Career Management in MI Today

by Captain John T. Chenery
Today's military intelligence (MI) professionals encounter a wealth of career opportunities. There are numerous avenues and alternatives to achieving their career objectives. We must each assume a leadership role in managing our own careers, thus enabling ourselves to realize these goals.
The purpose of this article is to acquaint you with the United States Total Army Personnel Command (PERSCOM), specifically our MI Branch. It will also inform you of the career management process, and give you some insight on how to influence this process. It will delve into the roles of the various players in the assignment business: the career manager (CM), the Personnel Service Center (PSC), and you the soldier and leader. This article will address your opportunities, boards and other important procedures, and methods to contact your CM. The term "MI Branch" throughout this article encompasses the enlisted, warrant, and commissioned officer ranks.

PERSCOM and MI Branch

PERSCOM is at the center of Army career leadership and management. Many of you remember it as MILPERCEN (Military Personnel Center), or simply DA (Department of the Army). By whatever name, it is home to all the different MI Branch career managers and a highly professional civilian workforce charged with caring for your career management information files (CMIFs) and directing your many military career moves.
If you are like many of us, you have never considered the career management cycle, or even read the personnel section of the Army Times. That stuff is for the S1 and the personnel guys. Most of us do our jobs and go where the Army sends us. Well, this attitude is not only unrealistic in MI today it could be downright hazardous!
PERSCOM and MI Branch Mission. The PERSCOM and MI Branch mission is to assign the right soldier to the right job in the right place at the right time. Further, we advise MI soldiers on their individual career needs. On the enlisted side our mission statement includes
To get the right soldier with the right grade and skill to the right command at the right time with minimal turbulence and maximum fairness to soldiers and their families.
means their charter is to support you by making your assignments, assisting you in your professional development, and assisting in preparing officer files for promotion and selection boards. The bottom line is that mission of the CMs is to do what is best for the Army while also adding the common sense and personal touch to the bureaucracy of processing personnel transactions. As fellow soldiers, MI Branch professionals take this charter very seriously.
Structure. Beyond the chain of command and structure depicted in Figure 1, there are the unofficial and direct channels. Commanders and G2s at all levels have direct access to the MI Branch Chief and CMs. The open-door policy exists for all soldiers. Whether one speaks to a professional development noncommissioned officer (PDNCO), or the assignment officer, the soldier can always make contact with Branch. Figure 1.
MI Branch Facts. To appreciate the mission of these CMs, consider the number of soldiers for which the small handful of CMs are responsible: 23,000 intelligence soldiers in 28 military occupational specialties (MOSs) 11 warrant officer and 17 enlisted MOSs and 6 areas of concentration (AOC). It can be a formidable task to handle all inquiries directly since they receive hundreds of phone calls and voice-mail, E-mail, and U.S. mail messages daily. The CMs' goal is to match individuals to assignments and opportunities, and to benefit both the soldier and the Army.

The Assignment Process

Assignments are first matched to the needs of the Army. At MI Branch, the guidance is to then do what is right for the Army. What this means, since you are the Army, is that they weigh all the variables and factors involved, with care, compassion, and common sense, but always with an eye focused on the overall mission of the organization.
A primary concern throughout the process is the professional development of the soldier, which encompasses numerous jobs and training requirements at various levels and junctures during the soldier's career. Tour equity (Continental United States (CONUS) then outside CONUS (OCONUS), tactical then strategic, and so forth) and getting branch qualified at various ranks are also important. Figure 2 shows many of the variables CMs consider prior to making an assignment. The sheer numbers involved with enlisted soldiers necessitates a modified approach to the process, but the personal touch of the CM is always there.
Understand that the CMs' cyclic process dictates working CONUS rotations six months out, and OCONUS nine months out. Use these numbers as a guide when calling MI Branch; sending the DA Form 483, Preference Statement, is the way to achieve the best results. Yes, they really do work. Figure 2.
The Career Manager's Role. The CM's role is to provide that common sense and personal approach to the assignment process. The Branch selects as CMs soldiers qualified at their present rank with clear potential for promotion. Remember, it is an MI soldier at the other end of the line who speaks your language. They care about you, your career and your family's concerns.
After you have used your chain of command and feel you still have significant issues that cannot be resolved at the local or MACOM levels, contact your CM. These issues may include compassionate reassignments, joint domiciles, and Exceptional Family Member Program issues. A frequently requested, very appropriate use of the CM is to give an officer a candid file assessment prior to a promotion or selection board. This information is available only to you, not to supervisors wishing to screen their soldiers' personnel records. You must call MI Branch to give authorization for the CM to discuss your file with anyone.
The continuity and depth of knowledge at MI Branch rests with the civilian workforce. They provide the level of expertise which is not possible for an assignment officer to develop in a 12- to 24-month tour at a CM desk. The civilians are authorized to provide all the assistance one would receive from a CM, except file assessments and actual assignment approval. Often when your CM puts you on hold to find an answer, that answer comes from the technicians.
Personnel Service Center Role. The administrative functions of file maintenance and personnel actions are the primary responsibility of the installation PSC. After your unit S1, the PSC is your link to both the Standard Installation Division Personnel System (SIDPERS) and the Total Officer Personnel Management Information System (TOPMIS). The PSC electronically updates your file through this management system. Your local PSC has a better capability to perform administrative updates to your files than does MI Branch, and they are resourced to perform those functions. However, after being notified the board will meet (a few months before the board convenes), initiate direct dialogue with your CM. Also, send a backup photo directly to your CM. Use registered mail so you can be sure it arrived.
Your Role. You must be the leader in your overall career management and become involved in your assignment process. No one is as interested in, or concerned about, your career as you. Be proactive. You can stay abreast of our profession's trends and issues by reading the Army Times, Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin, NCO Journal, MI Branch Career Notes, and the recent issues of the MI Branch Newsletter, which is now on-line on the Internet. Proactivity also means keeping your records up to date at your local PSC, and ensuring Branch has a current photo and DA Form 483 on-hand. As far as selection or promotion boards are concerned, soldiers are responsible for keeping their records current. Leaders need to work with soldiers prior to the CM's promotion board scrub. Leaders are encouraged to use CMs as sounding boards prior to counseling sessions when planned topics relate to professional development issues and trends. For officers, it is critical to understand exactly where you fit in your Senior Rater's Profile. Once you receive your officer efficiency report (OER), call your CM to check the profile. If you wait until the board convenes to appeal your OER, it is too late.

