FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (April 2, 2015) -- In making assignment selections, the Army is looking for a broadening of experiences. "We want to put you outside your comfort zone," said Gen. David C. Perkins.

Perkins, commander of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, and other leaders spoke during Colloquium 2015 here, March 30, attended by 84 majors.

The general was responding in agreement to input from Maj. Harold Morris, who advocated for Soldiers getting a broad range of joint, interagency, intergovernmental and multinational, or JIIM, assignments.

Morris said that when Soldiers were in Iraq and Afghanistan in very large numbers, they were getting a lot of JIIM experience, but over time, and as the drawdown has continued, the Army is losing those valuable skills that come from interacting with those outside of the Army who they would likely need to interact with in time of war.

Although participating in a regionally-aligned force tour would likely result in JIIM experience, there should be even more available and promotion boards should not penalize Soldiers for having these broadening assignments, Morris said.

Perkins said he agreed but corrected him, saying board guidance in fact does take into account a broad range of experiences and imposes no such penalty.

The general then went on to illustrate the Army's thinking on what having a broad range of experience actually means.

If an officer works for three years in the Office of the Chief Legislative Liaison, then follows that with a congressional fellowship, that is not a broad range of experience, he said, because it is basically doing the same thing and not growing.

On the other hand, if three years in the infantry is followed by a congressional fellowship, that is broadening one's range of experiences, he said.

"We put you in a job not to promote you, but as a vehicle to help you develop," he said. "So there's a misperception that when you're in a broadening job, that job will get you promoted. It won't. It's your file. You might not get promoted regardless of where you went" if your file is bad.

And, there are people who will get promoted no matter where they go, he continued. The fallacy is that many Soldiers "associate their last job with why they did or did not get promoted. It's not. It's your whole file."

"One of the challenges in the Army is we had a broad range of jobs, but we weren't selecting the right people" to put in those jobs, Perkins said. "We were putting people in jobs where we probably shouldn't have because they weren't going to get promoted anyway. So one of the ways we're going to fix that is we're going to be more selective of who gets promoted and who is going where."

Perkins then provided an example of how a broadening experience works (he dislikes the term broadening assignment).

If the Army sends an officer to the Ethiopia desk at the State Department, it's not because a future Royal Air Force unit is slated to go to Ethiopia, he said. The reason is "we want to put you outside your comfort zone. We want to put you in a place people don't think like you think, and don't make decisions like you do."

The Army wants to know if you can operate in a world that is very different from your own, he said.

Can you describe your visualization of the world in a way that resonates with them and makes them understand? "That's essential to mission command: understand, visualize and describe," he said, referring to communicating with others.

"For instance, if we send you to the State Department, can you describe a problem set to a foreign service officer, who thinks that Leavenworth is only a prison? That's the skill set you need because when you do go to Ethiopia or wherever, you can describe things to people without the same frame of reference you have," he said.

Perkins then gave another reason the Army wants its Soldiers to have a broadening of experiences.

That reason is empathy, he said. Not sympathy, empathy. The two are very different.

Empathy means understanding how someone else can see a problem or solution differently than you can, he said. Empathy also means "I see how it's possible you feel pain; I'm just not feeling it. Sympathy means I feel your pain.

"We want you to have empathy in that you don't have to agree with them, but you can see how they look at the world differently, he said, so when you sit down and work with them you have to take that into account."

That's what a broad range of experiences does, Perkins said. "It puts you in very different environments where you develop skill sets so when you walk into a very strange situation, you can operate effectively. That's why we don't want you to get too comfortable in just one domain."

Perkins then talked about another way the Army wants Soldiers to get out of their comfort zones. He said that if you are, for example, on the staff in a brigade for five or six years with the same commander, you establish rapport with him and get into a comfort zone.

"After a while, if it's too long a relationship, it's dysfunctional for both you and him," Perkins said. "That person's not getting others' points of views, just yours."

If you've worked for a person for a very long time and are getting high evaluation ratings, the promotion board may say, "I've got this. This person likes you. Probably, unless you screw up, your next three OERs [Officer Evaluation Report] will be good. But if you have five OERs and one is from an SES [Senior Executive Service], one is a political appointee, one is a National Guard guy and one is from a Marine; and they all say you're the best thing since sliced bread," then that's looked on very favorably and is also a good broadening of experience, he said.

Perkins concluded, cautioning Soldiers to stay out of their comfort zones and hunt for challenging assignments that help with growth.

ABOUT COLLOQUIUM

Colloquium is similar to the recently-held chief of staff of the Army's captains' Solarium, in that seven topics of high importance to the Army were discussed in a candid forum, meaning the majors were encouraged to provide their thoughts, even if it went against current Army thinking or doctrine.

Colloquium was conducted by the Center for Army Leadership on behalf of the Combined Arms Center and is the first ever colloquium for majors. All 84 majors were students enrolled in the Command & General Staff College or the School of Advanced Military Studies.

Perkins said he would back-brief the chief on the majors' thoughts in a few days.

(This is the second in a series on Colloquium 2015. For more ARNEWS stories, visit www.army.mil/ARNEWS, or Facebook at www.facebook.com/ArmyNewsService, or Twitter @ArmyNewsService)