SMA: ‘People are Our Competitive Advantage’

SMA: ‘People are Our Competitive Advantage’

Sergeant Major of the Army Michael R. Weimer speaks at the Leader Solarium during the AUSA 2023 Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023. (Tasos Katopodis for AUSA)
Photo by: Tasos Katopodis for AUSA

People and technology are both critical to the Army of the future, but the latter can never replace the former, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Weimer told a group of mid-grade officers and NCOs.

“I do believe, and I always will, that people are our competitive advantage against all our adversaries,” Weimer said. As the force becomes more tech-driven, his concern is that soldiers will “compromise on the basics.”

“ChatGPT should never replace leaders. AI should never replace what it means to make an assessment and make a recommendation to the commander for a hard decision,” he said.

Weimer spoke Oct. 10 at a Leader Solarium held during the Association of the U.S. Army’s 2023 Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C. The solarium, organized by AUSA’s Center for Leadership, hosts 160 specially selected soldiers who hear from top Army leaders and civilian subject-matter experts and have small-group discussions on challenges facing the Army.

At the end of the three-day event, the group will provide feedback to Army Secretary Christine Wormuth, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Randy George and Weimer.

In his remarks, Weimer encouraged the soldiers to maintain a positive attitude as leaders. “If we harp on the negative as leaders, then we are crushing and stymieing innovation” and dulling the ambition of soldiers who could be the next generation of leaders, he said.

Responding to questions from the group about retention, Weimer said that while recruiting is the Army’s No. 1 priority right now, the service’s “war for talent” includes retaining top-quality soldiers. “We don’t hire talent, we grow talent,” he said.

Weimer said he encourages colleagues who are weighing leaving the service to “think twice” and consider their options, such as transferring to the National Guard or Army Reserve. “That’s not a loss, we’re a Total Army,” he said. “That’s talent we’re maintaining to leverage in the future.”

Other areas Army leaders are studying to retain talented soldiers include adjustments to retention control points, choice of assignments, and extending tours to increase stabilization and unit cohesion, Weimer said. “Those are things we know we have to get after—but they’re not easy,” he said. “That retention mission has to mean something because of how quickly we lose those investments in our people.”

At the end of the day, the desire to serve is inherent to remaining in the Army. “The first opportunity we present is the opportunity to serve your country,” Weimer said. “We’re not going to ‘bonus’ our way out of this.”

Weimer concluded his remarks by asking the solarium participants to be honest with their comments and recommendations. “Army senior leaders need to hear the truth,” he said. “That’s what we need to get after some of these issues.”

— Luc Dunn