Over 250 Army National Guard human resources (HR) Soldiers from throughout the United States and its territories met with representatives of the Integrated Personnel and Pay System - Army (IPPS-A) at the Multi-System Transformation Advisory Group (MSTAG) training event in Norman, Okla. June 4-8, 2018. For months, Soldiers have repeatedly asked, "Let us try the system!" and in Oklahoma, IPPS-A delivered with hands-on demonstrations of the next generation HR and pay system.

Master Sgt. Chris Creekmore, Oklahoma Army National Guard SIDPERS Chief, a 28-year veteran of the National Guard, described how anxieties about the system started to abate after the first day orientation.

"We can actually see what looks like a finished product," said Master Sgt. Creekmore. "We're getting into details of the system and…we can see a way ahead."

IPPS-A will be released to 54 state and territory Army National Guards starting with Pennsylvania later this year. Since many of the Release 2 capabilities of IPPS-A subsume or replace Standard Installation and Division Personnel Report System (SIDPERS) functions, the Army Reserve and Active component will receive IPPS-A after the National Guard. SIDPERS has been a repository for Soldier personnel data since the 1980s.

"Pennsylvania is creating a blueprint for us," said Col. Sharon Moore, National Guard Bureau Chief of Personnel Division, part of a team of National Guard Bureau G1 leaders assisting with the IPPS-A transition from legacy systems like the SIDPERS to an innovative 21st century system. "They've stepped up as the lead for the Army National Guard. . . We need to remain forward thinking and embrace innovation. The next significant milestone is the Systems Acceptance Test...and to succeed we need to maintain good participation across the states." Moore also emphasized the need for continuous dialogue and for change champions to be involved in the fielding process.

Col. James McNulty, IPPS-A Project Manager, spoke about the listening campaign his program had conducted -- visiting the Army National Guard in over 30 states and territories to build a system that meets their needs.

"Are you going to take something from Big Army and jam it down the Guard's throat?" Col. McNulty recalled being asked by a state Adjutant General in the early days of IPPS-A. "No sir, we're not." McNulty promised. "It's taking a little longer than we'd like, but we're working very hard to give you something that you want. We need to make sure this thing is right before we punt it out the door," McNulty added.

Making things right was the focus of the MSTAG training conference - the latest in a series of high-level discussions, workshops, user juries and listening sessions where the Army National Guard has been able to provide feedback to shape how the next generations of Soldiers will conduct pay and personnel actions both at home and downrange. Mobilization and demobilization are the times when a Guardsman is most likely to have problems with their pay or records and, after 17 years of war, the Army National Guard's "optempo" shows no signs of slowing down.

"I've seen why we need it being deployed as a brigade S1," said Maj. Scott Lay, Operations Officer, Systems Branch, National Guard Bureau. "We had an active duty battalion underneath us and underneath those were Reserve and Guard companies. I don't know if you've ever tried to service Active, Guard and Reserve Soldiers, but it's very hard with SIDPERS, and it can't be done…We need this. If you don't think this is important or think we don't need your help, you're wrong," added Lay. "But we can do it together."

"There are some very smart people here to figure this out, but it's bigger than SIDPERS," added MAJ Joshua Herr, Pennsylvania Army National Guard. Herr discussed how IPPS-A could streamline Unit Identification Codes for mobilized Guard Soldiers using a hypothetical scenario of Guardsmen from Pennsylvania and Alaska as part of a task force lead by Tennessee. Participants asked questions about adding new awards to the system, and accountability interstate for transferring Soldiers. A common concern of many attendees was "unknown unknowns" as we collectively take this step forward.

For his efforts in leading the way to prepare for the Systems Acceptance Test (SAT) in September and to field IPPS-A first in Pennsylvania, Herr was awarded the Order of Horatio Gates Honorary Medal on behalf of the Adjutant General's Corps Regimental Association in a ceremony on June 4. The Horatio Gates medal is awarded for innovations to increase Army efficiency and introduce new HR methods, and this was the second awarded in relation to IPPS-A.

Make no mistake, the four-decades old SIDPERS -- which once required units to send updates by postal mail -- is going away: permanently.

Guam Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Erin Retuyan -- part of a three Soldier contingent from her territory -- had this to say to her fellow 42A's: "Change is coming. Change is good...The states and territories need to be flexible and ready for a culture change."