US Army Highly Qualified Enlisted Expert

Why not maximize Noncommissioned Officer talent post-military service?


Today’s Army does not have ready access to a select group of highly qualified former enlisted leaders who possess the intellectual capacity, wisdom, and expertise to assist the Force in short-term, and often complicated projects. In cultivating Soldiers for Life surely talent management does not end at retirement? The type of expertise often required is often only gained through many years of military service at key and strategic positions while serving at the highest strategic levels. This type of capability exists elsewhere in the Department and was formerly known as the Senior Mentor Program, but just as before, the current policy and practice excludes the enlisted cohort. Currently, when important needs for temporary support is identified an ad hoc process is used to identify and vet potential volunteer candidates, oftentimes many times a year and using varying degree of specificity of qualifications.


Every year the Army has experienced both predicted and unforcasted requirements for short-term and temporary support from highly qualified enlisted experts that cannot be fulfilled by the existing leaders either due to time intensive or inflexible requirements. Because of that, we submit that it is time to replace an unstructured and undocumented process in current use to fulfill those requirements. As there is no standing pool of pre-qualified and compensated experts, occasionally the best qualified candidate is unavailable or unwilling to participate. There already exists a framework for highly qualified experts in the DOD and it is time the US Army organize its own talent pool.


Annually a number of highly qualified and experienced senior enlisted leaders separate from the service primarily because of high tenure or poor timing, however many are at the peak of their usefulness to their service. Due to the “shrinking pyramid effect,” non-selection for advancement oftentimes result in a loss of the investment made by the government, while unrealized requirements are unmet because of the complication in short-term use of that talent.

Current and Potential HQE-E Requirements

  • Highly Qualified Expert (IAW DODI 1400.25)
  • Senior Enlisted Mentor
  • School for Command Preparation Mentor
  • Command Sergeants Major-Designee Courses
  • Senior Executive Leader Course
  • Special Advisor to SMA
  • USASMA Visiting Professors
  • ACOM Enlisted Mentor
  • Coalition Enlisted Leader Mentor
  • Command Post Exercise Mentor
  • Studies and Commissions
  • Boards
  • Seminar Leaders
  • Historical series
  • Advisors

Recommended Action

We encourage the Army to consider the creation of a pool of vetted and curated senior enlisted mentors on a “retainer” using a fee-for-service model that already exists. This pool of former enlisted experts should be made available to Army-wide projects, studies and commissions, Army command senior enlisted leaders, training institutions, and other key agencies. This capability could be formed based on current and projected readiness requirements and managed by a department-level talent management agencies, like the sergeant major management office.

CSM Dan Elder, USA, Retired

Former SMAs talk enlisted expert shop with sergeants major students at USASMA
Former SMAs talk shop with sergeants major students at USASMA Photo Credit US Army. By Master Sgt. Eric B Pilgrim (FORSCOM)