The new Army chief of staff gave a clear indication of where the National Guard falls in his priorities when he arrived in Denver on Saturday.
Gen. James McConville, who was sworn in as the Army’s top officer Aug. 9, made his first official trip to the 141st General Conference & Exhibition. In doing so, he honored the Guard's “long, rich history” while also stressing the importance of the current role the Guard plays in the nation’s defense.
“The Army’s senior leaders, we clearly know the heavy load the National Guard has been carrying over the last 18 years at both home and around the world,” McConville said. “The Army absolutely cannot do what it does without the National Guard.”
The Guard plays a critical role. And the Army could not have carried its mission load of the past two decades without the work of Guardsmen from all states and territories, he said.
But at the same time, he said leaders recognize that service has come with a cost and that constant deployments and increased training can cause tension with civilian careers and families.
The Army, in conjunction with the National Guard Bureau, is seeking the right balance for Guard forces and leaders could see changes in the coming months, McConville said.
Those efforts are part of McConville’s biggest push as the new Army chief of staff — to revitalize how the Army treats its people.
“Winning matters. And people are my No. 1 priority,” he said. “Winning matters. It’s an attitude. It’s a mindset. And we win by doing the right things the right way. We win through our people.”
“When I say people, I mean National Guard soldiers. I mean Reserve soldiers. I mean Regular Army soldiers. I mean our families, our civilians and our soldiers for life, our retirees and veterans,” McConville added. “People will deliver on readiness, modernization and reform efforts.”
McConville said the Army will continue on its path to modernize for future fights, all while maintaining readiness.
“We’re doing some incredible things on modernization,” the general said. “It’s no longer an industrial-age system and we’re going to aggressively pursue new technologies to give us an edge on the battlefield.”
Part of that modernization is a new concept in how the Army will fight, multidomain operations, which address a possible near peer battle by integrating cyber, electronic warfare, space operations and long-range precision fires, among other capabilities.
The Guard is part of those efforts. And McConville promised new equipment to ensure that Guard units, along with other Army units, are postured to win in future fights.
“We’re going to build up your Apache battalions to 24 aircraft. We’re going to phase out all of your M1A1s. We’re going to get you your JLTVs,” he said. “We’re going to replace your older UH-60s and as we look at aircraft and new systems like the future long-range assault aircraft, those will come to the Guard.”
Changes in talent management will also have a direct impact on Guard troops.
The Army is introducing the Integrated Personnel and Pay System-Army to better manage soldiers based on talents not currently captured by a system that classifies soldiers by little more than rank and occupational specialty.
IPPS-A will help match talent and people with real Army requirements, McConville said. And it’s been first introduced in the National Guard.
McConville said the Army will change other aspects of its talent management system, too. Soldier preferences on assignments will have more weight. The Army is reviewing how it selects battalion commanders, assessing captains to see if they are in the right branch and looking to create more flexible career paths for soldiers.
Merit-based promotions for noncommissioned officers and direct commissions up to colonel for soldiers with some skillsets are also on the horizon.
IPPS-A will ultimately have a more direct impact on Guardsmen, too, by helping to ensure they are not lost in a bureaucratic shuffle when doing their duty.
“When you go on active-duty, we mess up your records. We mess up your pay. And we’ve got to fix that,” McConville said. Bringing all three components into a single system will help resolve those issues.
“There’s a lot of things going on in the talent management side of the house,” McConville said. “The Army is people and we’ve got to take care of our people if we want to maintain being the world’s greatest force.”