Soldiers assigned to the 25th Infantry Division and U.S. Army Hawaii complete a 12-mile ruck march before testing on the final lane for the Expert Infantryman Badge and Expert Soldier Badge at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, April 30, 2021.  Soldiers may soon have the opportunity to earn an expert badge up to three times a year.
Soldiers assigned to the 25th Infantry Division and U.S. Army Hawaii complete a 12-mile ruck march before testing on the final lane for the Expert Infantryman Badge and Expert Soldier Badge at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, April 30, 2021. Soldiers may soon have the opportunity to earn an expert badge up to three times a year. (Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Alan Brutus) VIEW ORIGINAL

WASHINGTON -- Soldiers could soon have up to three opportunities a year to earn an expert badge as part of an effort to foster cohesive units, the top enlisted leader for Army Training and Doctrine Command said Tuesday.

Speaking at an Association of the U.S. Army panel, Command Sgt. Maj. Dan Hendrex said that the Army Noncommissioned Officer Strategy emphasizes the need for highly trained, disciplined and fit Soldiers.

By affording Soldiers more chances to earn their expert badge they will be one step closer to that goal, he added. The badges include the Expert Infantryman Badge, Expert Field Medical Badge and Expert Soldier Badge, which Soldiers often previously had only one chance annually to earn.

“You have to be an expert at your craft,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Todd Simms, senior enlisted leader for Army Forces Command. “I don’t care if you’re an infantryman, a tanker or a [human resources specialist] … you’re mastering the fundamentals. The momentum is going and our squads and platoons are getting after it at the lowest level.”

Command Sgt. Maj. Mario Terenas, senior enlisted leader of the 10th Mountain Division, has led the effort to give Soldiers three reps and sets annually to earn a badge.

The Army NCO Strategy aligns with the “This is My Squad” strategy, which postures that units build greater cohesion by sharing experiences; similar to the culture found in Special Forces.

The strategy builds a framework for career success by focusing on professional development.

“[The NCO Strategy] has had a profound effect,” Hendrex said. “It’s aligned itself with the educational framework through your military occupational skills to allow you to have those certificates, credentials and college degrees that support the education that you get in the Army.

“I think the TRADOC role in this is to support the Army’s NCO Strategy and make it understandable and usable for our youngest sergeants and staff sergeants today,” he added.

Combating suicides

In June, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston met with command-level sergeants major to assess what the Army can do differently to prevent suicide. They discussed possible life skills training for Soldiers to remedy relationship turmoil and curb alcohol abuse.

To help prevent another issue that could potentially lead to suicide, Grinston said that a financial literacy program will be implemented in each of the Army’s training schools to help Soldiers avoid the stresses of money problems.

“We talked about all these ideas on how we can prevent harmful behaviors,” Grinston said during a media roundtable following the panel. “We have a crisis right now … We have to stop suicides now. We have to interact. We have to recognize you’re struggling with something and we have to get the help you need.”

Unity among Soldiers

The enlisted leaders said the Army can prevent suicide by building cohesion in its units. Command Sgt. Maj. John Sampa, of the Army National Guard, outlined several ways squads and platoons can build unity.

First, leaders can build trust among their Soldiers by sharing personable, relatable experiences. Sampa said that when troops trust their leaders, it strengthens units.

Sampa said he received feedback from within the Guard that Soldiers don’t know each other outside of the uniform. Sampa said recently he noticed a troubled Soldier within his unit and postponed a meeting to address the Soldier’s concerns.

“The Soldier was upset, and [had] teary eyes,” he said. “I stopped what I was doing to put immediate action on that problem. When you do that, Soldiers know that you care about them. When they know you’re going to take care of them professionally and personally, they’ll follow you anywhere you want to go.”

Sampa also suggested to have Soldiers discuss relevant topics including sexual harassment and assault and the Army Combat Fitness Test. He said Soldiers can write down topics and share them with their units.

He added that checking on the welfare of fellow Soldiers can identify problems that could lead to tragedies such as suicide. Having Soldiers take care of their health, including having a healthy diet and regular exercise could help alleviate the stresses of duty.

In order to meet the standards of the ACFT, Sampa also said that Soldiers must rethink their physical training routines. The Army has been exploring how to improve Soldiers’ holistic health and understanding the physical and mental toll of military duty.

Grinston said the Army began tracking Soldier performance in relation to the number of hours of sleep during the 2021 Best Warrior Competition. Contestants wore fitness bands to track their rest. He said that the Army has been exploring how to measure Soldiers’ holistic health to help prevent suicides.

In May, the Army Reserve held its first Best Squad Competition, where squads get evaluated on their teamwork and ability to overcome stressful battle scenarios.

“It’s a way of testing our [NCOs] and Soldiers on how they can contribute to cohesive teams,” said Army Reserve Command Sgt. Maj. Andrew Lombardo.

The Army Reserve has also implemented the Foundational Readiness Guide at the squad level, in order to change culture. Under that guidance, Soldiers engage in difficult discussions within their squads such as sexual harassment, sexual assault and equal opportunities.

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