ARLINGTON, Va. -- As discussions over racial inequality linger across America, the Army understands it isn’t immune to those conversations and must tackle inclusion head-on, said the force’s top personnel leaders.The Army is “focused on culture and cohesion,” said E. Casey Wardynski, assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs, during a webinar hosted by the Association of the U.S. Army on Wednesday. “You can't have a strong culture without cohesive teams.”That’s where the Army People Strategy comes in. What rolled out last year as a 21st century talent management overhaul, the strategy has now shifted to its second phase that brings in actionable steps to help the Army be more inclusive, Wardynski said.However, the strategy isn’t just words jotted down on 14 pages. The initiative is a blueprint for the total Army to remain ready as the world’s premier combat force, he said. Successful modernization relies on people, because as the strategy states, “equipment does not learn, understand, innovate, build cohesive teams, or exercise judgment -- people do.”Cohesion is “the key outcome we want,” he said. “We believe [cohesive] teams are what allow us to dominate in the competition phase, and when should a conflict arise. So you can't have that kind of cohesion without the right culture.Dry-erase board approachLast month, Lt. Gen. Gary Brito, the Army’s 49th deputy chief of staff, G-1, took the helm of manpower and personnel planning, programs, and policies for the Army. Although he’s still settling into his new role, the G-1 has hit the ground running to eliminate barriers some Soldiers face, he said.The People Strategy has set the stage for “a clean slate that looks very closely at all talent management policies, processes, and practices in place,” Brito said. “We can apply [new policies] to our rich, diverse talent, which we're competing for across the United States. We want to ensure there are no barriers that prevent anyone from achieving” what they want to do after they have identified their talent.This fresh, clean-slate approach, Brito said, is what he’s dubbed “a dry-erase board opportunity” to start anew. But this is no simple task for the general, who is in charge of the manpower management for all Soldiers, who play a critical role in Army modernization.Diversity, inclusion, and equity means taking care of the Army’s No. 1 asset: people, Brito said, hinting at Army Chief of Staff James C. McConville’s “people first, winning matters” mantra.“All Soldiers from all ethnicities, all races, all religions, all the states, and territories, are very important,” Brito added. “We're looking at all the processes to manage our talent properly. And to educate, recruit, retain the best talent for the United States Army, and it's time to do it.”Reserve affairsWith nearly half of the total Army in the National Guard and Army Reserve, how they factor into a more inclusive force has been a top priority for Army leaders, Wardynski said.Set to be fully operational by late 2021, the Integrated Personnel and Pay System-Army, or IPPS-A, is an online human resources system that streamlines all components of the Army. The system aims to improve the lives of all Soldiers and their families, and how the force interacts with them by transforming industrial age personnel systems to a 21st-century talent management system.“Until recently, a lot of what went on in the Guard was not visible to the permanent Army,” Wardynski said. “The talent that's in the Guard was sort of masked, and only known to us was very broad, [which] aggregates a grade, branch, or skill.”IPPS-A offers more transparency, he added, and will offer more options for Soldiers to move around the Army. This will help in terms of “developing and surfacing talent.”“As we learned in war, and one might have suspected, there is a lot of rich talent in the Guard and the Reserve,” he said. “The People Strategy is very focused on bringing that into view, and thinking about new ways to work in the Army.”Civilian sectorInclusion and diversity transcends the uniformed ranks and are also critical among the civilian workforce, Wardynski said. The Army has consolidated 32 career fields into 12 larger groupings to create more senior-level opportunities for career advancement for civilians.To do this, certain Department of the Army headquarters positions are now grouped in smaller career fields, some with statistically higher numbers of minorities that didn’t have the same opportunities for advancement as other fields.This translates into Senior Executive Service positions in career fields that didn’t have one before. For instance, the Equal Opportunity program is now grouped with human resources, which “gives a pathway to follow and can take someone to the top of the Army and help fund this organization,” Wardynski said. It also helps place people “with the skills, knowledge, and behaviors where they should serve.”‘The new frontier’As the Army heads into the second phase of the People Strategy, it’s “time we engage on the new frontier, and shift the conversation from the visual aspects of diversity to a value construct of diversity,” said Anselm Beach, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for equity and inclusion.“These are new and exciting times,” he added. “It brings the full scope of Army People Strategy to bear, because we're looking at people to help us solve complex problems, which is what the Army needs today.”To be specific, as Army leaders continue assessing current systems to help develop and manage every Soldier, its success also relies on every Soldier.“Take a pause, get to know your people,” Beach said. “We want to have cohesive teams. The only way we get to cohesive teams is by engaging individually, so that we know our Soldiers and civilians, and that way we know the talents and the skills they bring” to the Army.For example, Beach said, if someone asks you to count to 10, it would be easy. But, if they asked you to count to 10 in alphabetical order, it may be very difficult.By knowing your team and their skills, “we can optimize those skills" and make the Army a better place, he said.Related linksArmy.mil: Worldwide NewsSTAND-TO!: The Army People StrategyArmy People StrategySTAND-TO!: Project InclusionArmy News ServiceARNEWS ArchivesFollow Thomas Brading on Twitter