FORT KNOX, Ky. — A team of testers and evaluators are beginning to arrive back to Fort Knox this week in preparation for the start of this year’s U.S. Army Command Assessment Program season.

Task force preparing for changes to Command Assessment Program 2022 season at Fort Knox
Noncommissioned officers from various Army basic training installations work on setting up the indoor Army Combat Fitness Test in Natcher Physical Fitness Center that candidates will take during the 2022 Command Assessment Program season. Graders are expected to test as many as 2,000 candidates participating in six different programs from the first week of October through the third week of November. (Photo Credit: Eric Pilgrim, Fort Knox News) VIEW ORIGINAL

Since the kickoff of its first season Jan. 23, 2020, when mid-career commissioned officers participated in the Battalion Commander Assessment Program at Fort Knox, the revolutionary talent management continues to evolve.

This year is proving no different.

The biggest and most visible change almost seems serendipitous. This year’s candidates will be some of the Army’s first Soldiers to compete for record in the new Army Combat Fitness Test. Up until October 1, tests have been conducted only for familiarity and preparation.

“For the first time, now that the Army has approved of the Army Combat Fitness Test, we are going to give the ACFT as our fitness test of record,” said Col. Townley Hedrick, Army Talent Management Task Force – CAP deputy chief of staff. “In the past, we used the old [Army Physical Fitness Test].”

An action officer with the Task Force, Capt. Gregory Rader, last month said candidates being the first to test for record on the ACFT is significant.

“We see this as a major aspect of ‘leading from the front’ for these potential battalion and brigade commanders,” said Rader. “Each of their scores coming out of here matters, whether they pass or fail, because it’s going into their records.”

Task force preparing for changes to Command Assessment Program 2022 season at Fort Knox
Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Randy George on Aug. 24, 2022, presents Sgt. 1st Class Alex Light of U.S. Army Recruiting Command George’s commander coin for Light’s work in helping set up the Leader Reaction Exercise for the upcoming Command Assessment Program. Started in January 2021, four assessment iterations will be conducted at Fort Knox beginning in October. George accredited this year’s program. (Photo Credit: Eric Pilgrim, Fort Knox News) VIEW ORIGINAL

When Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Randy George visited Fort Knox on Aug. 24 to validate this year’s assessment program, he told Talent Management Task Force leaders that the great takeaway for the entire program is that they must ensure the assessments are fair for all candidates.

Army Maj. Karl Buckingham, officer in charge of the height and weight test as well as the fitness test, said fairness in the ACFT will be accomplished in three ways. The first is conducting the test indoors — at Natcher Physical Fitness Center.

“We will have to get about 1,800 to 2,000 candidates come through the PT tests in nearly two months,” said Buckingham. “So, Number 1 is I can’t afford to have a bad weather day and have to cancel the PT test; and Number 2, it’s all about being fair.

“The very first candidate who comes through and the very last candidate who comes through will have the exact same experience.”

To ensure fairness in grading, the Task Force has assembled a team of some of the most experienced testers from all around the Army: drill sergeants. Many have already been conducting the ACFT at basic training for the last two years.

One of those, 1st Sgt. Vernisa Pope, came from Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where she serves as the first sergeant of a basic training company. As noncommissioned officer in charge of CAP testing, she explained that one of the changes in the new fitness test could prove difficult for some candidates: testers are no longer required to read instructions and provide demonstrations for each of the testing stations.

“For those candidates who did not take advantage of that two-year testing window, they may see some challenges if they aren’t familiar with the instructions and how to properly perform each station,” said Pope.

Pope and Buckingham will have about 65 Soldiers assisting in conducting the height and weight and ACFT for the candidates.

Task force preparing for changes to Command Assessment Program 2022 season at Fort Knox
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – 1st Sgt. Vernisa Pope (left), NCOIC of the ACFT for this year’s CAPs, directs other NCOs where signs and equipment need to be staged at Natcher Physical Fitness Center. As a first sergeant of a basic training company at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Pope said she and her team of NCOs are fully prepared to conduct the ACFT for candidates. (Photo Credit: Eric Pilgrim, Fort Knox News) VIEW ORIGINAL
Task force preparing for changes to Command Assessment Program 2022 season at Fort Knox
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Pope said Soldiers from Fort Knox are welcome to test at the ACFT stations prior to the start of the CAP season. (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Capt. Gregory Rader, ATMTF) VIEW ORIGINAL

Hedrick said adaptive changes are woven into the fabric of CAP.

