Human dimension: Army personnel, health systems have to change

Sunday, February 01, 2015

The Army needs to make serious institutional changes in order to retain and develop the best soldiers, the Army’s under secretary said.

"We have a system in place that is archaic, that now works against us rather than helping us," Under Secretary of the Army Brad Carson told a panel at the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Symposium.

The topic of the forum was the human dimension.

Other speakers included Lt. Gen. Robert B. Brown, commanding general, Army Combined Arms Center; Lt. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho, Army surgeon general and commanding general, Army Medical Command; and Maj. Gen. Eric P. Wendt, commanding general, U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center.

The system, with the "up or out" way of doing business, has been "universally criticized" by "every single person who has looked at it," Carson said.

"You will nary find a single source anywhere that defends the current way we run our personnel system," he said.

Adding, "That system has to change."

The promotion system should focus on competencies, while soldiers should be matched to desired assignments, he said.

Members should also be able to make seamless transitions, he said, between the active component and reserve component.

"We have incredible turnover at the highest levels of the U.S. Army," he said, noting that a missing component is the "broadening experience" that allows people to excel.

The evaluation system has been roundly criticized and doesn’t paint the picture of the whole soldier, Carson said.

In order to strengthen the human dimension, it is important that the Army captures "granular data," which would allow the Army to use the talents, education and skills of a soldier, for the development of that person and to strengthen the mission.

The Officer Evaluation Report, or OER, is "a source of long-standing criticism from everyone in the Army" and is "filled with inflated language, only capturing a narrow band of competencies," he said.

He said imagine going to the large, successful companies that are attracting former soldiers and telling them they should handle talent the way the Army does, he said.

Carson said those companies could trade an "amazingly flexible personnel system," in favor of the Army’s way of doing business by grading by year group over time, kicking people out after they are passed over for promotion twice, giving employees very little say in their next move, and having no individualized career path.

"Imagine we went to them and said: ‘You should trade your system for that one.’ Well, they would say ‘no’ to that. We should say ‘no’ to it as well," Carson said

Complex world

Brown talked about the increasingly complex environment of the world and why the human dimension is more important than ever.

For the last dozen years or so, the Army has said it needed people who are "comfortable" in conditions of "ambiguity and uncertainty," Brown said.

A complex world demands more, Brown said.

"If you want to win in a complex world, ‘comfortable’ isn’t good enough. We need individuals who improve and thrive in conditions of uncertainty and chaos," he noted.

The enemies of the United States are not building armies or training to fight against America’s military might, he said.

"Not a lot of tanks are being built to fight against our strengths, but there are a lot of folks building to fight against our weaknesses and watching and looking at how they can adapt and find the weakness," he said.

"There is no doubt that the enemy is native to an ambiguous environment," he said.

A soldier must be able to make split-second decisions on whether to use force.

Now, instead of doing what is right when no one is watching, the Army must do what is right as the entire world watches, he said.

Optimizing the human performance is critical in these changing and complex times, he said.

While the best equipment is needed, it cannot adapt like a soldier can, Brown said.

The Army profession and ethics are more important than ever, he said, as soldiers face an enemy who does not follow the Geneva Convention.

Needed to strengthen the human dimension are institutional agility, executing realistic training that replicates the complexity of the world, and the ability to out think the adversary and figure a way out of complex situations, he said.

Healthy body, mind

Another key in optimizing human performance is ensuring a healthy brain with mental agility, Horoho said.

Brain health is the "new frontier," Horoho noted.

"It’s unknown how powerful our Army can be if we start out with a healthy brain, and we take the best from industry and academia and from our Army and training. I think that’s the power that we’re going to really see with optimizing soldier performance," she said.

The Army is looking at what the physical standards should be for each military occupational specialty for a soldier based on the ability to do that mission in any type of environment, Horoho said.

"That is going to feed the direction that we’ll go with placing the right soldiers in those positions," she said.

Horoho highlighted the Performance Triad of proper sleep, nutrition and exercise in enhancing soldier performance and in executing the mission.

Food, sleep and nutrition help the body and the mind, she said.

"We are an Army that is continually learning, continually wanting to adapt and to be a step ahead of our enemies, so as they are learning and adapting, we got to have that cognitive advantage," she said.

Building rapport

The Special Warfare Center and School looks for soldiers who have a mixture of cognitive skills and character traits including courage, responsibility, professionalism, adaptability, and the ability to build rapport, Wendt said.

"Rapport goes to the heart, in our minds, of the human dimension and it goes to our ability with the language and with culture, where we really view those as being almost synonymous with weapons systems," he said.

The ability to build, gain, and maintain rapport is critical, he said.

"We don’t have tanks," he noted.

"Our way of doing business is to interact with people to get to know them, to get to understand them, and understand what their interests are, and then find out where we can have common ground and then push forward," he said.

Speaking the language of an area of strategic importance, and even embedding into a foreign army as a member of that force are other ways to expand the human dimension, he said.

In a pilot program next year, special operators will join up with foreign militaries, Wendt said.

"We’ll be going out and they’ll be embedding not as LNOs (liaison officers), but as position-holding members in those countries," he said.