Being an enlisted ground-based midcourse defense Air Defender is not easy or glamorous, but it’s an important job very few get to do.
And when it comes to getting promoted as such, that’s a process as rare as the Air Defenders themselves.
Ground-based Midcourse Defense is the system used to defend the nation against ballistic missile attacks. The only unit in the Army with that mission is the 100th Missile Defense Brigade, which makes the T3 identifier -- Ground-Base Midcourse Defense -- a unique military occupation specialty. On top of that, this multi-component brigade is spread among three different states' National Guards -- Colorado, California and Alaska -- so when it when it comes time for a missile defense Soldier's promotion, he or she not only has to impress those in his or her own state, but has to make it through a review process between the three states.
For that upward mobility, these states have found a way to review these Soldiers and pick out those who fit the criteria in which to be put on top of the promotion list.
Sergeants major from each state meet face-to-face twice a year in one of the three states to review the Soldiers' packets. While this is a common practice for all states, what's unique is that three different states, with three different promotion systems, combine for the purpose of specifically evaluating GMD missile defenders.
“Due to our exclusive skill sets, we have to have a system in place like the tri-state process in order to effectively manage our (noncommissioned officers) and maintain their competencies,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Russell Hamilton, command sergeant major for the 100th MDB(GMD).
To avoid always having to travel to the same place, the meeting locations are rotated between Alaska, California and Colorado National Guard state headquarters.
This year’s tri-state board was originally supposed to be held in Colorado at the 100th Missile Defense Brigade’s headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo., but due to equipment issues it was delayed until late February and held in Anchorage, Alaska.
Even with the delay, the senior leaders were all able to sit down and review the qualified Soldiers to see who stood out from the pack.
“They go a little further than most EPS (enlisted promotions system) board processes would,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Harold London, state command sergeant major for the California Army National Guard. “It’s the uniqueness of the 14 series (military occupational specialty) that makes this process necessary. You wouldn’t have E-9s looking at E-4 and E-5s in a normal EPS process, you would have E-7s look at them. But because this 14 series is a very narrow band of Soldier pool, added with the complexity of the mission -- if you’re not in space and missile defense you’re not going to understand it and how they work.”
The leaders looked at about 15 Soldiers who have already been selected by their own individual states boards.
“This puts everyone on a level playing field,” said Hamilton. “We didn’t really reinvent the wheel -- the promotion regulation already exists and is in place. The Army already directs what the promotion policies are with regard to eligibility of Soldiers competing for promotion.”
The sergeants major have to evaluate all the Soldiers who carry the 14-series -- Air and Missile Defense Crewmember -- military occupational specialty. From that list, the leaders must select the most qualified Soldiers to be put on the promotion list. The sergeants majors' primary goal, once they determine criteria, is to find Soldiers who have the qualities, job experience and assignment mobility that can separate them from the crowd -- which means possibly having to get out of one's comfort zone.
“The most challenging thing, because we are creatures of comfort, is that it’s difficult to step outside the box to take on a new opportunity,” said Hamilton. “The AGR (Active Guard Reserve) world is a creature of that. National Guard Soldiers expect to work in the state that they serve, but in the realm of missile defense, it might take them outside the state they started in. But if they accept these opportunities to move around, they put themselves a step or a couple of steps ahead of their peers.”
The 100th Missile Defense Brigade and its subordinate units, Detachment One, located at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and the 49th Missile Defense Brigade located at Fort Greely, Alaska, are the only locations that Soldiers in the 14-series MOS can be promoted at -- and the only places in which NCOs can get the unique development to make themselves competitive for the next grade. This is one of the many reasons a tri-state board is used.
“It’s the idea of the ‘whole-Soldier concept,’” added Staff Sgt. Kimberly Pinney, an administration NCO for the 100th MDB(GMD). “It’s not just one or two things that make a great Soldier. It’s everything.”
Soldiers can best make themselves stand out by having good Army Physical Fitness Test score and marksmanship, and also being willing to work at two or three different locations that the 100th MDB occupies.
However, getting picked out of the crowd is only half the battle. There are slots that need to open, but to even be considered to get promoted, one has to make it on the list by being selected in the tri-state boards.
“By being willing to step outside the box and embrace such a system, it's opened up a world of opportunities that our NCOs wouldn’t have otherwise had,” said Hamilton.
“I think it’s very a fair process,” added London.