WASHINGTON -- According to the Army's top officer, battalion commanders are the most consequential leaders in the Army, which is why the service has improved its leadership evaluation and selection process for them.
"[Battalion commanders] train and develop young Soldiers, NCOs and officers, and have more of an impact on their [career decisions] … than any other leader," said Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville.
With the launch of the new Battalion Commander Assessment Program, the Army is currently evaluating close to 800 lieutenant colonels and majors at Fort Knox, Kentucky. McConville and Maj. Gen. Joseph McGee, Army Talent Management Task Force director, provided an update about the BCAP during a media event Thursday.
The BCAP started Jan. 15 and will end Feb. 9. Candidates undergo a five-day assessment by completing a series of non-cognitive, written, verbal, psychological and physical assessments, officials said.
"[Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy] and I believe that if we get the right people, in the right job, at the right time, everything else [will follow]," McConville said. "To us, the Army is about people -- they are our greatest strength, [and our] most important weapon system.
Candidates participate in a blind panel interview before a major general, two brigadier generals, two former brigade commanders, and an "informed nominative sergeant major," McGee said. A screen separates participants from panel members during the interview, and panels receive "anonymized information" about each candidate.
"It is really about 'transformational change' and how we are going to select battalion commanders in the future," McConville said.
"Our battalion commanders are the future strategic leaders of the Army," he said. "If you are a successful battalion commander, you have a good opportunity to be a colonel and … rise to the higher levels. We want to make sure we have the right people in these positions."
Back in September 2019, around 1800 officers were considered "eligible for command," with close to 1,100 opting in to compete during this year's cycle, McGee said.
The Army then conducted a command selection board and subsequently decreased the pool of eligible candidates, he explained. The remaining 800 candidates were then invited to Fort Knox, to participate in the BCAP.
The Army also took a page out of the Special Operations evaluation process and invited 35 operational psychologists to provide support, McGee said. Service members, government civilians and contractors make up the pool of operational psychologists, with a majority of them already supporting the Special Operations community.
"What they are specifically looking for I am not going to discuss," McGee said. "I think it would give away the nature of what we are doing, and I don't want to degrade the process."
Overall, the team of operational psychologists helped review all the data collected during the BCAP process, which also included surveyed data from peers and subordinates, McGee said.
The Army conducted the "largest gathering of peer and subordinate information" by sending out 26,000 surveys to solicit information, McGee said. More than 70% of eligible participants responded to the request, providing the Army with an in-depth look at each candidate.
"The data we have collected on each officer has given us a very good insight into those that [can] succeed in command, and those that have … counterproductive behavior that does not make them ready for command," McConville said.
"We are getting a good look at all these officers. It is an extensive assessment, and we will use this capability to make sure that we are putting the best officers into command," McConville added.
After the five-day assessment, each candidate receives an out brief, which includes an overall impression of their performance, McGee said. It also provides the officer with feedback to help with their own self development.
"You can be determined 'not ready for command' for three reasons," McGee explained. "You did not meet our height and weight requirements. You did not pass the Army Physical Fitness Test. Or [there is a] collective determination that you are not quite ready for command."
Officers that were determined "not ready" will have an opportunity to work on themselves over the next year and can try again, McGee said.
Once the entire BCAP is complete, the Army will re-establish the Order of Merit List and use the OML to select primary and alternates for battalion command, along with other key positions, McGee said.
With the BCAP, the Army now has an opportunity to identify key strengths and behaviors that should be present throughout the officer corps, McConville said. U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command can use the collected data to bolster certain aspects of professional military education for the betterment of the Army enterprise.
"I'm pleased with the process," McConville said. "I think it's going to fundamentally transform not only how we select battalion commanders, [but also] how we educate and develop leaders.
"From where I sit, command is a privilege," McConville said "It's a great privilege to lead America's best. We have a sacred obligation to get absolutely the best, most committed leaders."