The Bayonet

Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014

Questions, answers from MCoE town hall

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The following questions and answers are from the Jan. 13 town hall that was held regarding the upcoming release of the table of distribution allowance for fiscal year 2015. The questions and answers have been edited for clarity.

Question 1: What are the total authorization numbers being projected by the MCoE for fiscal years 2015 through 2017? Answer 1 – Col. John Marr, MCoE Chief of Staff: Not having the document makes any answer a guess. There are two sets of numbers, and that’s why it’s important to understand this. Part of what Congress told the Army to do in 2014, as it sent its budget guidance for the four years that range from 2014-2018, was to start moving the Army back to where it was prior to 9/11 with regards to the ratio of civilians to military. So, with some of the positions that might be at risk when this document comes out, the position is not gone. It’s just changed from a civilian position back to a noncommissioned officer or officer. Right now, there are about 130 of those positions. When the Army says it’s going to reconvert back to a military position, what the Army is signing up for is a contract to put an NCO or officer on the ground at Fort Benning to make that transition happen.

This adds a little bit of time to our timeline because we can’t just make a bunch of people appear here to slip into what it is that you’re doing now. That gives us a little more time to negotiate and refine the rough edges of what makes sense in terms of having a civilian position or having a military position. On the outright reduction side, we’re looking at about 40 positions. Again, we haven’t just thought about this, this morning. We’ve been working on it for about a year and a half to two years, so we’ve already been identifying positions … and actively working to reposition folks into positions that we don’t think are as much at risk. We’ve got to have that document in order to get the specifics and give you those bottom line numbers. Once we do have that document, that’s one of the things we’ll put on the website.

Answer 1 (continued) – Bob Brown, director of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security: You work in TRADOC. TRADOC is a TDA organization. The metrics for developing the TDA are based on training load. The reason we exist is to train the Soldier. As the load comes down, the load will stay in sync with the Army’s force structure. … If you have a smaller Army and a smaller requirement to train Soldiers, that means our mission is reduced at Fort Benning. Just to give you some comparative numbers, in fiscal year 2001, September 11th when the Twin Towers came down, what did Fort Benning look like? The active Army was 482,000 Soldiers. At the end of fiscal year 2015, we’re talking about going to an active Army of 490,000 Soldiers, which is a little bit up.

Fort Benning trained 57,000 Soldiers in 2001. Those of us who were here thought we were OK. The projected training load, as of last November, for Fort Benning at the end of fiscal year 2015 is 67,000, so it’s a little bit up. But, I will tell you the Army is looking at that training load because the structure is coming down. We will not know for the next 30 to 60 days what the adjusted training loads will be. But, the training loads will drive the TDA structure. So, whatever the decision is, Fort Benning’s primary mission is to train privates and lieutenants. We’re always going to have that mission. It’s an enduring mission. What we don’t know is how many, and how many will determine the structure.

Question 2: Is this a strict cut across the board for every TRADOC installation or is each installation’s mission being considered? Answer 2 – Col. John Marr, MCoE Chief of Staff: The short answer is yes, the MCoE is being considered in its unique sense. That is what gives us the leverage that we have in the conversations that we have with TRADOC. We are quick to point out, whenever conversations about standardization come up, that we’ll be just like all the other Centers of Excellence. The point being that in some places it makes sense. Basic combat training battalions here, at Fort Jackson, Fort Leonard Wood, if they look about the same, that would make some sense. But, there are some unique things within what TRADOC calls its core functions that the MCoE does that no other Center of Excellence does, and we’re quick to point those things out. When it comes down to the larger restructuring initiative TRADOC is running, it’ll force the Army leadership to examine the prioritization of its core functions and determine what it is that’s most important. We strongly believe that training those privates and Soldiers and junior officers are not going to come off the table, where some of the other functions that have grown into what the Army does since 9/11 might be the ones that are looked at a little bit differently.

