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The Battalion Command Centralized Selection List and the Logistics Corps

For logisticians, battalion command is a discriminator for continued promotion and service.
Does the current process for battalion command selection best serve the Army's,
and the logistics officers', needs?

Many Logistics Corps officers who endured the reduction in force and the lowered promotion rates of the post-Operation Desert Storm Army from 1991 to 1995 equated success to promotion to lieutenant colonel and the completion of 20 years of service. Today, after several years of increased promotion rates to major and lieutenant colonel, many Logistics Corps officers have changed their perception of success to mean a successful battalion command and promotion to colonel.

The Logistics Corps today is at a crossroads in terms of selecting the best qualified officers—the ones who possess the right skills and experiences—to lead Army professionals, prepare them to fight our Nation's wars, manage the Army's resources, and support the many organizations that comprise our warfighting force. To this end, the centralized selection list (CSL) process serves to meet the leadership and management needs of the Army and the Department of Defense.

The Chief of Staff of the Army, General Martin E. Dempsey, in his February 2011 article, "Building Critical Thinkers," makes the assertion that "the experiences of the last 10 years reinforces the need [for the Army] to develop leaders who are both accomplished . . . at the tactical level and competent and capable . . . at the operational and strategic level."

By selecting officers who have best demonstrated leadership, effectiveness, and potential for service at the tactical level, is the Army's Logistics Corps choosing the right officers to shape the future of our Army for the next 10 to 15 years? Is success at the tactical level the right measuring stick for a future strategic leader? Is it the right measurement for a professional logistician?

In order to look at this problem, it is important to review how the battalion command CSL process works, which positions are centrally selected, how the process has changed and is changing, and how selection affects future promotion. Then we can recommend areas of consideration for change. This article will attempt to explain the CSL in terms of battalion-level logistics commands while answering the question: Is the battalion command CSL process creating the future leaders that the Army Logistics Corps needs?

Spartan Field Kitchen
The blue bar shows the number of promotions to colonel, and the red bar red shows battle command CSL selections.

The Battalion Command CSL Process

The selection of battalion commanders is a 9-month process that begins with guidance from the Chief of Staff of the Army to the selection board. The process ends with the publication of a centrally selected list of officers to serve as battalion commanders and in designated key billets deemed so critical that a board must centrally select those leaders. The Chief of Staff's guidance to the selection board is significant. The CSL is the Chief of Staff's process, and the board members select the officers they believe are best qualified to command our tactical formations and lead our Army for the next 10 to 15 years.

Before the board convenes, multiple steps occur behind the scenes. The Command Management Branch at the Army Human Resources Command (HRC), in conjunction with the Department of the Army G–1, produces a list of available commands and available officers. The assignment officers then scrub both lists in an effort to eliminate any errors caused by shifting change-of-command dates and to identify any officers who may have an error in their files that either precludes them from competing or should lead to their inclusion on the list.

After both lists are verified, the eligible commands and officers are loaded into the Command Preference Designation (CPD), which is a web-based program that captures officers' preferences. Once an officer receives notification, he can log into CPD and can choose to compete for any or all categories of command. CPD is also the place where an officer will rank the order of his preferences.

It is this ranking that HRC ultimately will use, along with skills, experience, and other personal and professional factors, during the slating process to help determine where a selected officer will be slated for a command or key billet. However, officers might not prioritize categories. It is strongly recommended that officers call or email their assignment officer and ensure that the assignment officer can see their preferences in CPD. Errors sometimes occur in the system so that it does not capture all preferences.

At the same time that CPD is populated, assignment officers begin scrubbing and reviewing the eligible officers' files. The assignment officer reviews the officer record brief and photo for the eligible officer and sends him an email detailing whether or not his file has deficiencies. The officer is able to fix any errors and certify his file before the MyBoardFile portal closes for the board.

In the case of Logistics Corps officers, the Department of the Army secretariat hosts the Force Sustainment Battalion Command CSL Board. The board comprises a general officer as the board president and colonels who represent the whole of Army sustainment (quartermaster, ordnance, transportation, medical service, finance, and adjutant general). Separate battalion command CSL boards are held for operations support and for maneuver, fires, and effects.

It is critical to note that the Force Sustainment Battalion Command CSL Board is composed of sustainment leaders while the Lieutenant Colonel Active Competitive Category Promotion Board has roughly 20 members (colonels and brigadier generals) drawn from most of the branches and functional areas in the Army.

Another interesting note about the CSL board is that it does not verify any skills or experience matches for the commands available, except for explosive ordnance disposal. In other words, if seven Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) ports are available for command, the board does not ensure that it has selected seven Transportation Corps officers or seven officers with SDDC experience. The board's mandate from the Chief of Staff of the Army, as published in the board guidance available on the HRC website, is to "select agile leaders capable of leading those forces in combat and running the Army." (The HRC website is available at https://www.hrcapps.army.mil/site/protect/active/select/ltcacccmd11.htm).

Once the board has closed, the principal and alternate selection lists are passed to the Command Management Branch and then to HRC's Force Sustainment Division (FSD). Once FSD receives the list, FSD's Logistics Branch, in accordance with the Chief of Staff's and the proponent's slating guidance, slates the selected officers. Once the slating is completed, the slate is briefed for information purposes at several levels (HRC, G–1, and the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army) and to the Chief of Staff for approval. At no time is the slate briefed to senior logistics leaders before it is released to the force.

Spartan Field Kitchen
The number of commands available to logisticians in recent fiscal years.

Battalion Command CSL Commands and Key Billets

Since the inception of the Logistics Corps in January 2008, the Army has continued to formally develop broadly skilled, experienced, and multifunctional officers capable of serving in any assigned area of concentration 90A, multifunctional logistics, position. As an unintended consequence of this move to multifunctionality, the Logistics Corps has reduced its technical depth.

