FORT BLISS —Three officers from the U.S. Army Joint Modernization Command recently went through the newly created Battalion Command Assessment Program, and they have lessons learned to share.
Gen. James McConville, chief of staff of the Army, has said a change to the battalion commander selection process was needed because the previous system of evaluation relied almost exclusively on Officer Evaluation Reports, leading to variations based solely on who the senior rater was.
McConville has said battalion commanders are some of the most important leaders in the Army. Using mainly OERs gave a good picture of an officer’s leadership, but more was needed to make sure the Army was selecting the best for battalion command.
“We’ve had a very, very good process,” McConville told reporters in January. “But we want the absolute best leaders in place because parents are going to send their sons and daughters to serve in the Army, and we want to make sure they are taken care of and are treated with dignity and respect and they have the opportunity to excel in the Army – that’s a function of leadership.”
The BCAP is designed, through interviews and personality tests, to more fully reflect an officer’s leadership potential. Lt. Col. Matthew St. Pierre, chief of plans in JMC’s G3 operations division, said the program did a deep dive in how officers get things done.
“BCAP looked at it through a different perspective,” he said. “You look at the OER: the last bullet on there is ‘Achieves,’ and in parentheses underneath it, it says, ‘Gets results.’ There are a lot of ways to get results. You can be very organized, very good at tasking and a very critical thinker that can build processes and capabilities. Or, you can just smash people into compliance, and they complete every task that you give them despite what it does to them personally and professionally. I think BCAP is a way to take some of those folks and realize their skill set isn’t what we need going forward in the Army. What we need are those critical and creative thinkers, to go forward and be able to develop systems and think at those levels to produce results. Anyone can produce results through blunt force trauma, it’s our ability to produce results that better the organization as a whole.”
Because the BCAP is looking at officers’ overall skill set and personality, there is not a lot of preparation officers can do beforehand, said Lt. Col. Nathan McCormack, executive officer to JMC’s commanding general.
“Understand that what they are trying to achieve is to get a better understanding of you as a whole person,” McCormack said. “You don’t have a way to change or influence the peer subordinate feedback that they already have, and it’s deliberately difficult to manipulate the results of a personality inventory. So being professionally aware and being honest with yourself going into the process is an important part of being successful.”
That’s not to say there aren’t parts of the BCAP that officers can prepare themselves for. Both St. Pierre and McCormack, as well as Lt. Col. Marvin Switzer, the assessment team lead in JMC’s Multi-Domain Operations Group, emphasized that proper physical fitness is the first hurdle.
“There are a few opportunities to prepare yourself for the BCAP,” McCormack said. “Number 1 is the APFT, because if you show up and fail height and weight on day 0, or you fail the APFT, which is really your first major event, then you just get sent home. So, that is an opportunity where you know the standard, you know what is needed to perform well, and you have all the opportunity in the world to make sure that you are prepared.”
The three JMC officers said reading, writing and critical thinking is important for success at BCAP, including making sure you are up to speed on proper English grammar. Though there was much that senior leaders asked them not to share about details of BCAP, all three said their communication skills were thoroughly tested.
“Reading, professional writing: Those are what make officers critical and creative thinkers that can communicate at an advanced level,” St. Pierre said. “If you’re not reading, if you’re not writing professional papers, those skills are just going to diminish. That’s what the Army is looking for, so just continue to read professionally enhancing books and articles and then write and publish professional papers, as well.”
“In general, you should be ready to talk about your own strengths and weaknesses,” McCormack said. “Especially as your strengths and weaknesses relate to the performance of your military specialty. Preparing yourself like you would for a senior rater counseling would be a good idea.”
Switzer said he thought the BCAP brought added value to the battalion commander selection process, as well as helped Army leaders who went through the program.
“During your military career, you bust your butt to get to Major, and then the rest of your career is defined by that one year in your key development (KD) time,” Switzer said. “But that can be unfair to some officers. BCAP helps level the playing the field. It helps level out the rest of your time as a Major or Lieutenant Colonel. Plus, all the questionnaires and the feedback from your subordinates, it gives the Army a holistic view of you as a leader, as a potential battalion commander, as a Soldier, as a person, and as an officer. The Army got it right.”
The BCAP is already reshaping which officers get selected for battalion command. McCormack said he didn’t think he would have been selected without BCAP, and Maj. Gen. Joseph P. McGee, the director of the Army’s Talent Management Task Force, told Stars and Stripes that the process is having an effect on the order of merit list.
“What we found is we would have had very different decisions about who we would have put into command, and we were able to screen out some who were just not ready to command for a variety of reasons,” McGee said.
Separate from BCAP, a lesson St. Pierre said he has learned to help him be successful in his Army career is to put in the extra effort early during projects.
“If you just put in a bit of extra effort and do it right the first time, you’re not going to have to come back and deal with corrections and fixes and stuff like that,” St. Pierre said. “I’ll admit in the first half of my career, I maybe cut a lot of those corners and didn’t do things right the first time and just executed. The second half of my career I really realized, if I do this right and expect what is the standard out of people, I’ll be successful.”