The US Army’s new Assignment Interactive Module 2.0 (AIM 2.0) is fundamentally changing the Army’s assignment process by enabling officers to prospect for their next tours of duty. This past fall, the Army used this system to test the assignment process for active-component officers, giving them more autonomy to interact with units and allowing them to rank their assignment preferences through a transparent system. Unit commanders, personnel officers, and branch managers from Human Resources Command could then jointly assess these rankings and match mutual requests to fulfill the needs of both units and officers. This program will eventually become a component of the recently fielded Integrated Personnel and Pay System–Army, which the both active and reserve components of the US Army now use. Together, these systems are part of a new decentralized framework called ATAP—the Army Talent Alignment Process.
While the Army is seeing many positive results from active-component officers, there are still many questions of how ATAP will affect the assignments process for the reserve component, particularly the Army National Guard. The National Guard faces many challenges that set it apart from the active component. On one hand, National Guard soldiers enjoy a degree of greater autonomy than their active counterparts in that they can live wherever they want while serving part-time in a unit of their choice. Many National Guard soldiers also have freedom to volunteer for Active Duty for Operational Support tours or Active Guard and Reserve assignments. On the other hand, these soldiers also face some limitations in that their assignment options are limited by the force structure within their state’s borders. If a soldier must move due to changes in a civilian career, the new state in which he or she lives might not have space in any National Guard units, meaning that the soldier might have to perform duty in the previous state. If no billets become available in the soldier’s current military occupational specialty, he or she might also have to reclassify to a new job to fill a billet in a new unit. These are just a few of the challenges that National Guard soldiers face when navigating an assignment process that utilizes decades-old systems.
On a broader scale, the civilian job market that Army National Guard soldiers currently navigate is no longer compatible with the legacy assignment process. Throughout most the National Guard’s history, many Americans were able to work entire careers in the same firms until retirement. National Guard soldiers had steady civilian jobs, and it was not uncommon for some of them to serve twenty years at the same pay grade in the same unit. However, that paradigm shifted in the past few decades. Globalization and other shifts in economic life meant that more Americans began moving and traveling frequently as part of their careers. Moreover, the 9/11 attacks also signaled a shift in the security environment, within which the reserve components transitioned from a strategic reserve to an operational one as more units deployed more often. For National Guard soldiers, this means they must now balance civilian careers, extended training periods, and deployments, sometimes all in the same year. Lt. Gen. Timothy Kadavy, former director of the Army National Guard, conceptualized all of this in an initiative he called Army National Guard 4.0, which acknowledged that National Guard operational requirements mirrored more closely than ever those of their active counterparts in terms of battle rhythm and readiness, requiring some units to take on more training days and overseas deployments. What this concept did not address, however, was whether or not National Guard soldiers would still be able to balance their civilian careers with the readiness demands of the military.
In the new security environment, the Army National Guard must acknowledge that its soldiers are more likely to be on the move in both their military and civilian careers. There is considerable talent among the current generation of soldiers, but the legacy talent-management process is barely tapping into this potential. To take care of its people, the National Guard must reform its current systems and give soldiers more autonomy to pursue their career goals, while maximizing talent alignment to strengthen units. Fortunately, the Army Talent Management Task Force is addressing this and many other problems facing soldiers of the twenty-first century, and ATAP is a step in the right direction. As this process continues to evolve, here are some recommended personnel actions that the task force could recommend in order to streamline processes currently managed by outdated legacy programs.
Prior Service Transition
Many soldiers enter the Army National Guard upon transitioning from active duty or following a break in service. To integrate these soldiers into the National Guard, recruiters currently use a closed system called Retention Management Software that lists all vacant billets nationwide, allowing recruiters to then place soldiers into available slots. However, this system is currently only visible to recruiters, so soldiers cannot see how their careers will progress. With ATAP, soldiers entering the National Guard could potentially see all billets in each state and map out their own career progression. Simultaneously, units in each state would be able to screen transitioning soldiers according to the KSB-P framework—Knowledge, Skills, Behaviors, and Preferences—central to the Army’s new approach to talent management, and then rank potential candidates to integrate into available billets.
Army National Guard soldiers are now more likely to have to move across state lines at some point in their careers and might seek to request an interstate transfer. This might be due to civilian job demands, changes in family situations, or because their state’s force structure lacks available billets for promotion. In the current interstate-transfer process, soldiers must reach out to the state to which they want to transfer, gain a mutual agreement between their losing state and their gaining state, then submit a personnel action packet to complete the transfer. This process often takes several months to complete. However, with ATAP the soldier could identify the exact billet that he or she would like to request and obtain approval from the gaining state, and the soldier’s current chain of command can approve the release at each echelon, thereby saving many hours of red tape.
Intrastate Career Management
Since Army National Guard soldiers are controlled by state governors under Title 32, United States Code, their assignments are limited by state and territory locations, force structure, and the administrative authority of the adjutant general in each state. This can often constrain opportunities for career advancement depending on the size and force structure of the state. However, ATAP could provide some opportunities to expand intrastate career management. With the ability to upload resumes and board files into the Integrated Personnel and Pay System–Army, leaders in each state can manage their people in a more streamlined, consolidated method. Additionally, soldiers who might be seeking an interstate transfer could have opportunities to “opt in” to a state’s career management cycle, allowing leaders to assess National Guard soldiers already in the state and potential interstate-transfer candidates together.
