‘Leader development at every level really makes us who we are'
Leader development is key to the ongoing success of the Army, said the Army’s new chief of staff during a visit April 19 with troops from United States Division – Center at Camp Liberty, Iraq.
"I’m personally involved with leader development at every level, because that’s what really makes us who we are," Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said. "I like to describe the Army as the nation’s pre-eminent leadership experience."
As part of that, said Dempsey, the Army is currently reviewing the promotion process to ensure that only the most qualified move on to the next rank.
"We’re promoting 95 to 98 percent of captains to major, 93 or 95 percent of majors to lieutenant colonel," he said.
Adding, "We’re not really separating out the true high performers that we should aspire to have. We shouldn’t be satisfied that 98 percent of captains are being promoted to major, because 98 percent of captains don’t deserve to be promoted to major. Statistically, that’s an infeasible percentage. And we’ve got to do the same thing on the noncommissioned officer side."
And expanding on the capabilities and education of soldiers – especially noncommissioned officers – is one of the things Dempsey said he and his staff are focusing on.
"The new sergeant major of the Army, Sergeant Major Ray Chandler, has a couple things he’s working on to do a couple of things for the NCO corps," Dempsey said. "One of them is to give you the same kind of developmental opportunities that heretofore were really [the realm of] the officer corps."
Dempsey said this means a central selection board for sergeants major.
However, the role and overall abilities of the NCO corps is something Dempsey said he doesn’t want to see change.
"I’ve watched, personally, the noncommissioned officer corps grow into what it is today," he said. "My first noncommissioned officer in the Army was an alcoholic and when he picked me up at the train station in Germany to go up and grab my [gear], he stopped and had six beers at a guest house. I’m not making that up. Here I am, a 22-year-old second lieutenant thinking: ‘Is this what [the Army] is?’ I didn’t even know how to react to it."
NCOs now, Dempsey said, are leaps and bounds beyond that first encounter.
"The noncommissioned officer corps now, is better trained, but it’s not focused just on training," he said. "They’re better educated. They’re more versatile. They’re developing [future NCOs] differently and we have to keep that up."
Maintaining that is part of Dempsey’s plan for the future of the Army, which also includes keeping up the experience level from Afghanistan and Iraq.
"We’ve got to preserve that Warrior Ethos," he said. "That’s who we are."
That includes maintaining that ethos as the drawdown in Iraq continues.
"I think we have to make sure that as the demand goes down in Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ve got to maintain what it means to be a soldier, what it means to be a professional and what it means to be a warrior," Dempsey said.
That also includes going across all components of the Army.
"And, that’s active, guard and reserve," Dempsey said. "We’ve got to preserve this bond that has developed among active, guard and reserve that I promise you wasn’t there 15 years ago."
And in the end, for Dempsey, it all comes back to leadership.
"I believe the Army should celebrate the fact that it is the nation’s pre-eminent leadership experience," he said. "We’ve got to push ourselves to understand how we develop leaders."