Sgt. Maj. Jimmy Sellers enlisted in the Army in August of 1990 and has served in his current role as the Army G-4 Sergeant Major since July of 2020. His career has been dedicated to education: he has graduated from each level of the Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) Professional Development System (PDS). He holds a master’s degree in management and a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Sellers formerly commanded the NCO Leadership Center of Excellence and Sergeants Major Academy, where he oversaw efforts meant to create a more sequential and progressive education system for the Army’s NCOs aimed at creating adaptive, agile leaders prepared to empower their commanding officer. Army Sustainment sat down with Sellers to discuss updates to the sustainment noncommissioned officer strategy as it lays the framework for how the Army will most effectively recruit, develop, and retain impactful multi-functional logisticians now and in the future.
What has been the genesis or key motivation to update the sustainment NCO strategy?
The most impactful sustainment NCO strategy is one that is nested with the Army’s NCO strategy writ large. To do this effectively, we had to take a good hard look at how the sustainment NCO prepares for multi-domain and large-scale combat operational environments. The aim is to make sure the strategy answers questions about how a given sustainment NCO best sees themselves and their roles within their larger community. During battle drills, they must perform as both operators and logisticians while maintaining and advancing the six common core competencies of leadership, communications, readiness, training management, operations, and program management.
What does the term “multi-functional logistician” mean? Has this archetype existed for a while?
The idea of developing multi-functional logisticians is not a new concept. However, we’ve set forth lofty goals and expectations for what that Soldier looks like, so we haven’t fully achieved that just yet. The sustainment NCO strategy is a key guiding framework designed to help us close any identified gaps and achieve that effect of becoming a multi-functional logistician as an NCO. Officers have been doing it for quite some time now, as that framework was baked into how they train, educate, and develop. We’ve developed a clearer view of ourselves as NCOs and where we’re called to excel. From this, we can formulate the necessary changes to the way we train and develop this corps to ensure we’re enhancing those common core competencies and posturing for evolving needs in the future.
Additionally, as we tackle modernization as a full Army, we on the sustainment side are thinking critically about what we’re doing with our enterprise business systems and how converging those will enable our total multi-functionality. A successful NCO is agile and ready to adapt to meet the needs of the mission, and that comes with being willing and ready to leverage changes from modernization in a given area of expertise. A multi-functional logistician, as an NCO, will possess the domain-specific expertise and unit knowledge needed to intelligently advise their commanders on any given matter which is critical for sustainment operations across echelons.
From your career perspective, how has that archetype for what an impactful multi-functional sustainment NCO looks like evolved?
This has certainly evolved a lot since I’ve been in the Army, and I think we’re now at a point where we have a complete definition of a multi-functional logistician as well as a road map for development. Now, however, there’s a greater emphasis on leadership capabilities to ensure effective, sustained performance. We understand that certain aspects of any given job are highly technical, but each will have a critical leadership component. The NCO Leadership Center of Excellence has evolved, too, as it meets that demand to manage and implement NCO professional military education.
How is the G-4 synchronized with the G-1 and Human Resources Command (HRC) to help provide both a blueprint for a successful sustainment NCO and best outline those educational opportunities necessary for talent development and management?
Importantly, we have an excellent and collaborative working relationship between ourselves and, primarily, HRC as our talent manager within each of the different logistics branches. Working alongside HRC ensures that we in the sustainment enterprise are fully aligned and can most effectively and fairly examine our talent across the board in a holistic fashion—from the staff sergeant to sergeant major level. Just like that exhaustive examination is central to any decision-making process, we need to be able to see ourselves, so to speak. With talent, we need to know what’s available and assessable to truly advocate for our Soldiers’ careers in service to the total Army. This has been discussed before, but highlighting our talent is not a new initiative. We use our “baseball cards” to highlight an individual’s talent and help to hone the entire end-to-end mentorship process on a very granular level. This guides those mentor/mentee discussions as each NCO works to identify their own talents and plot out their future goals and how they will be attained. Identifying and nurturing talent is both a grassroots and enterprise effort. To find and place talent, we need to have a solid ground truth understanding of our collective strengths, weaknesses, and development opportunities we can leverage to help every NCO manage and advance their careers.
How do we paint that clear picture of what those key developmental milestones are for sustainment NCOs? This is surely a complex process, how is the G-4 working with HRC to make this as simple as possible?
For any NCO wanting a clear picture of that path and process, it’s important to have a solid understanding of what Department of the Army Pamphlet 600-25 is saying. This is the basis for any follow-on development of your career path. There is a paradox here, though, as no two career journeys are the same, of course. You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable, to a certain extent. We want to control as much as we can about the process itself, but being ready and willing to do things outside of your comfort zone will give more clarity on the process as a whole. For example, if you’re a 92F Petroleum Supply Specialist who is used to working in the petroleum section, then one of the best things you can do for your career is to get outside of your specialty and do those career-enhancing jobs which broaden your outlook. Be a drill sergeant, a recruiter, or an instructor. Having that balance between staff operations and leadership positions will be a developmental cornerstone and speak volumes to your potential during the selection board for promotion.
