Just as it was on his first day on the job, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville’s top priority—and top concern—remains the men and women in the ranks.
During his four-year tenure as the Army’s top general, McConville has repeatedly emphasized the importance of putting people first. From soldiers and family members to veterans and Army civilians, the Army is about people, McConville said during his Aug. 9, 2019, swearing-in ceremony.
Since that day, he has pushed initiatives to transform the way the Army selects its battalion and brigade commanders and senior enlisted leaders, better recognize and manage the talent resident in all ranks in all three components, and improve child care, health care, barracks and housing, spouse employment opportunities and permanent change-of-station moves for soldiers and their families.
“People are the Army,” McConville has said. “Without our people, we’re just a bunch of combat equipment sitting in motor pools, hangars and arms rooms.”
‘In Good Hands’
As he prepares to retire in August, McConville said there’s still work to be done, but he’s proud of what the Army has accomplished.
“It has been a tremendous honor and privilege to serve as the 40th Army chief of staff,” McConville said. “As I look at the Army I am leaving, I would say that the Army has the best leadership I’ve seen in my career, and I am confident the Army is in good hands.”
The men and women serving today are some of the country’s “best talent,” McConville said. “They want to make an impact on something bigger than themselves, and they are,” he said. “I am proud to be part of this legacy. I am proud of where the Army has come and look forward to it reaching higher levels of excellence.”
Before McConville was sworn in as the 40th Army chief of staff, the 1981 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, was the 36th vice chief of staff and the deputy Army chief of staff for personnel. A senior Army aviator who is qualified in several aircraft, including the AH-64 Apache and the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopters, he is a former commander of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and the 1st Cavalry Division’s 4th Brigade who served several combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
As an 18-year-old entering West Point, McConville said, it was difficult to imagine what his life would be like at 27, when his active-duty service obligation was up, much less envision a decadeslong career that would culminate in him leading the Army.
“I had the honor and privilege to serve with the greatest soldiers in the world,” McConville said. “I stayed because of the people.”
Driven by his care for people, McConville has left his mark on many initiatives aimed at improving their quality of life while better managing their careers and talents.
He also has remained focused on making sure the Army is ready to respond to contingencies at home and around the world while championing a sweeping transformation designed to prepare the Army for the challenges it will face in 2030, 2040 and beyond.
To illustrate the importance of people, the service released the Army People Strategy in October 2019, two months after McConville became chief of staff. The document established a new approach to managing soldiers and families, and it provided the foundation for how the service will better manage the talents of soldiers and civilian employees.
“That was kind of a guide for us to get after some of the initiatives we wanted to do,” McConville said.
The Army initiated programs such as the Battalion Command Assessment Program, the Colonels Command Assessment Program and the Sergeant Major Assessment Program, designed to better evaluate and select leaders for key positions across the force.
“We took a model where we gave future commanders a rigorous assessment before they went into command,” McConville said. The assessments, which look beyond a leader’s evaluation reports, are “pretty well set,” McConville said, and some of the lessons learned are already driving changes to leader assessments earlier in a person’s career, “helping us develop leaders at a much earlier age.”
The service also launched the Integrated Personnel and Pay System-Army (IPPS-A), an electronic, data-driven system that brings personnel, pay and talent management information into one place.
“There’s more work to be done there, but it’s the first time we’ve had all three components on one system,” McConville said, and it has the potential to enable commanders to better manage the talent in their formations.
The Army also has been “very aggressive” on recruiting, McConville said. Faced with one of the toughest recruiting environments in decades, the Army stood up the Future Soldier Preparatory Course at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, to help young people who need a little boost to meet the Army’s physical and academic standards.
It also has implemented incentive programs for soldiers who refer someone to join the Army, is boosting its recruiting force and rebooted its “Be All You Can Be” marketing campaign to connect with America’s youth.
By making people a priority, the Army was able to put resources into improving quality of life for soldiers and their families, McConville said. This includes better housing, access to quality child care, opportunities for spouse employment and smoother permanent change-of-station moves, he said. “We thought that was extremely important,” he said.
The Army also has continued to build its readiness, standing up three multidomain task forces with two more on the way, McConville said. The existing task forces, two focused on the Indo-Pacific and one on Europe, were created by the Army as joint, theater-level assets to bring together lethal and nonlethal capabilities to provide long-range precision effects like cyber, electronic warfare and intelligence, and long-range fires.
The Army also finished standing up its six security force assistance brigades; reactivated V Corps, which now has a headquarters in Poland; reactivated the 11th Airborne Division in Alaska and tasked its soldiers with becoming experts in Arctic warfare; and integrated U.S. Army Europe with U.S. Army Africa, turning it into the four-star-led U.S. Army Europe and Africa, McConville said.
At the same time, the service conducted several no-notice deployments, including to Iraq after Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, was killed in a January 2020 U.S. airstrike, and to Europe to bolster America’s NATO allies after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
Soldiers also supported the withdrawal from Afghanistan and moved out across the U.S. to support COVID-19 response efforts.