For instance, last year they changed when the fitness test was conducted. Prior to that, the test was taken first thing in the morning of Day 1 during each four-day iteration. Last year, candidates took the test in the afternoon of the third day.

“We made adjustments based on candidate feedback,” said Hedrick. “Some of the folks coming from overseas and different time zones weren’t given much acclimation time to get their body clocks reset, so we’ve pushed it to the third day.”

Another change, which came about after the first season, added layers of analysis by more than one operational psychologist rather than relying on only one. Hedrick said they found that reliance on only one operational psychologist created a potential for bias.

“There are now three layers of operational psychologists who have to brief their supervisor, and brief the team lead, and brief the head operational psychologist, who then briefs the panel,” said Hedrick. “They have to focus on the facts of their assessment. You can’t be enamored by a great personality now because the operational psychologist who briefs the panel has never met the candidate.”

One of this year’s changes again involves feedback. This time it involves candidates receiving written feedback from the evaluators.

“There’s been a desire for it,” said Hedrick. “A lot of the candidates coming through have said they learned a lot about themselves, so they want more developmental feedback.”

The plan will include an initial feedback scorecard based on a candidate’s ratings compared to historic data only.

“It’s a snapshot of how they’ve done in each event because the CAP is still going on when they leave,” said Hedrick. “They will depart with a one-page scorecard reflecting their scores compared to previous CAPs.”

Hedrick said previous CAPs ended with developmental feedback briefings from an operational psychologist, during which candidates could jot notes on whatever they learned about themselves. However, the CAP didn’t provide them anything in writing.

“This will actually show them in a percentile, ‘Hey, on the writing test I was in the 80th percentile compared with historic CAP classes,’” said Hedrick.

Hedrick explained that in conjunction with the scorecard, the historic after-action review has also changed. In the past, they conducted one mass AAR with an entire cohort.

“Up to 70 a day we put into one room,” said Hedrick, “and they did the AAR in a large auditorium.”

During this season, candidates will participate in smaller one-hour sessions that will provide greater specificity of feedback and interaction, conducted after the individual feedback counseling.

“We’re going to bring them back one small cohort at a time — up to eight candidates at once,” said Hedrick. “We think that will be a much more personal and close-in after-action review to talk about CAP and what they’ve learned about themselves.

“We want to ensure they’re taking away as much from the processes as they should be.”

Hedrick, who has been with the Task Force since its inception, said every year provides another chance to tweak the process.

“Going into this at the beginning, we had a pretty good flow of assessments over four days that were pretty accurate in providing complementary feedback to what raters and senior raters see about us,” said Hedrick. “But we’ve also been able to make little tweaks that have tightened things up to deliver a better process to the candidates.”

The successes in the unique program continue to grow, and more people are taking notice. Hedrick said the U.S. Marine Corps and Air Force have sent candidates to test the assessments process in the hopes of creating their own program.

Functional areas have also gotten on board. During this year, Hedrick’s team will provide assessments to six different programs: the Battalion Commander’s, Colonels Command, and Sergeant Major Assessment programs; and programs for O-6 chaplains and medical officers, and for acquisition military and civilian officers in the grades of 0-5/GS-14 and 0-6/GS-15. Functional areas 49 and 50 are also interested in a pilot program, and National Guard and Reserves have participated.

Military leaders from some other nations are also beginning to take notice.

“Colonel O’Brien, our CAP chief of staff, has made a trip to the [United Kingdom} and Australia, and the UK just ran a one-star general CAP. He went over in May and consulted as they ran their first one,” said Hedrick. “When you come across something that you realize has some merit and gets after finding counterproductive and ineffective leadership that sometimes our raters and senior raters don’t identify, everybody recognizes the value of it.”