New Army Assessment Course Will Force Colonels to Think Like Generals

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Battalion Commander Assessment Program participants negotiate an obstacle Jan. 23, 2020, at Fort Knox, Kentucky. (U.S. Army/Eric Pilgrim)
Battalion Commander Assessment Program participants negotiate an obstacle Jan. 23, 2020, at Fort Knox, Kentucky. (U.S. Army/Eric Pilgrim)

FORT KNOX, Kentucky -- After observing a dress rehearsal of the Army's newest assessment course for colonels, Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Joseph Martin said he isn't sure he would have been judged ready for command earlier in his career.

Unlike in the past, lieutenant colonels and colonels attending the new Colonel's Command Assessment Program (CCAP) will be judged for their command potential solely on how they perform during the five-day course, which evaluates candidates' leadership strengths and weaknesses and forces them to use higher-level thinking and communication skills.

"If you asked me, 'How do I think I would have done on it?' I think I would be presumptuous to say, 'I would have done very well,'" Martin told Military.com after receiving briefings on CCAP. "If you have never been assessed like this in your career, it's got to be a pretty daunting task."

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Scheduled to hold its first class in mid-September, CCAP is similar to the new Battalion Commander Assessment Program (BCAP) and part of a larger effort to overhaul how the Army selects officers for important command positions.

Under the current Centralized Selection List Process, senior officers select battalion and brigade commanders in special boards, where they review and rank hundreds of personnel files. Now, Army officers are forced to leave their previous career accomplishments at the door to be judged on their performance in a series of tests designed to assess their physical fitness, intellect, psychological makeup and communications skills.

But unlike BCAP, lieutenant colonels and colonels going through CCAP will have to demonstrate their ability to wrestle their way through complex problems during a Strategic Leader Exercise.

CCAP officials would not release many details on the exercise, but the Army began working on developing strategic thinking in senior officers in 2012 under the direction of then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, said retired Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo, who worked on the effort when assigned to the Army War College.

"This is not something the Army dreamed up three months ago," Cucolo said during a briefing to Martin. "It was based on a problem that [Odierno] saw that the newly selected brigadier generals, when tossed inside the beltway or tossed into the strategic environment, were hesitant, tentative -- they held back, they lacked confidence. They were incredible operational warriors, but suddenly they were faced with challenges that required a different kind of thinking and the adjustment was too slow for what the Army needed."

Martin said the strategic problem candidates will be faced with will put them in a realistic situation "where you've got to provide a solution to something, and you've got a sea of information."

"Do you have the ability to look through that sea of information and be able to filter down some important points in order to sit down and make a point: 'I think this is what we ought to do, and I think this is why we ought to do we ought to do.'"

The CCAP exercise, however, is not a pass-fail event, said Maj. Gen. JP McGee, director of the Army Talent Management Task Force.

"It's just an observed event to watch how candidates handle the situation," McGee said. "You are not going to get a score coming out of this that says, 'You got 99 out of 100 or you got 22 out of 100.'"

Observations from the Strategic Leader Exercise are included with all of the other information gathered during the course and provided to a special panel that will conduct the Army Comprehensive Talent Interview and decide whether the candidate is ready for command.

McGee stressed that the Army's decision to adopt courses like BCAP and CCAP does not mean that the old system was ineffective at selecting good leaders for command positions.

"It's not a question of whether the old system was bad; the question is, is this the best possible system for the Army? And so the old system is good, but good enough isn't good enough for the future wars we anticipate," McGee said. "We have got to be running the best processes to put people in these very impactful positions to have the Army that we want to have in the future."

So far, participants who have gone through BCAP have said the Army should continue to use this model for selecting leaders.

"The feedback we have received from the participants ... is overwhelmingly positive," Martin said. "They all believe that it is a fair process. They believe that they had an experience that they wish that they would have had earlier in their career."

The Army surveyed the officers who went through BCAP as candidates before they got their results and again after, said McGee, adding that two key questions were asked: "Is this a better way to pick battalion commanders? And should we continue this?"

Before they got the results, "the numbers were like 97%, 'Yes, it's a better way. Yes, we should continue,'" McGee said.

"And we asked them after they got the results, and they only dropped two percentage points," he said. "Even those who were determined not ready for command -- two-thirds of them, 67%, said, 'This is a better way to pick battalion commanders.'"

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

Related: Why Some Army Colonels Won't Make the Cut for Command in New Assessment Course

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