That aside, the two-star headquarters reduction that was mandated by Congress is being applied as a standard “bull in the china shop” kind of approach. The good news for Fort Benning is we feel like we’ve already given that (reduction). We started our reduction of MCoE as part of the BRAC process in 2006 by restructuring to go from two separate schools (to one Center of Excellence). Then (more recently) we adopted the “university model.” (Therefore,) we’ve already taken a look at our headquarters and trimmed it up pretty good. That 25 percent, with regards to the two-star headquarters mandate, we think that’s a little more negotiable, and we’re working our way through that with TRADOC right now.

Answer 2 (continued) – Bob Brown, director of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security: As the Army restructures, it is also looking at other commands other than TRADOC. Here at Fort Benning, not later than the fiscal year 2015 timeframe we’re talking about, there are also several tenant units that are will be affected. For example, 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division will restructure from a heavy brigade combat team to a light Infantry combat team. A heavy combat brigade team is authorized 3,900 Soldiers. A light Infantry combat team is authorized 3,100 Soldiers. There are 800 fewer Soldiers to provide services to. At the same time, the 11th Engineer Battalion will restructure from a stand-alone battalion as it exists today. Several of its companies will inactivate, and it will become part of that 3rd Brigade.

My point is with a smaller Army, some units restructuring, realigning and in some cases inactivating and a reduced training load, there will be a need for reduced services. IMCOM and the garrison will see some corresponding reductions because fewer services mean fewer people. We just don’t know quite what that means yet. We’re not in it alone.

Question 3: Are we looking at having more Soldiers pick up the civilians’ duties? Answer 3 – Col. John Marr, MCoE Chief of Staff: I think the answer to that is yes, and I think you’re already seeing it. When you come in the gates in the morning or weekends, you already see some Soldiers who are working side-by-side with the (civilian) gate guards. … I believe that we’ll have to look at several solutions to get the most important work done. We’ll have to figure that out. As I mentioned, part of the MCoE structure change is to put uniformed individuals back in where we had some civilians. I think both in terms of structure, as well as our ability to use military manpower, we’re probably going to have to move back that way. Of course, we’re probably going to minimize that because that’s not why we brought those Soldiers in and that’s not the contract that they signed. Where we need to get work done, we’ll make the right decisions and prioritize accordingly.

Question 4: How can civilians access the 2015 TDA? Answer 4 – Janice Johnson, Director, MCoE G8: There are certain people who have access within each organization to the TDA once it is approved. You can get access through your organization if you need to view the TDA.

Question 5: Will this transition also affect the contracted positions on post? Answer 5 – Col. John Marr, MCoE Chief of Staff: This restructuring initiative itself will not have a direct impact on contracting. (However,) the overall downward pressure on our Army budget will have an impact on contracted employees. There’s no instance of looking at what our Department of the Army civilians do so that we can (get) a special permission from Congress to let folks go, and then contract out what they were doing. None of that is on the table or even being discussed. As our footprint in Afghanistan and our level of commitment in terms of people to the war reduces, the need for those contracts (we currently have at Fort Benning) reduces as well. Maj. Gen. McMaster has given us very specific guidance that for those things we were doing using contracted employees that we think are enduring, we (must) change the focus of those contracts away from training our Soldiers to training our cadre, so that as we go forward, we can let those contracts go and our instructors can start teaching those classes that were (previously) being provided by contractors.

Question 6: Will information be disseminated to contractors or civilian employees first? Answer 6 – Col. John Marr, MCoE Chief of Staff: The conversation that we’re having today (during the Town Halls) about what we’re doing in regards to our authorization document and our MCoE civilians is a conversation between us and you (Department of the Army civilian employees). I don’t have any intention of communicating (in) this forum to contractors, contract mangers or contracting officers. Answer 6 (continued) – Bob Brown, director of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security: With regards to contractors, the COR (contract officer representative) is the primary point of contact and no one else. The COR will inform (contract employees) as needed and required.

Question 7: Will we have any changes or adjustments to the TDA during the next 20 months? Answer 7 – Col. John Marr, MCoE Chief of Staff: I hope so. That’s part of what we’re working on all the time, and part of the message today is we’re going to see the 2015 TDA (soon), and just like the last time we saw our TDA, we’re going to have a chance to vote and to talk back and forth with TRADOC headquarters. We’re all under the same cap that takes the Army from 565,000 down to 450,000 (by FY2017), so it limits our ability to negotiate some things.

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