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NCOs, stay in your lane--the Army needs you there. (Interview).

Sergeant Major of the Army Jack L. Tilley

Army Staff at the Pentagon

Q. NCOs play what role and have what responsibilities in the Transformation of the Army?

A. The Army's Transformation encompasses far more than just the formation of the IBCT [initial brigade combat team] at Fort Lewis, Washington. The Army's Transformation involves the entire officer, NCO and warrant officer education systems, the integration of the Army and Secretary of the Army staffs--just about every aspect of the Army.

But as far as the NCOs down in the units are concerned, they will have the same role and responsibilities in the transformed Army. The equipment and unit organization might change and technology will be more advanced, but they still must focus on the basics and stay focused on their jobs.

As a sergeant in the Army, I've worked with seven different tanks. That didn't change my leadership style, techniques of developing people or how I fulfilled my responsibilities to soldiers and the unit--just my equipment changed. Now education-wise, some things may change, but that is based on technology.

The NCO needs to "stay in his lane." He must understand the basics of soldiering, know his MOS [military occupational specialty]; lead, counsel and train his soldiers; enforce all standards; and live the Army values-be the best at what he does. In war, there is no "Second Place" for the NCO and his soldiers. That's the NCO's focus during transformation.

Q. The Army education system for officers, NCOs and warrant officers is transforming with the Chief of Staff's new Leader Development Campaign Plan. Although the redesign of the NCOES is not final, why are we redesigning NCOES and what can you tell us about the redesign?

A. We surveyed some 34,000 NCOs about the NCOES and what we needed to improve to better develop NCOs. Late this spring, we will finalize the plan and release the details of the redesign.

The NCOES that I went through was developed in the mid-1970s, so it's time to transform our education system. We are taking a look at all NCOES courses and revamping them to ensure that what the NCO needs to know is in the right course at the right time in his career.

Basically, we are looking at distance learning for the common core information, which would allow soldiers to stay in their units longer. So for courses like BNCOC [basic NCO course] and ANCOC [advanced NCO course], students would learn the common core subjects via distance learning before they came to the resident courses.

We are not adding any distance learning to PLDC [primary leadership development course]. Young soldiers need to come on site and interact with each other and their instructors to learn leadership skills.

But we are adding some financial planning to PLDC, so our future leaders can manage their finances and invest for the future. In BNCOC and ANCOC, we are going to educate NCOs about their retirement benefits--let them know what they can expect before they retire.

We are slipping the Sergeants Major Academy to earlier in an NCO's career. Right now, the average for attendance is more than 20 years of service. We want to bring that down to about 17 years. NCOs need to know some things earlier in their careers. That's the same reason we are taking some information in the Battle Staff and First Sergeant Courses and moving it down into BNCOC and ANCOC.

One of the things people don't realize is the civilian education level of the NCO Corps has gone up considerably. About 20 years ago, the average education level was a high school diploma. Today, the average education level of the NCO is probably at least an associate's degree...many have more education. A degree is not a requirement, but because of the national emphasis on education, NCOs today are more highly educated.

So, we are developing the Army University Access Online. This is a $500,000,000 program that gives soldiers laptops and printers for their Army distance learning requirements and to go to college. In a few years, the Army will start issuing laptops and printers to soldiers.

Right now, we have about 125,000 soldiers forward deployed in Korea, Germany and other places. We have another 75,000 soldiers deployed in operations in places such as Kosovo, Bosnia, Macedonia, even Afghanistan. This Army University Access Online program will ensure soldiers "on the ground" have the equipment they need to complete the distance learning requirements for their NCOES courses in a timely manner and continue their college education from wherever they are.

Overall, we are increasing distance learning requirements. But we need to be careful not to overload the soldier--not to overload the unit that has to give him duty time to complete distance learning requirements. The Chief of Staff of the Army agrees we have to strike a balance of distance learning and resident instruction.

Q. Do you see the Army combining or partially combining OES and NCOES course POIs [programs of instruction] wherever possible?

