FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (March 20, 2013) -- Senior noncommissioned officers from U.S. Army North (Fifth Army) gathered recently at the command's Main Conference Room in the historic Quadrangle here, to discuss the importance of being directly involved in the professional development of their Soldiers.

Teaching, coaching and mentoring are not new concepts for Army North's enlisted leaders; however, as the Army continues to adjust following the completion of its mission in Iraq and the winding down of operations in Afghanistan, Army leaders are emphasizing the importance of standards and integrated training.

Much of the responsibility for ensuring those standards are known, understood and met will, naturally, fall upon noncommissioned officers, known as NCOs, the "backbone of the Army."

"Normally, the information flow is more than adequate to keep noncommissioned officers informed," said Command Sgt. Maj. Hu Rhodes, Army North, who gathered his senior enlisted leaders to discuss the way ahead. "However, there is so much going on; we need to take the time to add fidelity."

The growth of the profession, of being a Soldier, is greatly enhanced when leaders interact with one another, said Rhodes, adding that Lt. Gen. William Caldwell IV, the commanding general of Army North and senior commander of Fort Sam Houston and Camp Bullis, talks to him every day about the command's noncommissioned officers and their importance to the command in accomplishing its missions.

Holding leaders accountable for "growing" their Soldiers professionally is the key to success, said Command Sgt. Maj. Alvin Chaplin Sr., Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, Army North. And regardless of the methodology used, he said direct interaction is essential.

"You can't beat engaged leaders," said Chaplin. "It is important that leaders guide their Soldiers and keep them informed on what is happening in our Army."

Rhodes' spoke with his enlisted leaders about two of the priorities as given by Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler III: the Army Career Tracker and the Noncommissioned Officer Efficiency Report, or NCOER. He shared his insights on the proposed changes and the importance of understanding the SMA's guidance and intent.

The Army Career Tracker is a Web-based leader development tool deployed in 2011. It integrates training, assignment history, formal/informal education paths and is accessed through Army Knowledge Online. Soldiers can use the ACT to map out their career paths to maximize their growth potential and perform career-development related activities, according to information on

"The expectations are to know what the career tracker is and what it can do," Rhodes said. "You must use this tool and develop a plan for yourself, and you must train your Soldiers to become proficient with it as well."

Along with familiarity with the tracker, another "key to success" is staying up to date on the Structured Self-Development, SSD, courses, which is Web-based training that enhances previously acquired skills, knowledge, behaviors and experience. One of the key points of significance in the Structured Self-Development is that it is also a prerequisite for attending noncommissioned officer education system courses.

Although it can prove challenging to access the SSD courses at times, and it is a matter of dedicating the time to the online training, it is vital for Soldiers to persevere and complete it.

The second item Rhodes discussed involved the proposed changes to the noncommissioned officer evaluation report, which are intended to align the document with current leadership doctrine and to reduce the potential for "inflation" of the evaluations themselves.

The proposed changes include a requirement for the senior rater to counsel the rated individual twice during the rating period. In this, the senior rater's focus is on the rated NCO's potential. The rater would continue to focus on the individual's performance. The reviewer would focus on the accuracy of the content and whether the written bullets match the blocks as marked.

He also spoke of how the proposed changes would vary at the different ranks. For sergeants and staff sergeants, there would be only two check blocks under leader attributes -- meet or does not meet. For sergeant first class, master sergeant and first sergeant, it will be the same but the senior rater profile will be included, he said. And for sergeant major and command sergeant major, there will be no blocks, only space for narrative.

It is imperative for all NCOs to "get on board," said Rhodes, adding that "the requirements have been codified and the enlisted leaders must get their Soldiers intimately involved with the systems.

Many of the gathered senior leaders served in the early 1990s, when the Army also readjusted its focus and force structure following Desert Storm and Desert Shield.

One of the gathered leaders, 1st Sgt. Anthony Walls, Headquarters Support Company, HHBN, Army North, said it is important that Soldiers understand the necessity of pending changes and that he believes it will serve as a "reality check" for some.

"There are no surprises coming with these changes," said Walls, "and while the systems take time to implement, you should devote the time to getting them done."

He said it was good to hear Rhodes' guidance on ensuring Soldiers understand the importance of doing the right things and in keeping themselves up-to-date.

"I'm very proud of us and what we do," said Rhodes. "We are getting the missions done -- and the missions are important to the American people."

Rhodes said it is vital that Soldiers embrace their chosen profession.

"I want them to realize that if we don't treat the Army as a profession," he said, "it will be one in name only."