WASHINGTON (Army News Service, October 9, 2007) - Changing the way the Army selects, trains, promotes and assigns sergeants major and command sergeants major is all about flexibility and choice, officials said.

"This is a volunteer Army, and a volunteer Army requires choices," said Sgt. Maj. Michael L. Croom, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-1.

"What we're trying to do is provide more flexibility and more choices for our senior noncommissioned officers. To sustain the all-volunteer force, it's all about people," said Sgt. Maj. Croom. "We have to provide the people the best training, the best education, the best assessments, the best selections, promotion - all of those things that affect people. We have to do these things the best that we can or else we won't be able to retain folks. So, it's about taking care of people and providing opportunities for our leadership - our senior enlisted leadership."

Those greater opportunities will be seen in a number of ways. One of the centerpieces of the new policy will be the ability for the most senior NCOs to move from command sergeant major assignments to sergeant major assignments and vice versa.

This is a bold change from the past, said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston.

"What we've not done in the past is once you're appointed to the rank of command sergeant major, historically, you've stayed in that command track," said SMA Preston. "What we want to do is provide the flexibility at the battalion and the brigade level for the Army, for senior leaders who become sergeants major to be qualified to serve as command sergeants major too. This gives great flexibility and adaptability for the brigade combat team, the brigade commander, and of course the senior commands above that to get the right person in the right position at the right time - especially if you're in the middle of doing combat operations."

Allowing the most senior enlisted leaders the opportunity to move in and out of the command sergeant major program based on the needs of the Army and the desires of the Soldier will strengthen the Army as a whole, said SMA Preston.

"To be able to assign command sergeants major in a command position, but at the same time be able to move them into the institutional Army and give them those experiences, and take those experiences from the operational Army and share them with the institutional Army, across the force this is going to make the Army that much better," said SMA Preston.

While many of the changes to utilization and management are aimed at sergeants major and command sergeants major, those who will be most impacted by this change will probably be current master sergeants and sergeants first class.

"The command sergeants major and the sergeants major that are out there serving now, really, it's not going to affect them," said SMA Preston. "This is really a system that's going to affect the up and coming senior sergeants first class and the junior master sergeants."

For that reason, much of the change is aimed at the selection process for sergeant major, including a change to the selection process for the Sergeants Major Course at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas.

"We wanted to correct the challenge we have with the master sergeant grade-plate of sending master sergeant non-promotables with 18 months time in grade to the Sergeants Major Course," said Sgt. Maj. Croom. "We know that over a three-year period about 90 percent get selected for promotion, but we want to fix that and tie promotion to selection for school. This will provide greater predictability for the Soldier and the Family because we will notify the Soldier of the assignment probably about a year out, instead of how we do now - which is very short."

The current selection list is the last selection list that will choose alternates to attend the Sergeant Major Course. Additionally, Soldiers from that promotion list will be promoted across a 19-month timeline.

Future selection lists will select only those who will be promoted to attend the course. The next selection board, selecting in Fiscal Year 2008, will also have an extended promotion timeline of 17 months.

The combination of these two selection lists will provide a bench of noncommissioned officers in the most senior rank. That bench, fully formed with the graduation of the Sergeants Major Course 'Class 60' in 2010, is an essential part of new management system, said SMA Preston.

"When 'Class 60' graduates, if there are 550 senior NCOs in 'Class 60,' when they walk across the stage all the holes in the yard will be filled," SMA Preston said. "So then we will be able to take a senior NCO as they graduate and they will be promoted as they graduate, or they will be frocked, and we will then be able to plug them in behind . . . an operational sergeant major."

That class will also mark a significant change in that all of the graduates, and graduates of subsequent classes, will have to serve one year as a sergeant major before being selected for a command sergeant major position. Additionally, all of those who graduate then, and from that point forward, will already have been screened for selection and appointment to command sergeant major.

"A key feature of the change will be that we will look at the master sergeant in the future and that master sergeant will have to go through a Personnel Security Screening Program. Once the master sergeant clears that process, he or she will be eligible to be a command sergeant major or a sergeant major. We haven't done that historically, we've had a separate command sergeant major board. So now we we're selecting master sergeants to be either, or, and based off the needs of the Army, that is how they will be utilized."

All of this change will take time.

"This is a work in progress," said SMA Preston. "We're going to evolve into this. Over the next 31 months we will gradually ease in and put some things in place and it won't just be a matter of somebody flipping on a light switch at the end.

"This will continue to grow and modify in the years ahead. Right now we're probably at about an 80 to 85-percent solution on what we've got going into this system and there are a lot of things out there we don't know. As we get into this and really begin to understand the dynamics of all the different career fields out there, all of the different assignments out there where we've got sergeants majors and command sergeants majors serving in both the Army, as well as joint positions, we've got to be able to encompass all of that."

As the policy evolves, two characteristics that have often served senior NCOs well will be key to a successful transition, said SGM Croom - "flexibility and patience."

See related article, Army Changing Selection, Assignment Policy for Top NCOs.