A. There's been a lot of discussion about that, and I'm not sure that's a good idea. Our NCO and officer corps are intertwined. Our officers complement NCOs and our NCOs complement officers. The relationship between the two is probably the best I've seen in my 33 years in the Army.

But officers and NCOs do different things. So, we don't want officers and NCOs thinking alike. NCOs must continue to think at the individual task level and officers at the collective task level. Officers plan; sergeants execute. It's good to come together in some integrated training, but our OES and NCOES need to be different so we both know where our lanes are.

The difference between our Army and the armies of other countries is our NCO Corps--the specific focus of our NCO Corps. You know, right now in Afghanistan and elsewhere, we have great political and military leaders doing a wonderful job, but the sergeant on the ground is making the difference. He is deciding whether or not to kill somebody. Active, Reserve or National Guard, our NCOs are dedicated professionals who prove that daily by making a difference in deployments around the world.

Q. What is your vision of the future soldier--do you see him highly skilled in a specific area with more narrow assignment utilization or more a generalist who receives assignment-oriented training-training only as he needs it for his next assignment?

A. I favor the multipurpose soldier--he must have general knowledge of his MOS coming out of basic training and AIT [advanced individual training] but be fully trained on the specific equipment he'll find in his first unit. Each soldier is going to have to do more.

At the same time, I think we have to be very careful not to overload soldiers while making them multipurpose. We need to ensure soldiers can be proficient in their MOS.

We have gone back to the proponents of the various MOS and asked them if their MOS are combined correctly. For example, we took the 11B (Infantryman), 11M (Fighting Vehicle Infantryman) and 11H(Heavy Antiarmor Weapons Infantryman) MOS and consolidated them into one MOS to make the infantryman multipurpose. 1lBs need to know how to fight in light units, operate Bradleys or fire TOWs [tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided missiles].

Now, it'll take five or so years to work through all the "gigs" of combining these MOS. But the consolidated MOS will give the Army more options for employing 1lBs in different places.

Q. When you consolidate MOS, how does the soldier get the training he needs when he is reassigned to a unit with different equipment?

A. The soldier will be trained on that equipment before he goes to his next unit--called "just-in-time" training. As time goes on, for example, 1lBs will have served in light infantry and then Bradley units, so they will be trained in all aspects of their MOS.

Of course, the consolidated MOS' ANCOC and BNCOC will incorporate training from the three MOS. The development of the multipurpose 1lB will take quite a while.

One issue we were concerned about was the promotion system. Soldiers in the three MOS that now make up the 1lB MOS advanced a little quicker in the separate MOS. We had to make sure the advancement for soldiers in the consolidated MOS was Ok before we consolidated those MOS.

We are looking at consolidating some CSS [combat service support] MOS ...medical MOS; some of the supply MOS; the mechanical MOS, maybe those for light-wheeled and heavy-wheeled vehicles; even some of the administrative MOS. But no decisions have been made yet.

Q. When you consolidate MOS and make the soldier multipurpose with just-in-time training, when he gets to the top ranks of his MOS, will he be prepared to train and supervise subordinates? Will he be technically and tactically competent in his MOS that encompasses a broader type and number of skill sets?

A. He's going to have challenges, but the answer is, "Yes." The senior NCO's leadership skills are basic to meeting that challenge.

I'm not trained in every MOS in the Army; I have one MOS--I'm a tanker. And I've been a tanker for a long, long time. But that doesn't mean that I can't deal with other MOS.

So it's a leadership challenge--it's technical too, but it really boils down to the leadership skills the NCO has developed as he has been selected for higher and more demanding positions.

Q. The "Stop Loss" program (not allowing soldiers in selected shortage MOSs to retire or leave the Army) was implemented in conjunction with the War on Terrorism and affects only a few MOS. Do you see the Stop Loss Program expanding?

A. That really depends on the needs the Army in the War on Terrorism. The Chief of Staff of the Army, Secretary of the Army and Secretary of Defense along with the CINCs [commanders-in-chief] determine exactly what we need to fight terrorism. You notice they did not lock everybody in the Army--just critical MOS that have shortages.

