What Talent Management Could Look Like

Fort Bragg, North Carolina

The morning sun beat down on Staff Sergeant Alex Morgan as he hurried down the sidewalk towards the battalion classroom. He was running late and did not  want to be noticed by the Command Sergeant Major. As he snuck into the room, his First Sergeant glared at him. The Command Sergeant Major was introducing the guest speaker, Mr. Evan Thompson, a civilian from Human Resources Command. They were rolling out a new assignment program soon, something called IC4AP—Individual Career Control and Commander’s Choice Assignment Program. “The goal of IC4AP is to provide individuals greater control of their career while allowing commanders increased freedom in choosing who is on their team,” Mr. Thompson began.

It is just like the Assignment Satisfaction Key, Alex thought. A few years ago, he tried to get back to Fort Lewis and set it as his top choice in that system. He studied for and passed the Defense Language Proficiency Test for Korean, hoping to get assigned to an Asia regionally aligned force on Fort Lewis. Despite this, he still received orders to Fort Bragg, which wasn’t even one of his choices. He could still hear his wife’s dismay, “The Atlantic Ocean is nothing like the Pacific Ocean.”

“The history behind this program started with the Force of the Future from the Future Force Report, which was part of Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s personnel reforms. Then Tim Kane released his Blueprint for Personnel Reform. It took five years for the next Defense Secretary, James Mattis, to push these changes through the Pentagon bureaucracy and get the software developed to implement it. And now we have a six-month trial period planned,” explained Mr. Thompson.

A dozen or so slides covered how to log on to the website, update a profile, and search and apply for available positions. “You can only apply for one position at a time,” Mr. Thompson warned. “Make sure it is the one you want.” He continued, “Only soldiers with more than thirty months on station will be allowed access to the system. Once you choose your new assignment you will PCS within 90-180 days, so be ready to move.”

“How soon after logging in will we know if we are approved for the PCS?” asked somebody in the front row.

“After the initial one-week opening, Human Resources Command has a week to validate and send records to the unit commander. The commander must choose their desired candidate within five business days,” responded Mr. Thompson.

“So theoretically, you are saying I could find out less than 60 days before I need to report to my new duty station?”

“Yes. Now this is not ideal, but it is part of the trial. The plan is to give six-to-twelve months once the the system is fully rolled out.”

Command Sergeant Major Torres thanked Mr. Thompson and presented him with a battalion coin. He pulled the he battalion’s Noncommissioned Officers aside. “This is the first time I’ve seen individuals have any real say in their career. A few years ago I volunteered for recruiting duty, and the Army sent me to Drill Sergeant School. Take the opportunity if you want—it may be the only time you can choose your next duty station."

Driving home later that evening, Alex thought he would give it a chance. Over dinner, he told his wife there might be a chance to get home, back to  Fort Lewis. She seemed happy. Fort Bragg was greener than Fort Hood, but she missed seeing Mount Rainier.

That night, Alex inserted his Common Access Card into his home computer and logged on to the IC4AP website. Before he could see open positions, he had to validate his personnel records. The first screen looked like a board file—a copy of his Enlisted Record Brief, Noncommissioned Officer Evaluation Reports, awards, and training certificates. Next he had to answer some questions about the classes he took for his undergraduate degree. On the following screen was a list of all the countries he had visited. His deployment to Iraq automatically populated, as did his year-long tour in South Korea. Now it was time to access the  open positions in his career field.

Selecting Fort Lewis from the drop-down menu revealed one open position, a platoon sergeant in a Composite Truck Company, one grade level above his current position and rank. “Honey,” he called down the hallway, “I don’t think we’re getting Fort Lewis, the only open position is for a platoon sergeant.” He knew he could apply for a position one grade level up or down, but didn’t think he could compete against a Sergeant First Class. “I’d love for you to just try honey—you never know,” was her reply. He selected the position and clicked apply.

