ARLINGTON, Va. -- Army National Guard Soldiers looking for additional professional development opportunities may be eligible for the Army Guard's High Performing Leader Program, which provides hands-on experience with a strategic-level focus.

"The program is a unique broadening, career-enhancing assignment," said Chief Warrant Officer 3

Daniel Bish, team chief of the HPLP with the Army National Guard's Training Division. "It is designed to provide those Soldiers with experience and get them out of their comfort zone, [and] not necessarily just the technical mastery of their respective career fields."

Established to support Army leadership development strategies, the HPLP brings Army Guard Soldiers on active duty orders for a one-year assignment tailored to the individual Soldier.

"We work with each individual, [discussing] their interests, hopes and dreams, [and] conversely with the needs of an organization, to find the best experience possible for the Soldier," said Bish.

The idea is to build greater experience beyond the tactical realm.

"The more experience we can add to a Soldier's kit, the more lethal they are and the better they are going to be," Bish said.

For Sgt. 1st Class Ray Watkins, with the West Virginia Army National Guard's Battery A, 1st Battalion, 201st Field Artillery Regiment, taking part in the HPLP meant an assignment at the Army's Fires Center of Excellence at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

The experience, he said, forced him to "look at the entire field artillery picture," instead of just what his unit in West Virginia does, while also giving him greater networking opportunities with other Soldiers.

"Having this [one] year assignment where I am with SMEs [subject matter experts], working with some of the best Soldiers in the Army, I'm pulling from all of their knowledge and experience and now I can implement this back in my state," said Watkins.

Army Capt. Melody Howell, a logistics integrator with the South Dakota Army National Guard's 196th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, said her HPLP assignment at the U.S. Army Sustainment Command at Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois, provided a two-way learning experience. Not only did she come away with greater knowledge of sustainment operations, but she gave others greater insight into how Army Guard units execute those operations.

"For example, preparing for large-scale operations. The active component [often] doesn't quite understand that a lot of [Army Guard] divisions and brigades can be split up between multiple states," Howell said. "Trying to get everybody on the same page is a little different than going right down the street."

This is important, she said, when sustainment units execute mobilizations and deployments.

"We help finesse a lot of things there," said Howell, of the experience at Army Sustainment Command.

The experience, she said, also helped her understand Army National Guard 4.0, an initiative focused on enhancing readiness through increased training time for select Army Guard units.

"It helped me understand why it was implemented, why we have drills more often," said Howell. "And it's because we are being used more often for deployments."

The target population for the HPLP are Army Guard Soldiers in the rank of a captain, staff sergeant, sergeant first class or chief warrant officer two or three, said Bish.

Army 1st Lt. Joshua Carr, an action officer with the Army Guard's operations directorate, said the HPLP targets mid-level leaders.

"We are trying to develop key opportunities for mid-level leaders that can allow them to work more effectively within the ever-changing environment that is throughout the military," he said.

Carr added the program has met with positive feedback.

"This is a one-of-a-kind program," he said. "Some of our cohorts talked about their active [component] counterparts [who] wished they had a similar program."

Many Soldiers who have taken part in the program have also left an impression on the organizations they served with, said Bish.

"When somebody leaves, they want somebody to backfill them and I can't always do that because these are one-year terms," he said.

Established in 2016, the HPLP is a continually evolving program, said Bish, adding that joint assignment opportunities are one area being looked at to grow the program.

"We are going to explore other, joint operations with the Navy, Marines, Air Force," he said.

That allows for other possibilities to help Soldiers go further in their leadership approach and ability to operate at higher levels.

"Essentially, we are giving people keys to a car with a full tank of gas," said Bish, of the program. "It gets them well out of their comfort zone and improves that elasticity in their thought process."

Those interested in applying for the program should start with the training office in their state. From there, a nomination packet is submitted to the Army Guard's Leader Development Branch.

Candidates are selected based on military and civilian education and job performance reviews, said Bish, adding the program is branch and military occupational specialty immaterial.

But, those who apply must be positive and eager to develop themselves, said Bish.

"Positivity breeds positivity," he said. "And I think we have a bunch of positive folks."