What’s the most demanding aspect of being a sustainment NCO and developing within those ranks?
Especially as I look to 2025 and beyond, the hardest part is understanding that you need to have a good balance between understanding your job and your roles and responsibilities as a Soldier and understanding your job and responsibilities as they pertain to being a sustainment NCO. Finding a balance between the two yet being proficient at both—that’s a fine line to ride. I think maintaining high levels of training and certification in both my operator-specific tasks and military occupational specialty (MOS) proficiency has been a challenge throughout my Army career. I’ve worked to embrace those by having a firm understanding of sustainment doctrine and how that directly pertains to operating in the field as we posture for large-scale combat operations. Of course, NCOs become technically and tactically proficient through training center rotations and field exercises. However, reading and understanding our sustainment doctrine is foundational to that development.
Throughout your career, how far has the Army come in providing and prioritizing those critical professional development opportunities to operationalize talent management for its NCOs best?
We’ve come a long way in helping us understand what’s important to be professionally developed as an upcoming NCO. We have identified the three critical domains: institutional, operational, and self-development through doctrine. We’ve placed great emphasis on all three of those and the experiences you get while active within each. The NCO strategy from 2020 has been important, as it helped us improve the professional development system itself to best balance those three domains—meaning an NCO can adequately focus on self-development even knowing they spend an inordinate amount of time in the other two domains. Additionally, the Sergeant Major of the Army just unveiled his strategy in late 2021, which focuses on improving and NCO within the system that we designed and built through the 2020 strategy. I think we’ve come a long way in aligning our initiatives on behalf of our NCOs.
What is your mentorship philosophy up and down the formation? How has your view on mentorship changed since you enlisted?
In my experience, mentorship used to be more hands-on, where the squad leader would take the NCOs and Soldiers underneath their wing and show them what to be and what to do as they were coming up through the ranks. For example, we were always taught that education is of high importance to our career if we want to progress. We had to have some civilian education alongside our military education, and those NCOs in our squad showed us how to get that done. Now, things tend to be more technology-driven—those educational opportunities are more accessible now. From this, the new mentorship dynamic leans more toward watching and learning. Simply pay attention to what your NCO role models are doing, and you may have a clear path forward. While there are still ample NCO professional development sessions that teach NCOs what they need to do to advance their career via mentorship, the need to be so direct isn’t as strong because access is easier. We often talk about coaching, teaching, and mentoring, where we simply set aside time to talk informally about the steps somebody can take to advance their career, and so much of that can and should be built into that mentor/mentee relationship.
Do you think there’s a good balance right now between those old school and new school mentorship approaches, or are things now skewed toward the latter?
I think things tend to be skewed toward the latter, but that’s neither an inherently good nor bad thing. I think we’ll return to a point of balance, perhaps as deployments decrease and our operational tempo demands are reduced subtly. This will provide an appropriate time for us to get back to the fundamentals relevant to a more direct mentorship approach I mentioned earlier, wherever it makes sense. Ideally, squad leaders are afforded the time necessary to sit down and talk to their Soldiers about the things that are changing the Army. Soldiers need to have a clear understanding of how they can be agile and adaptive to succeed and enable the Army of the future. Any given squad leader can’t teach their Soldiers everything, but they can certainly play a critical role in those self-development efforts.
Moving forward, what will be foundational to those efforts which support sustainment NCO development and career management?
As we move forward toward a multi-domain operations capable and ready force in 2028 and 2035, respectively, it’s important that not only NCOs operate both as Soldiers and officers. The six common core competencies I mentioned earlier will remain our central focus, as that’s how you gain a clear understanding of NCO assessment and development. If we as an Army ensure our NCOs can progress accordingly across those six areas, then we are on the right track. Continuing to focus on those six areas, like we have on our baseball cards and how we mentor, will help us refine those processes that support our development of the sustainment NCO corps as multi-functional logisticians.
Lt. Col. Altwan Whitfield is currently serving as the deputy director of the Army G-4’s Logistics Initiatives Group. Previously, she was the commander of the 841st Transportation Battalion at Surface Deployment and Distribution Command. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Special Education from Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and a master’s degree in Public Administration with a concentration in Education from Troy University in Montgomery, Alabama.
Mike Crozier is a strategic analyst in the Army G-4’s Logistics Initiatives Group. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Georgetown University.
This article was published in the Winter 2022 issue of Army Sustainment.