more ad-hoc fashion.
Each SFAB is expected to need about 500 Soldiers, and the Army hopes to fill those SFABs with Soldier volunteers that meet specific experience qualifications and have a rank of E-5 or higher.
To increase interest in volunteering for assignment to an SFAB, the Army has created signing bonuses, Seamands said. Additionally, he said, participation could potentially help Soldiers make rank faster.
"I think SFABs, when the history of the Army is written will be kind of a game-changer," Seamands said.