Fort Knox, Kentucky

At another Army base, Master Sergeant Ballard put his coffee mug down and inserted his Common Access Card into his keyboard. He was just over one year from retirement, and he had to learn a completely new system. His replacement was ready to take over, and he should be coasting, spending more time preparing for his retirement than at work. Instead, he was responsible for managing the new IC4AP program for the Transportation Career Management Field.

The vacancies at Fort Hood were the first personnel requirements on his list for the morning The first assignment he had to fill is a Distribution Platoon Sergeant in a Forward Support Company. Only two noncommissioned officers had applied. Their records met the prerequisites, and they both seemed like good candidates for the position. To submit a package to the commander, he had to find three more eligible candidates. He opened the legacy personnel systems and found three other sergeants. He imported their records, and then sent all five to the unit commander at Fort Hood. The rest of the morning was more of the same. Not many soldiers  were volunteering for Fort Hood assignments, which was not a good start for IC4AP.

Later that day, while eating lunch at the Food Court in the Post Exchange, his branch chief asked him how it was going. “Not well. The new system is forcing me to place people in the Commander’s queue without them opting in first. I thought this was to give people a say, otherwise it’s just like the old way, forcing people to move.”

“Yes, but some people need a push to get out of their comfort zone” the branch chief replied.

Master Sergeant Ballard thought of his old Command Sergeant Major who moved him to battalion staff right before a deployment, though he wanted to stay with his platoon and deploy again as their Platoon Sergeant. While on staff, he gained a greater appreciation for how the battalion headquarters works, learning why some things seemed so short-notice and unplanned, and he also increased his Microsoft Office skills. The move also contributed to his promotion to Master Sergeant, as he was selected toward the end of the deployment. “Well, I’ll be glad when the trial is over—I’ll be six months closer to retirement.”

Back from lunch, the vacancies at Fort Lewis were next on his list. The first position, a platoon sergeant in a Composite Truck Company, had seven applicants. He now had to trim the list to five. First applicant was in a Composite Truck Company at Fort Carson and had been a platoon sergeant for two years. He denied the assignment, and sent an explanatory email.

SFC Edwards,

Upon reviewing your record, I see you already have two years as a platoon sergeant with no broadening experience. I am denying your request and recommend you consult the career map to find a more suitable assignment.

MSG James L. Ballard
Career Development NCO

Next up was Staff Sergeant Ruiz, currently the 18th Airborne Corps Commanding General’s Driver. He had been driving the general since he was promoted to Staff Sergeant. Before that he was a Heavy Wheeled Vehicle Operator. He had never led soldiers. This warranted another rejection email:

SSG Ruiz,

Upon reviewing your record, I see you have no leadership time as a NCO. I cannot validate you as a candidate for platoon sergeant without the requisite leadership experience. Please review your career map and choose a position where you will be leading Soldiers.

MSG James L. Ballard
Career Development NCO

Next in the queue was Staff Sergeant Morgan—currently a section sergeant in an Airborne Brigade Combat Team at Fort Bragg. Before that, he was a squad leader in an Artillery Battalion Forward Support Company at Fort Hood. He could benefit from being a platoon sergeant in a Composite Truck Company. Another option was Sergeant First Class Jerome, finishing up his Drill Sergeant duty at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Sergeant First Class Bolton, a Brigade Operations Noncommissioned Officer, needs some platoon sergeant time. Another candidate, Sergeant First Class Franklin, is ending his Equal Opportunity Advisor assignment. He had a year as a platoon sergeant when he was a Staff Sergeant. The last candidate was Sergeant First Class Dent, currently in a Forward Support Company in a Stryker Brigade Combat Team at Fort Carson. None of the applicants had been assigned to a Transportation Company. All five seemed like good candidates, and it would benefit their careers. Master Sergeant Ballard sent the records to the unit commander and continued to the next position in the queue.

