FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (Army News Service, Jan. 20, 2016) -- Warrant officers told Lt. Gen. Robert Brown, commander of the Combined Arms Center, and other senior leaders that within their ranks, professional military education, or PME, should be mandatory for promotions.

The venue was the first-ever, chief of staff of the Army-sponsored Warrant Officer Solarium, held at the Command and General Staff College, or CGSOC, Jan. 15.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jason Hopkins and some of his 84 colleagues suggested PME course attendance should be mandatory within the first 24 months time-in-grade. That period of time was a starting point for discussions.

Hopkins pointed out that PME is now a requirement for promotion within the noncommissioned officer, or NCO, ranks and the time has come for warrants to have it as well.

GETTING IN STEP

The acronym Select-Train-Educate-Promote, or STEP, describes that policy for NCOs, which went into effect Jan. 1, Hopkins noted.

STEP requires sergeants to complete the Basic Leader Course, staff sergeants to complete the Advanced Leader Course and sergeants first class to complete the Senior Leader Course. PME requirements for E-8 and E-9 were already in effect since 2008. If those requirements are not fulfilled, the NCO is not promoted.

Why extend something like STEP to warrants?

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Aaron Sargent said as leaders, warrants not only need to be technically skilled, they also need to be broadened with leader development courses like the Warrant Officer Advanced Course, Intermediate Level Education and Senior Service Education courses as they progress through the ranks.

Hopkins suggested that the PME requirement be published. He noted that the current verbiage in Army Regulation 350-1, "Army Training and Leader Development," and Department of the Army Pamphlet 600-3, "Commissioned Officer Professional Development and Career Management System" should be changed from "should have" PME for warrants to "must have" PME. Warrant officers fall within the officer corps so PAM 600-3 is applicable.

REASONS FOR MISSING PME

Commanders can stop warrants from attending PME if they fail to meet certain prerequisites such as weight standards or failing the physical fitness test, Hopkins noted. Warrants under investigation can also be flagged.

Another category of non-attendees could be a warrant wanting to avoid taking the PME, he continued.

Then, there is a category where the fault for not attending PME lies with the command, he said. This is the category that needs to be addressed.

Why would a command prevent a warrant officer from attending PME?

There are two reasons, Hopkins said. The first is understandable. Operational requirements like a deployment to Afghanistan where the warrant's skill is needed.

A second reason might be that the command doesn't want to lose the warrant because his or her skill is deemed invaluable. While this is understandable to a certain extent, it stymies the warrant's necessary leader development, he said.

SOLUTIONS OFFERED

Besides making PME a requirement, Hopkins suggested that oversight and the decision about whether or not to send a warrant to a PME course should be taken away from the command and given to the warrant's Department of the Army branch proponent.

So for example, if the warrant is scheduled for an operational deployment, the branch proponency might create a PME waiver, with the stipulation that "you can take it away from us once, but... [then the branch] needs to put us in a secondary date." Of course, that hinges on the branch having such control, which it currently doesn't.

On a slightly different topic, Hopkins said he observed CW4s attending the Advanced Course, which is designed for CW2s and 3s. Warrants should be attending the appropriate PME for their grade level. Otherwise, it's a waste of their time.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Heath Stamm said commissioned officers don't have a problem attending PME courses. They actually make permanent change of station moves, for say, six months, and belong to the CGSOC. The decision is not in the hands of the command since it's a requirement.

"They put you in those gates because their year-group manager says 'you will go to school here, here and here,'" he said. "And, if you come down on that CGSOC list and you're in theater, they will pull you out of theater because you're going to CGSOC and that school is not going to wait on you."

Doing that PCS move would alleviate another problem, Stamm noted.

"For us, our command may say 'I'm critical, I'm the guy you rely on. Someone needs to fill my role,'" he said. "If we do go to school, we're telecommuting back to work. We're getting on the computer, taking phone calls and emails, leaving class to talk to the commander on the phone. Officers don't deal with that. It's a huge distractor."

Stamm said the warrants at this Solarium offered some solutions but didn't have all the answers. "If you pull me for three months and the unit does fine without me, you've got to wonder if the unit really needs me."

Brown weighed in, commenting that STEP has given the NCO corps a tremendous boost in readiness. He agreed that the time has come to prioritize PME for all Soldiers, including warrants.

"The reason we got away from it for so long is we were in two wars," he added.

Editor's note: This is the second in a series of three Warrant Officer Solarium articles.