“We’ve seen multiple times that we’ve been asked to respond, and we’ve been very pleased with the readiness of our forces,” McConville said. “In all cases, they responded very quickly.”
Soldiers are proud to “answer the call” when they’re needed, McConville said. “Our troops want to have an impact on the globe while they’re serving,” he said. “We live in a very dangerous environment.”
Modernization is the other critical pillar in the Army’s priorities, and McConville said he is “very pleased” with what the Army has accomplished.
The service has published new doctrine, releasing an updated Field Manual 3-0: Operations that codifies Multi-Domain Operations as the Army’s “official capstone doctrine,” McConville said.
It is developing augmented and virtual reality training capabilities and transformed its combat training centers to give units “an opportunity to thrive in a multidomain operations environment, where they’re contested in every single domain,” McConville said.
The Army also is on track to deliver 24 new pieces of equipment in fiscal 2023, including hypersonic missiles, the midrange missile system, the Mobile Protected Firepower system for its infantry units, Robotic Combat Vehicles, the Next-Generation Squad Weapon rifle and automatic rifle, and the Integrated Battle Command System. The service also is moving ahead with its Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft, having selected Bell Textron’s V-280 Valor tilt-rotor to replace the venerable UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.
The Army also is learning a lot in real time from the war in Ukraine, McConville said.
“Every 40 years, we go through a major transformation,” McConville said. In the early 1980s, military leaders looked at the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and used its lessons to develop AirLand Battle doctrine, combat training centers and more, he said. “We’re doing the same thing with the Russian invasion,” McConville said, referring to how the Army is looking to lessons from that conflict to inform, adjust or reinforce its efforts in modernization and other areas.
One of those lessons has been translated into the creation of a cross-functional team focused on contested logistics. “Everyone’s taking a hard look at the conflict in Ukraine and realized just how important logistics is, and logistics is going to be contested,” McConville said.
The challenge of sustaining the force becomes even more acute in a theater like the Indo-Pacific. “When we take a look at the distances out there in the Pacific, that’s going to drive us to solution sets like watercraft, aircraft that can go very fast and very far, and long-range precision fires and targeting,” McConville said. “All those organizations matter.”
Improving Quality of Life
As he prepares to retire, McConville said there’s still much to be done.
Improving barracks and housing is one example. The Army has dedicated “millions of dollars” to the effort, “but it just takes time,” McConville said. The service also continues to work on child development centers, where the challenge isn’t having enough facilities but hiring enough qualified staff members, he said.
“When I look at the waitlist, and I look at the staffing, we’re trying to do some innovative things with child development training to get people certified and also incentivize people,” he said.
The Army also continues to battle against harmful behaviors such as sexual assault and harassment. “In all these areas, there’s always going to be cases,” McConville said. “We don’t want any. Anywhere there’s a challenge, we want that number to be zero.”
One way to do that is to continue emphasizing and building cohesive teams, McConville said. Cohesive teams, where soldiers know, care about and look out for each other, can help eliminate many harmful behaviors, he said.
“We need to do a better job of connecting our soldiers to the leaders, our leaders to their families and their buddies, so we have multiple ways of finding out if someone is in trouble,” he said.
“The thing that’s important about building cohesive teams is it’s also the secret sauce in combat,” McConville said. “Cohesive teams fight a lot better, and at the end of the day, that’s what we exist for, to fight and win the nation’s wars.”
McConville said he also would “really like” for the Army to continue its work to move away from an industrial age personnel management system and fully embrace a 21st-century talent management system. “We’ve got to broaden how we manage talent,” he said.
He would like to see more progress in leveraging IPPS-A so soldiers can move smoothly between active duty and the U.S. Army Reserve or the Army National Guard, depending on what their careers need or what the Army needs. “There are a lot of options, but to do that, you have to have the right talent management system,” McConville said.
While he’s pleased with the “very, very good” retention rates, McConville said his “No. 1 concern is recruiting.”
“We need to address some of the concerns people have about the Army,” he said.
More than 80% of those who join the Army come from a military family, he said. “We’re a military family business, and we need to become an American family business,” he said. “I hope that parents and influencers encourage young people to serve. If they don’t serve, they maybe miss an opportunity to do one of the most important things in their lives.”
After leaving the Army, McConville said he plans to do what he’s asked so many other veterans to do. “I intend to help inspire young men and women to serve—whether that is service to the Army or to our other public institutions—and continue to encourage others to hire our veterans after they have completed service,” he said.
McConville said he’s optimistic about where the Army’s headed. “I think the Army is as good as it’s ever been,” he said. “I cannot be more proud of our soldiers serving today, including the National Guard and Reserve soldiers, who have done a tremendous job over the last several years. We ask a lot of our soldiers, and we ask a lot of our families. … We are the greatest Army in the world, because we serve with the greatest men and women of our nation.”.