FORT PICKETT, Va. — Virginia Army National Guard leaders are reminding enlisted Soldiers of all ranks that completing U.S. Army Structured Self Development courses is a top priority for the organization, as well as the individual Soldiers.
“The onus is on the Soldier,” explained Command Sgt. Maj. Carl Holcomb, the Virginia Army National Guard command sergeant major. “The commanders are trying to communicate to the Soldiers that they need to do SSD if they want to get to the next rank and get promoted in the Virginia Guard.”
SSD is online training that enhances skills, knowledge, behaviors and experience, according to the U.S. Army. SSD is a supplement to the Noncommissioned Officer Education System and affects promotions because all Soldiers are required to complete various levels in order to attend NCOES courses.
There are five levels of SSD and, once they are enrolled in a course, Soldiers have upwards to two years to complete it, in accordance with All Army Activities message 126/2014- Transition of Advanced Leader Course Common Core to Structures Self Development Level 2.
“If you think you’re going to sit there for years and not get the training completed, you’re mistaken,” Holcomb said. “The high-speed Soldiers who complete SSD are the ones who are going to move up while you move out.”
Soldiers are enrolled in SSD I automatically upon completing Basic Combat Training and it must be completed prior to attending the Warrior Leader Course.
SSD II replaced the Advance Leader Course-Common Core. Right now the biggest backlog in the Virginia Guard is getting Soldiers to complete SSD II. Completion of SSD II is a prerequisite for the Advanced Leader Course and it is also required before a Soldier is recommended for staff sergeant.
SSD III is completed after ALC and is a prerequisite to the Senior Leader Course. All promotable sergeants and staff sergeants who graduate from ALC are automatically enrolled in SSD III. A soldier must complete SSD III to be considered for SFC.
Promotable staff sergeants, sergeants first class, and master sergeants are enrolled automatically into SSD IV upon completion of SLC. SSD IV completion is a prerequisite for attendance to the Sergeants Major Course.
Promotable master sergeants and sergeants major are enrolled automatically into SSD V upon completion of the sergeant major course or its equivalent and SSD V is prerequisite to be considered for nominative and joint assignments.
Holcomb’s concern is making sure there are educated, qualified Soldiers throughout the organization. One way to do that is to ensure Soldiers are meeting their education requirements so they can be promoted and fill those leadership positions.
“We need to build a bench,” he said. “If we can’t get these people into these courses and if they’re not qualified and not promotable, our bench is going to be thin. We’re all going to pay the price for it.”
In January 2015, 109 junior grade Soldiers from the 2014-2015 order of merit list were passed over for promotion based on lack of SSD completion, according to Sgt. 1st Class Kelly M. Flynn, Enlisted Promotions Manager for the Virginia Army National Guard.
Out of 226 Soldiers considered for promotion to sergeant first class, 43 were removed from the list because they had not completed SSD III. In addition, 17 out of 204 Soldiers had not completed SSD IV and were denied consideration for promotion to master sergeant.
A lot of Soldiers were not even attempting to do complete SSD courses because they wanted to be compensated, according to Holcomb. But the money wasn’t available. The Va. Guard even looked into giving rewarding retirement points for completed courses. That was not possible either.
But even though Soldiers need to complete the courses on their own time, without pay, they will reap the rewards later, Holcomb said.
“It’s going to take a lot of self discipline,” he said. “They’re not going to get money or retirement points but the ultimate reward is they’re going to be able to get promoted. So it pays off in the end.”
The Virginia Guard has gone out of its way to make completing the courses easier for Soldiers, he said. Distance learning centers at Fort Pickett and Camp Pendleton are available for Soldiers to use to complete the training.
“We also had G6 reimage old laptops and gave them to some of the units so Soldiers can come in and use them for SSD there,” Holcomb said. “Now it’s all on the Soldiers’ shoulders. They have to take care of their own careers. We can help them manage it but they’re the ones who are going to have to be responsible for getting it done.”
“They’re keepers of their own careers,” he said. “We’ve opened all these doors for them. Now it’s up to them.”
For additional information, visit the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy