By T. Anthony BellOctober 1, 2019
FORT LEE, Va.(Oct. 1, 2019) -- While listening to Command Sgt. Maj. Michael J. Perry III talk about his work as CASCOM's top enlisted leader, it's easy to conclude his enthusiasm and motivation are off the charts. His carotid vein protrudes and throbs to the rhythm of a voice that seems to exude boundless energy; his words are full of optimism; and his demeanor is lively yet understated.
With Perry, it seems positivity and optimism are calling cards no matter the circumstance. Lately, the senior noncom said he is riding a wave of inspiration generated by the accomplishments of many within CASCOM who are tackling their missions with vigor while embracing the command's vision. Positivity abounds.
"It's hard to believe it's been 14 months," he said, reflecting on his appointment under Maj. Gen. Paul C. Hurley Jr. and now MG Rodney D. Fogg, CASCOM and Fort Lee commanding general. "It has gone by so quickly, but I will tell you it is exciting knowing what this organization has accomplished -- not just here at Fort Lee -- but around the Army. Every private, every NCO, and every officer and warrant officer who comes here for training, we're sending them out or back out to the operational force ready to contribute. It's just exciting to see what we've accomplished as an organization."
Chief among CASCOM's talking points is its increased emphasis on the furtherance of tactical skills for advanced individual training troops. Stemming from a Training and Doctrine Command directive, the effort is maximizing training at the schoolhouses with a desired outcome of providing gaining units with Soldiers well prepared to support their missions.
"After a year, all of our schools have absolutely adopted a more focused warrior mindset," said Perry, a veteran of more than six deployments. "They're seeing the reality that our Soldiers could show up at his or her (permanent party) unit and deploy 30 days later. The gaining unit doesn't have time to provide baseline training; we have that responsibility. So, the work that has been done across the command to embrace this challenge has been really phenomenal."
CASCOM, the higher headquarters for the Ordnance, Quartermaster and Transportation schools as well as the Army Logistics University, also has an initial military training presence at various locations around the country, including Fort Jackson, S.C., home of the Soldier Support Institute. In total, the command trains more than 70,000 students annually.
At Fort Lee, all three IMT schoolhouses have taken steps to advance field training either through the enhancement of culmination exercises or blended learning programs. For example, the Quartermaster School bumped up its field training exercise from two days in daylight to three nights and four days. It also has made extensive use of virtual training. Considering the improvements, Perry said much can still be done.
"There is absolutely room for growth," he said. "Candidly, we've done this without the resources that would typically accompany such a directive. TRADOC requires you to identify a requirement, then it goes through a series of processes, and then there are the resources that will ultimately support that. What we did was find creative ways -- legally reallocated some resources -- to achieve an end state. The work we've done -- really coming up with creative, innovative, low-cost solutions -- has been outstanding."
In addition to helping to strengthen CASCOM's "warriorization posture," Perry dove head first into making a splash on the command's culture, which he said is necessary for the myriad of challenges confronting Soldiers today. Among his moves: conducting a series of professional development sessions aimed at shaping the thoughts, behaviors and attitudes of noncommissioned officers; treating traditional NCO events with a high level of reverence; showing interest in every corner of the command; and bringing Soldiers together as logisticians.
The latter, he said, is a critical point of contention.
"We were looking to improve culture," he said, referring to one of his initial goals. "No matter how good an organization is, there's always room for improvement. We've had great leaders in the past, and they've taken us this far, but we can always do better, especially considering the changes we face."
Amongst the cultural issues Perry wanted to address: a seeming lack of integration and synchronization between the different schoolhouses. His plan of action included engaging leaders, sharing his intent to provide leadership opportunities regardless of military occupational specialty, and clarifying their role in CASCOM's mission and its impact on the Army, he said.
"We have worked to help people understand the mission is bigger than themselves and found creative ways to bring the team together," Perry said. "That has been deliberate. It is one of the things I'm most excited about because not only does it improve the culture of Fort Lee, but it's also an example for all of those sustainment professionals to understand they have a stake. We want to put the best leaders in the best and most critical positions, and branch, race, gender or other demographic should have no influence on that whatsoever. It is about those who are committed to something greater than themselves and providing them with pathways to leadership that might have been limited in the past."
Aside from cultural change, Perry said much time has been spent on preparing the command for the new Army Combat Fitness Test. The replacement for the Army Physical Fitness Test moves to the next phase of Army-wide implementation in October. That's when all Soldiers will be administered two, not-for-record tests about six months apart. CASCOM's broader implementation strategy has included education, acquisition of necessary equipment and certification.
"We have roughly 50 of our noncommissioned who are certified," said Perry, noting those personnel are authorized to certify others, which will allow the command to double the amount of trained instructors before implementation. "We will continue to build upon those numbers because, as Soldiers arrive here, we've got to have leaders who are trained and certified (to prepare and test troops)."
The ACFT is comprised of six events versus the APFT's three. Developed to improve fitness, especially under deployment conditions, the new test also aims to reduce injuries. Perry said there is a "human factor," however, that has become a concern because it poses a possibility of harm.
"Working hand-in-hand with the physical therapy personnel at Kenner (Army Health Clinic), what we've found is there is so much anticipation, Soldiers want to get out there and just execute," Perry said. "They are going in and getting after it -- and I appreciate their energy and effort -- but the test is so different, it requires a deliberate approach by Soldiers to train the various muscle groups because the ACFT is rather cumulative. Over a relatively short period of time, you're going to knock out six demanding and very physical events."
The test exercises are the three-repetition deadlift; standing power throw; hand-release push-up; sprint-drag-carry; leg tuck; and two-mile run.
The CASCOM-Kenner collaborative conducted a series of training sessions for company-level leaders as they implemented training plans. The goal was to identify the right exercises to help prepare units for the new program as well as implementing control measures and emphasizing the idea of overall fitness rather than test preparation.
"Leveraging our medical professionals, we addressed injury issues that could hamper our ability to successfully implement the ACFT," Perry said. "The worst thing that could happen is beginning the new program and having a bunch of Soldiers and leaders sustain injuries because they are going about things inappropriately or too aggressively."
Moving on to the NCO education and training arena, Perry said there is one change he anticipates with great enthusiasm.
"We are in the midst of developing a program of instruction for a new multifunctional senior leader course," he said. "This is monumental for our logistics Soldiers."
As it stands now, senior enlisted Soldiers holding logistics MOSs -- transportation, quartermaster and ordnance -- attend the Logistics NCO Academy's Senior Leader Course where they receive four-to-six weeks of MOS-specific training. Perry said these courses -- the final instruction for NCOs administered by the Sustainment Center of Excellence -- do not go far enough in teaching the big picture, thereby leaving them short of the leadership skills required of multifunctional logisticians.
"When sergeants first class go out to the formations, what are the most critical skills they need to be successful?" posed Perry. "Also, how much of those skills need to be technical? Do I need an E-7 to know how to turn a wrench? No. What tools can I put in his or her kitbag to better them as leaders at that echelon? We also can expose them to assignments that are bigger than a motor pool and give them a better understanding of sustainment, associated organizations and how the sustainment warfighter functions fit in the big picture. Only a few of our MOSs expose leaders to that type of experience at the SFC level."
The new course will attempt to fill the gaps and provide Soldiers a more fuller educational experience, Perry said.
"So, when two Soldiers with different MOSs show up for senior leaders' school, instead of going into a classroom with those from the same field, we'll put them in small groups intermixed with Soldiers of all MOSs," Perry said. "That way, they'll receive the shared understanding of experience each brings to the conversation."
The new course will not do away with technical training and will include flexibility to accommodate that type of instruction if needed, Perry clarified. This type of training is modeled after that for officers implemented nearly a decade ago.
Perry said the project is in the crawl phase, but noted, "We're hoping to conduct our first pilot in January. From there -- if everything lines up -- we can fully implement by October of 2020."
The CSM, who hails from Youngstown, Ohio, enlisted 27years ago as a culinary specialist, but has decidedly never defined himself as such, holding non-traditional leadership positions through most of his career.
CASCOM trains, educates and grows adaptive sustainment professionals. It develops and integrates innovative Army and joint sustainment capabilities, concepts and doctrine to sustain large scale ground combat operations.