FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – Representatives from U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, or TRADOC, met with Fort Campbell’s unit leadership Aug. 13 for a briefing on Project Athena, a professional development program scheduled to integrate with the installation’s professional military education, or PME, courses by March 2022.
TRADOC designed Project Athena as a framework for the Army’s current and future leaders to grow through a series of individual assessments available to Soldiers and civilian employees. Each provides insight into three major areas: leadership, cognitive and personal skills.
“The goal of this program is to make individuals more self-aware and understanding of their strengths, their developmental needs and their blind spots,” said Col. Sam Saine, director of the Center for the Army Profession and Leadership at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. “Data, research and study over decades tells us that when a leader is more self-aware, they’re more effective ... and a more effective leader leaves an organization with higher morale, better readiness and they just perform at a higher level, which is in the Army’s best interests.”
After completing Project Athena’s assessments during PME, Soldiers will create individual development plans to guide them in their operational roles.
“When they share that information with their command sergeants major or leaders, they use it to inform their unit’s leader development program,” Saine said. “But in the end, it helps them do their job as leaders across the Army, and that’s to develop individuals within their formations.”
The program also will work to connect individuals with coaches and counselors – both during PME and at their operational unit – based on their development plan. Saine said those efforts are meant to address a deficiency in leadership development identified through research, studies and surveys.
“Using this individual development plan ... there’s a fuller, richer and more mature first conversation when someone’s counseled,” he said. “But it’s also so the leader can understand the individual’s development needs and really what they want to work on.”
Leaders were able to familiarize themselves with Project Athena and provide feedback directly to TRADOC during the briefing, which Saine said is key in the project’s continued development.
“It’s really important that we get the insight, feedback and ideas from the operational force,” he said. “That was really the purpose of this trip – informing them about the program and how they can utilize it. We’re not only getting their feedback while they’re here but making connections so they feel comfortable talking about ways we can get better with the program or the things we’re getting right.”
Major Jennifer Purser, the intelligence officer for 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), said Project Athena could help her better understand incoming leaders and execute the Army’s People First strategy at the tactical level.
“I think it’s a very good concept if we use it appropriately and have the right kind of communication between the locations where these service members have their PME,” Purser said. “If this is done the right way, I’m able to hone in on the types of things that individuals need coaching on and the types of things that populations – like my lieutenants, intelligence captains or warrant officers – need help developing in as a group.”
She plans to use Project Athena’s individual development plans in both initial and quarterly counseling sessions, but recommends strengthening communications between PME sites and division leadership to maximize their value.
“I would really appreciate [having contact with] a Project Athena representative that’s administering these individual development programs for the lieutenants and captains coming our way,” Purser said. “For example, if somebody at that site would reach out to me and say, ‘we’re tracking this person coming to you – these are their individual development tools, I’m the person who’s been coaching them, feel free to ask them about it.’”
Many Soldiers have already gone through coaching under Project Athena, which was originally implemented as a pilot program in July 2020 at Fort Benning, Georgia. The goal is for assessments to be conducted across every active-duty school by the end of fiscal year 2022.
“These assessments are being used in the professional military education system, so think of every echelon and every cohort in schools,” Saine said. “Officers, NCOs, warrant officers and eventually civilians ... by fiscal year 2023 and 2024, the focus will shift to how we deliver these assessments and this program to the Army National Guard and Reserve.”
In the meantime, Soldiers like Purser are playing an important role by engaging directly with TRADOC through the development process.
“I do think it’s a really great initiative, and I think their heads are in the right spot,” Purser said. “Once we nail down exactly how to execute this and what it all looks like, I think it’s going to be extremely powerful. I appreciate that they’re investing a whole lot of time into this to come out, brief us and make sure we’re understanding what’s out there with the PME population right now.”