Numerous U.S. Army lieutenant colonels and majors were found Thursday morning at Fort Knox running through a leader reaction course testing their merit as part of the new Battalion Commander Assessment Program.
Between Jan. 15 and Feb. 9, more than 700 candidates will participate in the program. Each day, a new group of officers reports to Fort Knox to begin the five-day assessment, designed to measure each individual’s current readiness and overall fitness for command.
The program involves a series of cognitive, non-cognitive, written, verbal, psychological and physical assessments, in addition to a double-blind panel interview with senior officers.
Information gathered during this process is meant to aid the Army in selecting officers for battalion command and other key posts, enabling it to more precisely match strengths of its developing leaders against the array of critical Army responsibilities and missions.
Gen. James McConville, chief of staff of the Army, and Maj. Gen. J.P. McGee, director of the Army Talent Management Task Force, were on site Thursday to observe the assessment.
McConville said the BCAP was prompted through a “people-first” philosophy.
“We believe if we get the right people in the right job at the right time, everything else follows,” he said. “We have modernization priorities, readiness priorities, we have reform priorities. But, to us, the Army is about people. They are our greatest strength.”
McConville said battalion commanders are arguably the most consequential leaders in the Army. He said their experience, placement and influence give them the ability to shape the future service of the soldiers they lead, noting they train and develop young soldiers and non-commissioned officers. He said officers have more impact on their decisions to continue serving than any other leadership position.
“That is why we put this process in place,” he said. “We had a very good process, but we want the absolute best leaders in place. Parents have sent their sons and daughters to serve in the Army, and we want to make sure that they are taken care of, treated with dignity and respect, and they have the opportunity to excel in the Army. That is a function of leadership.”
McConville also said battalion commanders are the future strategic leaders of the Army.
“If you are a successful battalion commander, you have a good opportunity to be a colonel and good opportunity to rise to the higher levels,” he said. “We have a good opportunity to make sure we have the right people in these positions.”
The new program is designed to complement the selection process already in place. Rater and senior rater assessments still are a key component of identifying future commanders. In addition with the new program, peers and subordinates also are submitting assessments of the candidates.
McGee said out of 23,000 surveys to peers and subordinates, there was an about 75 percent response rate. When a typical response is about 10 to 15 percent, McConville said that number shows they care about who will be taking on leadership positions in the Army.
“From where I sit, I don’t think there is anything more important than making sure we have the right leaders for our soldiers at the battalion level,” he said.
McGee said the holistic view point of candidates eliminates the number of blind spots and will lead to better decisions on who is selected for battalion command.
McConville said Fort Knox is a great installation with all the facilities needed to execute the operation.
Maj. Gen. John Evans Jr., commanding general of U.S. Army Cadet Command and Fort Knox, said the post was chosen to host the program for its capability, capacity and location.
Evans said McConville believes their investments in people are their most important.
“What we are doing for Army modernization is important, but our investment in people really pays the largest dividend,” he said. “To that end, I think we are going to use what we learn in BCAP to take a look at other places in the Army or the officer or NCO lifecycle, where we might look to assess officers and NCOs to determine if they have deficits that we can fix or to determine if we are teaching the right things in our education process.”
Evans said they want to make sure those officers are contributing the attributes they believe are required for success in battalion command. He added the Army Talent Management Task Force has focused diligently on making sure the new process is a level playing field.
“They did a great job of standardizing the process and it’s respectable, fair and consistent,” he said.
McConville called it a “transformation change” on how the Army will select battalion commanders in the future.
“We believe our soldiers deserve the actual best commanders that we can get them,” he said.