Active Duty for Operational Support (ADOS)
Current ADOS assignments are managed through a handful of systems such as Tour of Duty. Depending on the duty status of the ADOS tour, soldiers might have to upload several personnel documents to apply for positions, receive approval by Human Resources Command for assignment, obtain the adjutant general’s approval for release, and then have orders published. ATAP could potentially pool all ADOS positions and personnel actions into one database, allowing soldiers to see all opportunities across each component and decide what assignments to pursue. Plus, having individual resumes and personnel documents on file in the system will make applying for these positions much more efficient.
Title 10/Title 32 AGR Exchanges
The Army’s Active Guard and Reserve (AGR) program allows Title 32 AGR soldiers, who are in state-level positions, to swap assignment billets with federal Title 10 AGR soldiers of equal grade in an exchange agreement. These exchanges are currently done between a state adjutant general and the National Guard Bureau (NGB). The intent of this program is to provide key developmental and broadening opportunities for Title 10 and Title 32 AGR soldiers. However, the current process hinges heavily on individual connections between the requesting state and the NGB, with very little detail formally outlined for how to conduct the process. To resolve some of this, ATAP might provide an interface that is easier to navigate than the current Full Time Support Management Control System. For Title 32 AGR soldiers who seek broadening exchanges, they could use ATAP to bid on potential Title 10 AGR positions managed by the NGB. Conversely, Title 10 AGR soldiers who seek broadening assignments or key developmental billets at the state level could market themselves the same way. Securing mutual connections between the states and the NGB will benefit everyone involved.
This is perhaps the most cumbersome process that will need reform, but it is necessary if the total Army force seeks to align talent across its components. Current Call to Active Duty and Release from Active Duty programs involve significant personnel actions that range from generating DD Form 214 discharge certificates to full accession into active or reserve component pay systems. With the ATAP framework, soldiers could potentially have all service documents in one database, enabling release and accession across components to take place more rapidly. At the levels of Human Resources Command and Army Service Component Commands, manpower and reserve affairs officers could call for volunteers to fill deploying units more quickly, placing the right talent in urgent billets for upcoming missions. Subsequently, returning soldiers to a reserve status could be a smoother transition through the same system. Reforming this process might involve some policy changes or statutory provisions under Title 10 and Title 32, but will pay dividends in the future.
Civilian Talent Marketplace
What makes Army National Guard soldiers and their US Army Reserve brethren unique from the active component is their dual career paths. While over 75 percent of reserve-component soldiers work full-time civilian jobs, the Army does a lackluster job of recognizing civilian career skills and talents. However, ATAP could change this. With the resume feature, soldiers could list their current civilian occupations along with corresponding skills and experience. Users could then search the program to see what kinds of civilian jobs soldiers are currently working. Unit commanders and leaders could find soldiers with specific KSB-Ps and then recruit them for special projects or through Active Duty for Special Work tours. Opportunities to integrate civilian and military talent could therefore take place in the same program.
To achieve these types of reforms, the Army National Guard must understand the value of talent among its people. The best businesses in today’s economy invest in talent by allowing their people to broaden their skills, while at the same time exchanging human capital and social capital with partners across their networks. In today’s world, state leaders and units can no longer depend only on promoting talent from within their borders. As with the economy, they must now compete nationwide for talent, and this involves developing current talent to operate in a global security environment. State leaders will have to shift from a mindset of trying to retain the talent they have toward one of sharing talent with the collective National Guard, while welcoming new talent into their organizations. Additionally, small cohorts of leaders cannot be the sole decision makers on soldier assignments. One of the reasons why AIM 2.0 was so successful in the active component was because it allowed officers to proactively communicate with unit leaders and then collaborate to rank their assignment preferences. Although the levels of engagement varied by unit, the ones that were more engaged were able to not only recruit the right number of people, but the right people for the jobs. This could be the same for National Guard units. Finally, soldiers must also change their approaches to the assignments process. With more autonomy, they must learn to market their skills and talents to the total Army force as they do with the civilian world, understanding that their KSB-Ps could take them along innovative and uncharted career paths.
The Army Talent Management Task Force is looking at talent in ways that the Army—as well as many soldiers and leaders—have never done before, and it has already produced many meaningful changes to how the Army manages its people. The Army National Guard must follow suit with a similar willingness to adapt its approach to talent management and update its systems. By unlocking both military and civilian talent via ATAP, the National Guard can better lean forward to employ its people and meet the challenges of the future operating environment.
Maj. John T. O’Connell is a US Army logistics officer and current student at the School of Advanced Military Studies. He has served in various units the Regular Army and the Army National Guard, including the 4th Infantry Division, the 169th Field Artillery Brigade, and National Guard Bureau. He has previously deployed to Afghanistan and Europe.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the School of Advanced Military Studies, United States Military Academy, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense.
Image credit: Staff Sgt. Jennifer Milnes, US Army