Fort Lewis, Washington

Captain Turner was apprehensive about the new assignment program. Despite his Brigade Commander’s optimism about IC4AP, he only saw the downsides. He had fought to keep Sergeant First Class Jones as his Load Handling System Platoon Sergeant. Sergeant First Class Jones had spent the last ten years on Fort Lewis. He knew all the right people, and it seemed he could overcome any difficulty. After the last field problem, they had trouble turning in dunnage after a week on the rifle range. Sergeant First Class Jones made one phone call and was able to complete the turn-in with no issue. With a rotation to Korea coming up, he wanted Sergeant First Class Jones to stay on the team. But, for the new program to work, positions had to be open. Sergeant First Class Jones was slated to become a Senior Leaders Course Instructor at Fort Lee, Virginia, and Captain Turner was going to get a new platoon sergeant three months before deploying.

The first four records all looked like solid candidates, but none of them seemed especially outstanding to Captain Turner. Would a drill sergeant switch his mentality quick enough? Having a former Equal Opportunity Advisor could benefit the company. Someone with platoon sergeant time would have a shorter time adapting. He had a tough decision to make. He almost didn’t open the last record—a Staff Sergeant. There were Staff Sergeants in the platoon that could be platoon sergeants, why move someone here? But, the system would not let him select anyone without viewing all the records,so he opened it—here was a hard charger. He already a Bachelor’s degree and he was fluent in Korean. “Top!” Captain Turner called down the hallway. First Sergeant Torres came into office, “Yes, sir?”

“Look at these records. What do you think?” First Sergeant Torres examined the records. To him, they all looked like solid candidates. One was a drill sergeant, like he was. The staff sergeant looked good, had he been a sergeant first class there would be no hesitation.

“Sir, Staff Sergeant Morgan is in my old buddy’s company. We were squad leaders in 96th Trans together. I’ll reach out and see what he has to say.”

Walking into the company after the Battalion Commander’s morning huddle, Captain Turner was greeted by First Sergeant Torres. “Sir, Sergeant First Class Johnson’s evaluation is in your Enlisted Evaluation System inbox for signature. Please sign it this morning so it can be submitted. It is a week from being late. Our qualification range request was approved. And my buddy said we should jump on Staff Sergeant Morgan. He’d hate to lose him, but it would be a great career move for him.”

“Thanks, Top.” Captain Turner pivoted and entered his office. He signed the Evaluation Report, longing for the a simple written signature. He then logged onto IC4AP, selected SSG Alex Morgan, and clicked "accept."

Camp Hovey, Korea

After a trip inspecting his company’s living quarters, Captain Turner returned to his office. He logged onto his computer, hoping for an empty inbox, so he could get some sleep. He scanned through the five unread. Nothing pressing, but one from a Branch Chief caught his eye.

CPT Turner,

If you could take a few minutes to reflect on the IC4AP, it would be greatly appreciated. Your feedback will be used to improve the system. <https://qasurvey.mil/FFasDDf395a>

LTC Brian A. Smith
Program Manager—IC4AP

In his opinion, IC4AP was a resounding success. He liked having the ability to choose his own team. Having a solider fluent in Korean as well as a Korean short tour had proved invaluable. He was glad to have selected the Staff Sergeant for the team. At the port in Korea, the contract laborers had not been following the Army’s plan, and they were just moving equipment off their ship. With Staff Sergeant Morgan’s help, his company had been the first to consolidate their equipment and move out of the staging area. Staff Sergeant Morgan had helped during the deployment planning process, explaining the unique planning characteristics to Korean operators. Driving in Korea was extremely difficult, but Staff Sergeant Morgan talked to each platoon about the differences between driving in the United States and Korea, and unlike some of the other companies there were no accidents in his company during the deployment.  

Glad to have had the opportunity to choose his platoon sergeant, Captain Turner clicked on the link.

Harlan Kefalas is an enlisted paratrooper in the United States Army and is passionate about improving the NCO Corps. He has deployed to Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan and has also served as a drill sergeant. He works at innovating in the Department of Defense from within as part of the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum. The views expressed are the author's alone and do not reflect those of the U.S. Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

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Header Image: U.S. Army Photo from the "Army Values" website.