Army wants ‘best soldiers’ to fight in uncertain future

The Army faces an uncertain future that’s likely to include belt tightening and shrinking ranks, said Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel Dailey. But, he is confident a renewed effort for recruitment and retention, a revamped evaluation system and reliance on career soldiers is the best battle plan in the face of change.

Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel Dailey
Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel Dailey

Dailey told  In Depth with Francis Rose that change is a positive thing.

“It’s OK to shake things up,” he said. “I think that we still have a lot of work to do from a multi-service perspective, not everything’s a DoD fit. I think it’s the right direction. We have to constantly evolve. If we had not changed since the ’50s, we would not be the formidable force that we are throughout the world. That requires change in many facets, not just from the military’s perspective, not just the new gadget on a thing, but people. The Army, that’s largely what it is, and war is just that, too. It’s a conflict between at least two individuals, humans. You have to be able to develop, lead, train, educate and manage the future force, and if you don’t constantly evolve, we just won’t stay ahead.”

Recruiting and retaining the best soldiers

Part of that evolution includes finding and holding onto the best people for the job, despite downsizing talk coming from Capitol Hill.

Congress is mulling as much as a 30 percent, across-the-board cut to Defense headquarters functions, while Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work has ordered a 25 percent cut in anticipation of congressional action.

“We’re an organization that because of its environmental factor is asked to get smaller, and we’re living in a world that’s become more complex,” Dailey said. “So that is challenging, but I think our priorities are focused right.”

Dailey said recruitment numbers are all right, but the challenge now is maintaining a quality standard necessary “to give the tax payers their best soldier.”

“My fear is that we may have to wane off that standard,” Dailey said. “That’s something we simply cannot do. We need a quality of standard of individual that wants to serve, that’s consistent with what we have now, so we can maintain that readiness.”

To do that, Dailey said, the Army is focusing on talent. He admitted that in the past, the Army wasn’t as focused as it should have been on talent.

“We’re going to have to tell people to go home, that’s the truth,” Dailey said. “We’re trying to minimize that through natural attrition.”

That starts with retirement eligibility, Dailey said, looking at employees who’ve earned retirement benefits, to help lessen the blow to families.

Considering Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) and skill sets that are “over strength” could also factor in to determine a person’s future with the Army, Dailey said.

Also important in retention, Dailey said, is to not lose talented employees through natural attrition.

“Many of our soldiers attrite on their own from the service within their first or second tour,” Dailey said. “Obviously, we want to keep talent. That’s our job. We want to keep the best there is. We want to incentivize those who stay. We’ve got to create opportunities for them to move up. At a time now when you’re having to cut individuals, your promotion system could stagnate and it’s important to we keep a pulse on that as well.”

Dailey said one of the ways the Army is looking at addressing that is by restoring time-in-service requirements to lower levels, which would hopefully stop more senior employees from staying too long and thus discouraging  “young go-getters” from moving up the ranks.

New evaluation, same standards for non-commissioned officers

Dailey was sworn in as the 15th Sergeant Major of the Army in January. The Palmerton, Pennsylvania native previously served as the command sergeant major of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command.

During Dailey’s fourth month in office, the Army announced that a new non-commissioned officer evaluation report would be pushed back to 2016 from the October 2015 launch date.

Dailey said the new system is the result of over-inflation, bringing leadership attributes up to date with doctrinal rewrites made across the branch, and to drive the counseling process.

Counseling is important, Dailey said, because it can be used to correct or reward a soldier’s behavior. Rather than having to resort to extensive measures to solve a problem, counseling can usually correct that in most cases, Dailey said.

And for good behavior, it can help the Army recognize if someone is doing an outstanding job.

“It helps a leader set expectations to the subordinate and gives them a clear, clear understanding of that communication between the two individuals of what is expected and what I need to do,” Dailey said. “Counseling is an essential part leader development. Ultimately, we don’t just want to record behavior, we want to correct behavior, or reinforce behavior.”

Dailey said the new system still holds to basic soldier standards, but from a doctrinal perspective the Army has redefined and re-categorized these leadership attributes.

“Are the words different on the form, yes, but they are now aligned with our doctrine,” Dailey said.

The present and future of the Army

But even with the best soldiers on the job, Dailey said he was still unsure about the Army’s future readiness.

“That’s a prediction we all wish we could make with certainty,” he said. “My fear as we increase in complexity, we can’t get away from the fact we can’t continue to decrease in size or in resourcing. Because consistent resourcing, or non-consistent resourcing, that matter has a significant effect on our ability to build readiness, irregardless of the number of troops we have. If we can’t maintain their readiness levels, they will not be prepared to do our mission and that’s what worries me. I’m uncomfortable with the size of the Army in the future.”

Yet Dailey said he did have confidence in the government building the Army back up to what it needs to be.

“They have demonstrated time and time again, they will give us what we need, when we need to be able to accomplish the mission,” he said. ““The U.S. Army is the most trusted organization in America. It’s taken 240 years to earn that trust. It has waned at times and we have won it back and that will happen again through cycles of history. My job is to ensure that our soldiers, non-commissioned officers and our great leaders, uphold the standards of the profession. This is a job made of professionals. At the end of my tenure, [I hope] that trust is even greater from the American people.”