The Pentagon is expanding joint military education programs to younger noncommissioned officers, a move that aims to better equip them to serve in the roughly 8,800 joint enlisted jobs across today’s force.
“It will best prepare them to jump from that parochial assignment they may have in their service and move into a joint assignment seamlessly,” said Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Troxell, the senior enlisted adviser for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford.
Troxell is overseeing the expansion of two Senior Enlisted Joint Professional Military Education — SEJPME — programs that are voluntary and offered online.
Specifically, the SEJMPE I course, previously available to enlisted troops only in the pay grades of E-7 and above, is now open to E-5s and E-6s as well. That change took effect in April and so far several thousand have enrolled, defense officials say.
Such expansion reflects the growing responsibility that younger NCOs have shouldered during the past decade, Troxell said.
“I thought: All the things we’re asking E-5s to do around the world — drive aircraft carriers, lead combat patrols, build partner capacity and all that — and then I’m telling them 'but you’re too young of an NCO to come back and take an online course to help you develop as a joint warrior?’ So I changed that,” Troxell said in a recent interview.
Another expansion is giving senior enlisted troops an opportunity to attend in-residence courses traditionally limited to commissioned officers.
That includes the Joint and Combined Warfighting School, a 10-week, in-residence course at the Joint Forces Staff College, which is now open to senior NCOs at the E-8 and E-9 pay grade. The same expansion applies to the Joint and Combined Warfighting School-Hybrid, which is the same course in a different format — a blended 40-week program that includes 37 weeks of online instruction and a three-week in residence at the Norfolk, Virginia, campus.
Qualifications include a bachelors degree and an endorsement from Troxell's office.
The joint education programs for enlisted troops reflects a recognition that many NCOs know very little about the military outside their own service, both culturally and administratively.
For example, the Air Force has no warrant officers, a rank structure familiar to the other service branches. Individual services have unique professional communities, distinct jargon and varied career paths that can be key to communicating and working as an effective unit.
“Service identity is important. But in the end, we all know we fight as a joint force. So the earlier we can expose men and women to operate in a joint force ... the better off they’re going to be,” Troxell said.
Another effort to push joint enlisted education is the recent release of an downloadable audio version of the basic textbook for NCOs: "The Noncommissioned Officer and Petty Officer: Backbone of the Armed Forces."
The changes aim to appeal to a new generation of service members. “The millennials nowadays are knowledge seekers. They are looking to maximize their learning abilities,” Troxell said.
For officers, joint military education is mandated by law. Through the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, Congress has imposed rigid requirements for those mid-career officers aspiring to senior positions.
But for the enlisted force, joint education is entirely run by the Pentagon — and Troxell wants to keep it that way.
“I don’t want any kind of oversight on enlisted development,” he said. Laws like that would force military leaders to seek congressional approval for any changes.
“We need to have the agility to adapt our learning models and how we get after developing enlisted leaders based on the conditions they’ll have to face in combat, or across the globe.”