KD Lessons Learned – You Own the Readiness Challenge

A Guest Post by Adam Brady and Rick Montcalm

The summer PCS season is upon us, bringing with it a large number of outstanding articles written by former Iron Majors who are moving to other assignments. Our goal with this article is to present an area not commonly discussed but was a significant challenge we faced for our entire KD time.

What follows focuses on readiness – the Chief of Staff of the Army’s (CSA) top priority. For the field grade officers, it is a broad term that encompasses a number of systems and data input streams that ultimately empower commanders to determine who is ready to fight today, who will be ready tomorrow and who needs more work. As a battalion or brigade level field grade officer, especially an S3 or XO, you are the readiness data custodian. You will plan and run training for units and staffs, manage numerous systems of record and enforce maintenance and accountability processes, all of which turn numbers and percentages into a picture of unit readiness.

U.S. Army Soldiers in Basic Combat Training low crawl through the final obstacle during the Fit to Win endurance course at Fort Jackson, S.C.

Oct. 1, 2015 – Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Brian Hamilton

Readiness as a Priority

Since the CSA’s top priority is readiness, it is your boss’ top concern. Building readiness is the primary focus for field grades officers at the Battalion and Brigade level. At the tactical level, this makes sense. The Army is built to fight and win the nation’s wars, and to do that we must have a system(s) that allows us to know the current state of readiness for every unit. The Army has more than 100 systems of record that grade your organization. The S3 and XO manage and enforce the use of these systems, ensuring the primary operators are properly trained. An XO and S3 must have a working knowledge of every system in order to provide the commander with the best information available.

A good method for understanding how your unit receives, manages, and communicates data is to have each of the staff sections brief you on their systems. This includes methods for information management, how personnel are trained to run the systems and any particular quirks of the system. Below are the specific reports and systems (some of which presented particular problems) and lessons learned with respect to building and evaluating readiness in two primary areas: personnel and training.

Readiness Systems

  1. Unit Status Report (USR). The USR communicates organization readiness. This makes it the most important report that your commander (BN or BDE) has. Let that sink in…the USR is the most important report your commander has. Prior to a General Officer taking the time to explain how “The Army” processes USR, I thought it was something to get done with as little hassle as possible. I now know that was the absolutely wrong outlook. Your Commanding General (and your boss’s Senior Rater) makes training and resourcing decisions within the unit/installation. The CSA and the FORSCOM Commander read and make Army decisions based on them.
  2. Digital Training Management System (DTMS). The Army uses DTMS for almost everything that has to do with operations. Ever wonder where the qualification stats for individual/crew-served/and vehicles for Objective Training (OBJ-T) evaluations were found? DTMS. How about a unit’s Mission Essential Task List (METL) assessment based off of training assessments using Training and Evaluation Outlines (TE&Os)? DTMS. Completion of required training? DTMS. Everything is based off DTMS…and it is the only one that matters. Be a leader and make sure that your commanders understand that. Make sure you understand how DTMS, Army Training Network (ATN), and Combined Arms Training Systems (CATS) link together to provide universal training standards. This is paramount as the transition to OBJ-T becomes widespread.
  3. Equipment Status Report (ESR) from the Global Combat Support System – Army (GCSS-A). Formerly known as the 026 Report, the ESR is the ONLY unit maintenance document and must be reviewed with complete transparency and honesty. Your ESR builds demand across the Army for specific parts…and we’re not talking about HMMWV tires or track pads for a tank. The requisitions created through the proper use of the ESR will start the contracting process and get assembly lines moving (if necessary). If nothing else, it will allow your unit to conduct a demand analysis and actually have a useful SSL and ASL. GCSS-Army produces an annotated ESR in PDF format that provides not only a current status, but also all available notes about a particular item on the report.

Each of the systems provides opportunities to review data in a number of formats, whether directly on the site or in exported versions. Use the format that communicates most effectively to you, and that allows the greatest clarity and shared understanding. Don’t be the XO who didn’t know their S1 didn’t requisition Soldiers properly or the S3 that saw a green slide without knowing a range wasn’t properly resourced. Whenever possible, use the system of record directly, without translation.

Personnel Readiness

Personnel readiness is a large focus at every level of the Army. The items below represent things that can be controlled by the unit and represent the most prevalent self-inflicted problems during my time.

