New Army Pilot Program Makes Company First Sergeant Selection More Rigorous

Army 1st Sgt. Pilot Program
First Sgt. Brady McDonald, assigned to the 145th Field Artillery Regiment, addresses his Soldiers during Operation Diamond Strike near Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Feb. 28, 2018. The First Sergeant Talent Alignment Assessment held a recent pilot with about a dozen master sergeants at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and now plans to expand the program to other installations in 2021, as part of the Army's effort to place the right Soldiers in first sergeant slots. (Thomas Crough/U.S. Army)

The Army is running a new pilot course to identify which senior sergeants are ready to become company first sergeants.

The initial cycle of the First Sergeant Talent Alignment Assessment ran 13 master sergeants from the 82nd Airborne Division and XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, through the three-day course in December. It is designed to find noncommissioned officers with the right cognitive abilities and behaviors to make an effective top enlisted leader at the company level.

"The first sergeants are really key and essential NCOs," Sgt. Maj. Rob Haynie, who serves on the Enlisted Talent Management Team on the Army Talent Management Task Force, told "They generally know their soldiers in the company. ... They know their families; the first sergeants shape the culture in an organization. They instill discipline, they oversee individual and collective training."

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The pilot, scheduled to run through the fall, is similar to the Colonel Command Assessment Program, or CCAP, and the Battalion Commander Assessment Program, or BCAP, which are held at Fort Knox, Kentucky. The Army also approved the new Knox-based Sergeant Major Assessment Program, or SMAP, in February; it is structured the same way as the weeklong BCAP and CCAP courses and puts candidates through a series of evaluations and interviews designed to weed out leaders who are not ready for command.

Instead of being held at Fort Knox, the new first sergeant course is being piloted at the installation level to allow sergeant majors from the battalion, brigade and division level to assess master sergeants in their units who are eligible for first sergeant positions.

Currently, unit leaders select first sergeants using little more than the NCO evaluation reports "that got you promoted from sergeant to staff sergeant" and up through the ranks, Haynie said.

"Really, they just take that, and they do a simple face-to-face interview, maybe, and they put those [master sergeants] into position," he said.

"A lot of the time, it's based off of their intuition ... their gut, and that little bit of data, and it kind of looks at, 'Hey, this person needs to be a first sergeant because he hasn't been a first sergeant yet.'

"It's a leadership judgment, and they are using what data they have. We are really trying to develop a tool that will provide them with better information."

The course requires a fitness test, which currently consists of the old Army Physical Fitness Test, or APFT, not the new Army Combat Fitness Test, or ACFT, Haynie said.

While the Army authorized the ACFT as of Oct. 1, 2020, congressional requirements under the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act prevent the service from using the ACFT for administration actions until it completes an independent review of the more challenging fitness assessment.

ACFT scores are not scheduled to count against soldiers until March 2022.

The first sergeant course features cognitive tests to measure intelligence, problem solving and writing skills, Haynie said. There is also a noncognitive evaluation to measure the motivational, communication and interpersonal skills of each candidate.

The course includes a behavioral-based interview similar to the double-blind panel used during BCAP, CCAP and SMAP courses; it is designed to identify biases and potential negative behaviors such as counter-productive leadership traits found in toxic leaders, Haynie said.

A panel of four sergeants majors then provide feedback to the talent alignment panel, which is made up of the division sergeant major, the brigade sergeants major and other NCOs who have input about assignments, he added.

"We identified [two] master sergeants that should not be first sergeants. ... Either they needed to develop more, or they had low tolerance toward others or a very short temper, which was noticeable throughout their assessment data," Haynie said.

Three more cycles of the pilot are scheduled for this year. There will be one at Fort Riley, Kansas, in the spring; one this summer at Fort Drum, New York; and one in Alaska in the fall, he said, adding that his team is scheduled to update Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston and the senior enlisted council in the fall.

The Sergeant Major Assessment Program was tested at Fort Knox last year to evaluate about 30 brigade-level sergeants. In November, that course will assess 350 brigade-eligible sergeants major for approximately 200 open positions, said Maj. Jed Hudson, the task force's action officer for enlisted talent.

"It is essentially the same structure as the BCAP and CCAP," Hudson said. "It is designed to look across your whole formation and provide better insights to where you can put the NCOs into the right positions."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at

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