Professional Development Opportunities

Numerous opportunities exist for MI soldiers at all rank levels, MOSs, and AOCs. For the latest information on professional development options in your particular MOS, check the latest editions of the MI Career Notes, the MI Branch Newsletter, and the Warrant Officer Newsletter. Then, if you are interested in a program, see your chain of command, and contact your CM or PDNCO if you have any unresolved questions
Options on the enlisted side are far too numerous to address here. However, the basic plan is to allow the soldier opportunities for a variety of jobs with increasing levels of responsibility. Commissioned officers must strive for Branch qualification at various grades as they move up throughout their careers in accordance with Department of the Army Pamphlet 600-3, Commissioned Officer Professional Development and Career Management. We talk also of branch competitiveness which goes a bit further. As an example, company grade officers are competitive after both successful company command and service as a unit intelligence officer, primary staff S2.
For warrant officers, there is no formalized branch qualification at each grade. However, to prepare warrants to become successful Chief Warrant Officers Four and Five (CW4 and CW5), we must ensure the correct mix of assignments and positions within the MOS at different echelons. Warrant Officers One (WO1s) usually start at the division level and progress through their careers to grade CW5 generally assigned at the major command (MACOM) and joint level.

Boards and Special Actions

Two factors make it extremely difficult for boards to select individuals for schools, special assignments, and promotions the Army's drawdown and the truly high caliber of soldiers in the Army, and particularly in MI today. In the brief amount of time board members have to review your file, they are looking for that one discriminator; that is, something that identifies you as not making the mark. Although that discriminant changes from time to time and from board to board, you can be sure that the board that reviews your records will be consistent and fair. This is a strictly regimented process with extensive oversight, conducted by professional senior leaders from a mix of career fields. The methods used to ensure selection of a soldier for that next move up the chain are clearly established and straightforward. To the board, your file is you. It must tell the board in a clear, professional voice, I am a soldier select me! If it conveys that you have served well and faithfully, and your photo shows a true soldier, you should be promoted. It really is that simple. Figure 3.

Contacting MI Branch

Remember, at Branch they are still MI soldiers and are not experts in all Adjutant General functions. However, they will do their best to handle your assignment questions and career-related issues and emergencies.
Procedures. There are several ways to contact a CM. If you do not feel satisfied with one way, try another. They will respond to your inquiry just remember to allow them time to do so. E-mail or U.S. mail. This takes minimum time from the CM and they can take it home or answer it from home. It also allows you to compose your thoughts, include all pertinent information, retain a written record of contact, and allows the CM time to consider a complete response.
Voice mail. You can leave it at any hour (provided you are one of the first 30 to get in before it fills up). Definitely make notes on what you are going to say before you call, and speak slowly and clearly. A routine message should contain your social security number (SSN); rank; name; commercial work, home, and DSN phone numbers; and a brief summary of the issue.
Telephone. Write down your questions and leave room to jot responses. If the issue could not be resolved at your installation or MACOM, provide your CM names and numbers of the points of contact so he or she can work back through them. Start out with your rank, name, and SSN (so the CM can pull your file up while you talk). Give a concise synopsis of your issue. Remember your Army effective writing class: bottom-line-up-front! Visits. You should coordinate with your CM if you plan to make a visit to 200 Stovall Street. This allows the CM time to prepare a new officer record brief or DA Form 2-1, and to order a new microfiche for you. Frequently used telephone numbers.

Conclusion

MI soldiers today have a great career path ahead. There are numerous routes and junctures along the way, and for those who look ahead and plan accordingly, it will be a full and rewarding career. You should understand the assignment and professional development process, where you are in this process, and how you can influence the system. Soldiers who take the leadership role in their own careers will clearly be "Always out front!"

The author wishes to thank the following individuals for their invaluable assistance with this article: Chief Warrant Officer Four Gerald A. Walters, Master Sergeant John L. Mense, and Master Sergeant James M. Newlan.

Captain Chenery is currently the US Army's Active Component Support to Reserve Component (AC/RC) Distribution Officer, PERSCOM, and was previously the MI Lieutenants' Assignment Officer. During seven years with the 187th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) Fort Campbell, Kentucky, he served as a brigade and battalion S2, and Headquarters and Headquarters Operations Company Company Team Commander. He is a graduate of the OCS program and has a degree in Criminal Justice from Murray State University, Kentucky. Readers can contact Captain Chenery at (703) 325-0145, DSN 221-0145, and via E-mail at [email protected] Additional information is available through PERSCOM Online on the Internet at http://www-perscom.army.mil.