New Army Program Will Make Sure Prospective Battalion Commanders Are Fit to Lead

File –A change of command ceremony for the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment at Watkins Field at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, July 26, 2018.. (U.S. ArmyStaff Sgt. Kenneth Pawlak)
File –A change of command ceremony for the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment at Watkins Field at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, July 26, 2018.. (U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Kenneth Pawlak)

On the eve of a new assessment program for young field-grade officers, the Army's chief of staff said he views battalion command as the most important job in the service.

"We've got to get the right people in the right jobs, and I think the most consequential job in the United States Army is battalion command," Gen. James McConville told an audience Tuesday at the Atlantic Council as he discussed the service's future role in great power competition.

Beginning Wednesday, about 800 majors and lieutenant colonels will start a weeklong assessment course known as the Battalion Commander Assessment Program (BCAP) at Fort Knox, Kentucky, he said.

"All of our lieutenant colonels and senior majors ... they went through a board process, and we whittled it down to 800 and ... they will go through a weeklong process that will test them to ... make sure they are fit, make sure they are deployable, take a look at their comprehensive leadership and potential," McConville said. "They will take a look at their peer reviews and their subordinate reviews."

Related: The Army Is Overhauling its Battalion Commander Selection Process

In the past, battalion commanders were selected by a promotion board, and "people would look at their files for about two-and-a-half minutes," he added.

McConville stressed that selecting the right officers for the job is critical because that "lieutenant colonel influences 500 to 600 people on whether they want to stay in the Army or get out of the Army. It's a level of leadership that I think is the most important.

"If you take a look at officers that may have got out early ... and you ask them how their battalion commander was, it was probably not who they wanted or inspired them do serve," he said.

McConville compared the new BCAP to the selection methods used in professional football.

"If you take a look at what professional football does, you could be a Heisman Trophy winner or you could be at some state school," he said. "And you come together, and they know the knowledge, skills and behavior that they need in their future players, and they run them through the system. And that is why you see someone coming out of nowhere that maybe wasn't a Division One I player."

The Army announced the BCAP effort in November. The endeavor kicked off last summer when infantry and armor officers participated in two battalion commander assessment pilots at Fort Benning, Georgia.

In April, the Army announced a new merit-based, enlisted promotion system, scheduled to be in place by 2021. It's designed to reward exceptional soldiers with more rank instead of promoting soldiers with more time in grade.

"We used to do it by time in grades, so you go through a promotion board and you get selected for promotion. It was all how much time you had, so if you were a really outstanding noncommissioned officer or staff sergeant, you would have to wait until all the people that were ahead of you got a chance to get promoted," McConville said.

"Now, if you are the most qualified person, you are going to the top of the list."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at

Read More: Army's New Promotion System Could Mean Separations for Some Soldiers

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