Our Reserve and National Guard soldiers also are working hard on duty for long periods. Eleven thousand National Guardsmen are working airport, installation and other homeland security projects. So, the requirements depend on how the War on Terrorism progresses.

Morale in the Army is good--I mean really good. We're fighting for the United States of America.

We just had the best pay raise in 20 years, the Army is getting 29,000 sets of privatized housing by 2007, we are improving billeting for single soldiers and spending billions of dollars on Tricare--it is a good time to be a soldier. The American people watch soldiers in Afghanistan and other places in the world on the television news and are proud of them.

Q. Army warrant officer MOS assess new WOs from the NCO Corps vice accessing them directly out of say, civilian schooling and experience. Some think that takes the most technically qualified people out of the NCO Corps. What's best for the Army?

A. I've heard discussions about that--I think the way we're doing it now is best for the Army. I don't have a problem with taking warrant officers out of the NCO Corps.

Some MOS have more limited advancement possibilities, and becoming a warrant officer gives soldiers options, provides another way for NCOs to develop and grow.

Q. As the most senior NCO in the Army, what advice would you give ambitious young NCOs who aspire to the most senior NCO positions?

A. One--don't aspire. You know, I never wanted to be the SMA [Sergeant Major of the Army]. When I was a private, I wanted to be the best private I could be so I could make specialist. Then as a specialist, I worked hard so, maybe, I could become a sergeant. I was never selected in the secondary zone for any promotion--I always was promoted in the primary zone. That's just the way it fell because of promotion slots, allocations and, maybe, because of my performance. But I was always a good soldier.

So my advice is, do your job to the best of your ability and stay in your lane of responsibility. If you are a squad leader, give 200 percent to your squad or team. Your lane of responsibility is where you are at the time...from tank commander to division sergeant major. That's all about training, discipline, motivation, attitude and taking care of soldiers and families.

In Vietnam in 1968, half the unit I was in was killed during the Tet Offensive--A Troop, 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry--the 1/4 Cav--in the 1st Infantry Division. Many good officers, NCOs and soldiers died in that surprise attack, fighting outnumbered.

My point is, NCOs must do their jobs to the best of their abilities everyday. Because when the surprise offensive comes, it's too late to teach soldiers what to do. Even at a "desk job" at the Pentagon, when a terrorist plane hits the building, it's too late to teach first aid. Don't assume the worst won't happen because it can and does, especially in our business.

If I could change one thing in my career, I'd have spent more time with my family. I've been married for 32 years, and I love my wife--she is absolutely my best friend. But I have been so focused on the Army that I didn't watch my two children grow up.

Would I have been selected for SMA if I had spent more time with my family? To tell you the truth, I don't know, and I'm not sure it matters. If I had spent more time--time that goes by so fast--with my wife and kids, I still would have been a good soldier, a good NCO. So, my final piece of advice to young NCOs is to maintain balance in your lives--be a dedicated professional, but make time for your families.

Q. What message would you like to send Field Artillery NCOs stationed around the world?

A. Stay focused and in your lane. Understand this War on Terrorism is not over. We need you and your soldiers to stay prepared to do your jobs in the next fight.

Sergeant Major Jack L. Tilley became the 12th Sergeant Major of the Army on 23 June 2000. In his previous assignment, he was the Command Sergeant Major (CSM) of Central Command, MacDill AFB, Florida. Other CSM assignments include serving at the Army Space and Missile Defense Command, Arlington, Virginia; 194th Armor Brigade, 1st Armored Division in Germany; and 1st Battalion, 10th Cavalry, Fort Knox, Kentucky. In his 33 years in the Army, he has held every key NCO leadership position: tank commander, section leader, drill sergeant, platoon sergeant, senior instructor, operations sergeant, first sergeant and CSM. He is a graduate of Airborne School, Fort Benning, Georgia, and the Master Gunner Course, Fort Knox, Kentucky, among others. He is a combat veteran of Vietnam with the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry, 1st Infantry Division.
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Title Annotation:non-commissioned officers
Author:Hollis, Patrecia Slayden
Publication:FA Journal
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2002
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