  1. Junior NCO Manning. The Army views the ranks of SSG and below as a local issue. By that, units must “grow their own” 20 and 30-level Soldiers. Make sure your unit is following the promotion guidelines and getting Soldiers to school. In the end, if you say you need SSGs, the Army is going to send you PFCs/SPCs and expect you to make them SGTs/SSGs.
  2. Personnel Shortages. The Army looks at manning from the installation level with an eye to solve problems locally. They also view it as “next man up.” Therefore, you need to make your personnel arguments by bundling two skill levels (i.e. if you’re short E7s, show what your combined E6 and E7 population looks like) AND show how the shortage directly impacts your readiness. When a battalion claims a shortage, the current manning will be compared brigade-wide and then division-wide. If everyone is short, then no one is short. In cases where adjacent units are over-strength a certain rank or MOS, the problem is generally solved locally through CSM channels. The Army will not provide you with an additional Soldier if you have the ability to fill a slot with the next lower rank.
  3. Personnel Slotting (eMILPO). If you don’t get your Soldiers put in the appropriate slot, with the appropriate deployability (or non-available) code, you are unable to show an accurate manning status. Make sure that your S1 shop knows the system and follows it. If they don’t, get support from your BDE S1. Your higher headquarters can’t fight to provide you personnel if you don’t use the system properly. You will also set your commander up for failure – they will lose credibility with their bosses if the system of record doesn’t support their argument.
  4. APFTs (eMILPO). eMILPO is the system of record for APFTs at the E4 and E5 level. Soldiers that do not have a valid APFT in eMILPO are not eligible for promotion. This keeps you from “growing your own” E5s and E6s and hurting your readiness as discussed with OBJ-T and USR. Most importantly, you are failing your Soldiers.
  5. Profile PRT. Ensure that your unit has a Profile PRT plan in place. The purpose of the program is to take care of Soldiers; they will either return to full duty status or continue upon the appropriate transition from service. The BCT has a Physical Therapist, and your unit should have Master Fitness Trainers to support the planning and execution of this program. If nothing else, a well-run program will keep your boss out of trouble if/when your unit is struggling with readiness numbers.

Training Readiness

You must be prepared to discuss readiness in terms of OBJ-T. OBJ-T provides very specific and universal guidance on training event attendance and the types of training events required to attain a specific training readiness rate. While challenging, OBJ-T is going to improve readiness and place emphasis where it matters: on executing METL tasks. Your unit will rightfully be graded based on OBJ-T. In order to take care of your unit, you must know how the system works. If you are unfamiliar with the system, schedule time with your BDE S3 or DIV Training Readiness Officer.

Getting in Front of the Readiness Problem

The problem of non-available (i.e. non-deployable) Soldiers will not go away and is not easily solved. When you do the math between deployment requirements, manning levels for units and the number of non-availables, the numbers don’t add up. Therefore, it is on the unit to balance taking care of Soldiers and limiting the number of Soldiers who cannot do their assigned mission. While this is commander’s business, everyone that deals with it is on BN and BDE staff. If your unit doesn’t have a system in place when you arrive, you must create one that is nested with the requirements of your higher headquarters. While each unit is different, the following is what we used during my KD time.

  1. Command and Staff (bi-weekly). The Command and Staff is the primary meeting for providing most of the information required to support our higher headquarters requirements. As you may have experienced, these meetings at the Battalion and Brigade level generally cover personnel readiness statistics, medical/dental readiness, maintenance statistics, and a myriad of other details. This information supports Division-level events such as Personnel Readiness Reviews, Soldier For Life – Transition Assistance Program updates, etc.
  2. Training Meetings (bi-weekly, offset from Command and Staff). Nothing exceptional about a training meeting. In this case, I recommend you only use information from DTMS and other systems of record. As previously stated, anything besides the information found in a system of record is not valid. The challenge you may have is calendar duplication since DTMS does not export to a useable format and the website does not lend itself to live viewing for discussions. Additionally, make sure training meetings focus on unit readiness to conduct training (ranges, resources, external support, etc.) and do not devolve into a simple calendar review.
  3. Profile Review Board (monthly). I executed a Profile Review Board (PRB) with my Battalion Physician’s Assistant and Company Commanders. We reviewed each Soldier on profile for more than 30 days (cumulative) and ensured there was a plan to get them back on duty or, if applicable, to start the appropriate transition process. This meeting also provided recommendations for cases that needed higher-level support through the Brigade and Division Profile Review Board.
  4. Behavioral Health Action Meeting (monthly). This meeting was conducted with commanders, PA, Medical Officer (MEDO) and the Embedded Behavioral Health (EBH) team to share information and take care of Soldiers. The side benefit of the meeting was to ensure that commanders and health providers worked hand in hand to return Soldiers to duty or begin the appropriate transition process.

Though there are numerous systems, meetings, and reports you’ll have to deal with, the key is training and empowering the owning staff section to use the system effectively. When employed well, and synchronized across the staff, all the data streams should enable clear, candid discussions on readiness that will ultimately empower your commander’s discussions about his unit.

To bring this all together, what should you do with all the best-practice and lessons-learned articles floating around? Read them all. Make note of the things that pique your interest and spend some time considering lessons or themes that appear over and over. Communicating readiness is a lesson that popped out for us. The type of unit, the location, the assigned mission set, the command environment and a number of other things all influence how your time will be spent and how your commanders will set priorities. One theme that rings true in every unit and every article – individual experiences may vary.

MAJ Adam Brady is an Armor officer with experience in Armor and Infantry BCTs both in garrison and deployed. He completed his KD time with 1-77AR, 3/1AD (ABCT) and served as the Brigade Rear Detachment Commander for 3/1AD (ABCT). He is currently deployed as the Command Inspector General for CJFLCC-OIR and 1st Armored Division.

MAJ Rick Montcalm is an Armor Officer with garrison and deployment experience in Armor, Stryker, and Infantry BCTs. He completed his Squadron and Brigade KD time in 1/101st Airborne Division and is currently assigned as the XO to the TRADOC Deputy Chief of Staff.

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