Those were the words spoken to me by a Command Sergeant Major I came to know after some time spent in his battalion. He was giving a squad of us junior soldiers advice on how to get to the level he had achieved in his career, and become a Sergeant Major. "All I've had to do is be in the right place, at the right time, in the right uniform," he said. It's a oft-repeated guideline to success for troops in the Army.
Many went home that night thinking, "is that all I have to do?"
I went home that night thinking something very similar. "Is that all somebody has to do to become a Command Sergeant Major?" This seemed like a troubling thought.
Here's my problem. I think that in any organization, the cream of the talent should rise to the top. People get promoted on their merit and succeed to higher and higher ranks and positions. The people at the top should be the best at what they do. A CEO should be the most capable to lead a company successfully, understanding every aspect of his business. A Command Sergeant Major should be capable in every aspect of "sergeant's business": training and leading troops, preparing them for combat and moving them in their formations.
Is the pinnacle of "sergeant's business" being in the "right place, at the right time, in the right uniform?" I suggest that there is more to it. Or there ought to be.
After a seven-year suspension, the Army Qualitative Management Program (QMP) is being reinstated. The QMP will assess around 19,000 senior NCOs and determine whether it is desirable to have these NCOs at the very top of enlisted leadership. This shouldn't sound crazy. Page 1 of Army Field Manual 601-280 states that the number one goal of the Army Retention Program is to
"Reenlist, on a long term basis, sufficient numbers of highly qualified Active Army soldiers"
We want the very best to stay in. The highest qualified are the most desirable. When I was trained in Army retention, the "highly qualified" describer was emphasized as one our most important criteria for a reenlistment candidate. It was more important than meeting retention mission requirements. It was more important than anything that had anything to do with retention.
What the QMP is looking for is senior NCOs who have records of misconduct. Things like DUIs, removals from leadership positions for cause, failure to complete necessary schooling or failure to perform well on regular evaluations (NCOERs). These NCOs that are identified as undesirable will be given the option to apply for immediate retirement. If they do not choose to retire, they will be separated within six months. That's the deal.
The senior NCOs being targeted and identified by the QMP are NCOs I would not categorize as "highly qualified" for retention. I think the QMP is a good thing. If it manages to do what it is supposed to do than I think it can eliminate a few of the Command Sergeants Major out there who believe that in order to succeed, you only need to be in the "right place, at the right time, in the right uniform."
There is still something more to be said here. How do we find ourselves with enlisted leaders in the senior NCO grades that have DUIs or letters of reprimand in their background? Why is the QMP even necessary? Why was it suspended for seven years? I suppose there is still a problem with the overall promotion scheme, beginning at the lowest levels. This is a problem I am still trying to work out my own explanation for, and so you'll have to wait for another episode.