Interestingly enough, as this was occurring in the logistics community, several changes occurred in the logistics battalion command CSL categories: The command categories decreased to three, centrally selected multifunctional commands increased, functional commands were opened to all Logistics Corps officers, and the number of functional commands in the Army decreased.

It is certainly easy to correlate the reduced capacity for command to the lack of functional expertise in certain areas of the Logistics Corps. An officer might ask why he needs to develop functional skills if there are fewer command opportunities (and ultimately promotion opportunities) down a certain career path. The answer is that if there are few functional commands, then functional expertise may actually be a disadvantage to an officer's selection for a battalion command CSL.

Although the Logistics Corps is a multifunctional branch that requires functional expertise, officers may compete in any and all categories, regardless of previous skills and experiences. In fact, there has been a change in command categories from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2012 to support an officer's ability to serve as a multifunctional logistician. Fiscal year 2011 had a myriad of categories available, as shown in the chart above right.

The fiscal year 2012 CSL had only commands—no key billets—and only three competitive categories: logistics operations (multifunctional and functional), strategic support, and training. Within these three categories, 69 battalion command opportunities were available for Logistics Corps officers.

The commands that constitute the strategic support category are worth discussion. The number of these commands, which are responsible for synchronizing distribution and sustainment operations at the operational and strategic levels of the Army, has increased. However, the key and developmental opportunities within those commands have not. This phenomenon does not always allow junior officers to develop in a strategic support organization. Ultimately, anyone selected can serve and succeed in command, but is it reasonable for a profession to ask an officer to serve for the first time in a critical strategic support position—not only in terms of the current assignment and its responsibilities but also in terms of its effect on his future promotion potential?

In the past 3 to 5 years, as the number of commands available in the strategic category has in-creased, officers have voiced concern over being selected for strategic commands. Since the matter of performance in a job is probably more critical than the actual job itself, why then does the Logistics Corps not routinely groom strategic support battalion commanders by forcing officers to complete assignments in nontactical units? This development would seem to allow an officer to be ready to command any unit: strategic, tactical, or training.

Fewer commands are now available overall to Logistics Corps officers because of the increased inactivation of functional battalions. But the question still needs to be asked, does the Logistics Corps still have too many commands?

CSL: The Gateway to Colonel

The battalion command CSL has become synonymous with selection to the rank of colonel since there is little room for those who do not make the battalion command CSL to become colonels. This is especially true when one considers that the colonel's promotion board, just like the lieutenant colonel's promotion board, is a combined arms board. So it makes sense that easily identifiable discriminators and comparable positions (such as battalion commander) would play a prominent role in promotions.

By creating this de facto gate for promotion to colonel, logisticians theoretically may not be promoting those best suited to positions of increased responsibility outside of the tactical realm. It is, however, important to note that the "crucible of command" may strengthen and hone an officer's leadership capability and ability to succeed in positions of increased responsibility.

Spartan Field Kitchen
Command categories available in fiscal year 2011.

Does the Logistics Corps Have It Right?

As it stands today, the battalion command CSL is a discriminator for logisticians for continued promotion and service. The Logistics Corps allows officers to develop and serve in either functional or multifunctional positions or units; however, rare is the officer with demonstrated successful service in both. The CSL selection board also does not select individuals based on skills and experience matches with specific commands. Rather, as previously discussed, the selection board identifies the best people regardless of skills and experience.

The bottom line is that the Army's Logistics Corps must continue readdressing talent management and must fully prepare future leaders for success at its highest ranks. In addition to this dialog, several changes to the leader development process should be considered with respect to the battalion command CSL:

  • Mandate that all officers competing for the battalion command CSL "opt in" during the CPD process rather than "in" being the default.
  • Redistribute the number of commands available in a given fiscal year more equitably across fiscal years. As one can see from the chart above left, the number of commands has tilted decidedly in recent odd fiscal years. This disadvantages officers in an even year group, forcing them to command later than their peers.
  • Redesign the officer professional development model for Logistics Corps officers to stress functional and multifunctional assignments as broadening experience. Limit the number of officers serving in O1A (branch generalist) billets and maximize 90A, 88 (transportation), 91 (ordnance), and 92 (quartermaster) service.
  • Develop a career track for those officers who are not battalion command CSL-selected.

If the battalion command CSL is the gateway to promotion to colonel in the Army, then the Logistics Corps owes it to itself, as a profession, to ensure that the methods used to select future leaders continue to select those best qualified to be those future leaders of our Army. There must be a transparent system supported by leaders through the mentoring, coaching, and development of junior officers. The Army CSL process is dynamic and capable of change. It will prove capable of transformation in support of future Army and logistics requirements if the profession ensures that the process is given the due diligence of dialog required of a profession.

Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth W. Letcher is assigned to the 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command. He was previously assigned to the Army Human Resources Command and served the brigade S–4 and support battalion executive officer in the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3d Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division. He holds a bachelor's degree from Vanderbilt University and master's degrees from the School of Advanced Military Studies and Kansas State University. He is a graduate of the Infantry Officer Basic Course, the Transportation Corps Officer Transition Course, the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course, and the Army Command and General Staff College.

Lieutenant Colonel Michelle M. Letcher is currently assigned to the 18th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion. She was previously assigned to the Army Human Resources Command and served as the support operations officer for the 189th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion and the logistics planner for the XVIII Airborne Corps. She holds a bachelor's degree from Illinois State University and master's degrees from the School of Advanced Military Studies and Kansas State University. She is a graduate of the Air Defense Artillery Officer Basic Course, the Ordnance Corps Officer Transition Course, the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course, and the Army Command and General Staff College.

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