The Army Talent Management Task Force (ATMTF) executed the second Battalion Commander Assessment Program (BCAP) iteration in November 2020. You have likely read other articles describing individual experiences from the first BCAP cohort. I will attempt to avoid repetition since the program remains fundamentally the same. Rather, I will take this opportunity to add insights that Sustainment leaders will find relevant and should consider as they prepare for future BCAP iterations.
BCAP is the Army’s program to determine an officer’s fitness for command and strategic leadership potential. BCAP has become a requirement for officers competing for battalion command opportunities and consists of a four-day assessment conducted at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Each candidate is assessed on physical fitness, verbal and written communications, and through cognitive and non-cognitive assessments with the program culminating in a panel interview with senior Army officers. In conjunction with the Centralized Selection List process, the BCAP results help ensure that the Army is selecting the best qualified officers for command.
During my rotation in November, I noted three themes that stood out to me: resources currently available, organizational culture, and self-awareness.
The ATMTF Battalion Commander Assessment Program website, located at https://talent.army.mil/bcap/, has an abundance of resources for incoming candidates, including a welcome brief, candidate guide, relevant news articles, and an introduction to the Army Comprehensive Talent Interview panel. These were helpful in demystifying the process and useful in preparing for BCAP.
I recommend spending some time with both the candidate guide and webinar, regardless of when you anticipate attending BCAP. They presented everything I needed to know to navigate the BCAP process. For example, they explain which events screen for an individual’s command readiness, which contribute to the Order of Merit List (OML) score, and which inform the senior leader panel interview. They also explain how to prepare for each event.
There are no attempts to deceive candidates. The ATMTF established transparent processes to ensure every candidate has the opportunity to succeed and present their best self. The task force took to heart the principles of fairness, consistency, and safety and went to great lengths to reduce the variables that could stymie the process.
In addition to preparing officers for BCAP, the online repository sets the tone for the ATMTF and BCAP process. From the instant I received notification of my BCAP participation, the ATMTF team displayed a level of professionalism that underscored the priority the Army has placed on identifying the next generation of battalion commanders.
I admit, my first read-through of the candidate guide was somewhat self-serving, and understandably so – I was the one attending and I was the one responsible for my performance. However, as I progressed through the five-day assessment, I refocused my attention to the opportunities for leaders to develop their people and enhance their organization. For example, while being assessed on my own communication acumen, I questioned how well I had prepared my subordinates in their communication skills. I stopped thinking about myself and started thinking about how I can create a unit culture that encourages continuous development.
And then there was the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT). Almost every discussion in advance of BCAP attendance centered on the APFT. The test was professionally executed to the Army standard and should not be a cause for concern, especially given that all candidates had at least 16 years performing to the tested standard. The real lesson was that not all units hold their people accountable to that standard. My grader, for example, did not count two of my push-ups, and as soon as he said no-rep, I understood exactly why. Others in my cohort had many more push-ups not counted. This made me consider, again, that perhaps we don’t hold ourselves and our subordinates to the exact Army standard.
I realized that all the assessments at BCAP, whether of physical fitness, communication skills, or cognitive ability, were testing against standards that had been spelled out throughout my career. I knew my ability to meet those standards, but had I done enough to ensure others could as well?
BCAP also offers a unique opportunity to gain deeper insight into each candidate. The observations of an operational psychologist, peer and subordinate feedback, cognitive/non-cognitive assessments, and psychometric testing informed the senior leader panel of my true readiness for command. While the information from the session with the operational psychologist is used by the panel, I found the final out-brief a priceless opportunity to gain new insight into my own character.
The psychologist’s out-brief explained how my dominant characteristics might influence my leadership abilities. This candid and dynamic feedback helped me appreciate where my actions may not align with my self-image, and how a misalignment may have unintended personal or professional consequences. More relevant to my success as a battalion commander, I needed to understand how a unit might perceive me as a leader. This level of self-awareness is useful, especially given the variety of organizations we may be called upon to lead and the cultures within each of those units.
As I reflected on my results from both the psychometric testing and out-brief with the psychologist, I thought deeply about the type of command I might be best suited to. Had I gone through a similar assessment before submitting my command preferences, my list might have been very different. The BCAP process as a whole shifted my thinking and will undoubtedly help me prepare for any future assignment by exploiting my strengths and bettering my weaknesses.
The Sustainment community has an opportunity to capitalize on the efforts of the ATMTF to develop our junior and mid-level leaders. By utilizing the resources available and upholding standards universally across our organizations, we will develop successful leaders at all levels.
I encourage everyone to keep an open mind when it comes to how others view you, and discover how external perceptions affect your leadership and your unit writ large. We shouldn’t wait until attendance at BCAP highlights areas for improvement to become more effective leaders. We can take action now to embrace the Army’s approach to ensuring we are developing the best leaders going forward. And whether I command a battalion or not, I will certainly implement these thoughts in every job I have henceforth.
Maj. Christopher J. Denton is currently serving as an Office of the Secretary of Defense Sustainment Fellow following his assignment with the Joint Staff J4. He is a graduate of the Transportation Officer Basic Course, Combined Logistics Career Course, and Command and General Staff College. He holds a bachelor's degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and a master's degree from the University of Kansas.
This article was published in the January-March 2021 issue of Army Sustainment.