Project Athena development program coming to Army enlisted military education

Sgt. Anthony Yarbrough, deployed with the 304th Sustainment Brigade
Sgt. Anthony Yarbrough, deployed with the 304th Sustainment Brigade, participates in a virtual Basic Leader Course in the U.S. Army Central region, April 29, 2020. Beginning in March 2021, select BLC sites will implement Project Athena assessments to help Soldiers strengthen their self-awareness and encourage self-development. (Army photograph by Sgt. Sean Harding)

Beginning in March, enlisted Soldiers enrolled in professional military education courses will have the opportunity to participate in Project Athena, a personal and professional self-development program initiated by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.

The program’s design is to give future and current noncommissioned officers a framework to strengthen their self-awareness and encourage self-development throughout their military careers. This effort is aimed at facilitating Army leaders to make better decisions, and to realize the best version of themselves.

Project Athena initially launched in July 2020 at all Basic Officer Leaders Courses-B and at the Maneuver Captains Career Course at Fort Benning, Ga. It later expanded into all Captains Career Courses in January of 2021.

The implementation of Project Athena for enlisted personnel will begin in the Basic Leader Course, the first enlisted PME program for Soldiers in the rank of specialist or sergeant.

“[BLC will be the first NCO PME to pilot the program because] we want to figure out a Soldier’s skill set at a young age, and make them aware so they can improve them as they continue their career,” Juan Ortiz, director of the NCO Professional Development Directorate at the NCO Leadership Center of Excellence, said. “Not everyone can be a drill sergeant, or a recruiter, or have certain specialty jobs the Army requires. These assessments can help a Soldier identify his or her strengths and weaknesses early on so that they can better shape their own futures in the Army.”

Sgt. Maj. Bill Ferguson, the Mission Command Center of Excellence sergeant major, explained that at each echelon of enlisted PME, Project Athena targets personal and professional qualities that will benefit Soldiers as they assume new leadership roles. For example, in BLC, leadership, interpersonal skills and mental fortitude are important, and the selected assessments focus on a Soldier’s role as a first line leader.

“As NCOs assume section and squad leader roles, the assessments they will receive in the Advanced Leader Course focuses on adaptability and how prepared they are for changing environments,” he said.

Depiction of how Project Athena
Depiction of how Project Athena assessments identify areas for development and how an individual can use that information to change performance. (Army graphic)

In the Senior Leader Course, the assessments center on decision making, critical thinking and situational awareness, and how NCOs at this level become platoon sergeants and advisors to their officer counterparts.

Finally, Ferguson added that as NCOs move from having tactical, direct contact with troops to broader positions on staffs and as senior enlisted advisors at the company level, the assessments offered in the Master Leader Course focus on systems thinking and decision making.

“The Career Long Talent Based Assessments are a goal of the Chief of Staff of the Army’s People First Strategy,” Ferguson said. “These assessments were considered by a panel of command sergeants major and sergeants major with input from NCOs across the force, some of whom were enrolled in PME at the time.”

While most PME for enlisted personnel lasts only three to four weeks ñ compared to officer PME that may extend over several months ñ being self-aware and reducing counter-productive tendencies are important lessons for Soldiers to learn when they attend Army courses, Ferguson said.

With more than a decade of research data and studies, the Center for the Army Profession and Leadership developed, fielded and incorporated programs called Leader 180, a self and peer assessment, and Leader 360 which includes input from the Soldier’s subordinates, peers and superiors, as well as their self-assessment.

“Soldiers can choose to share the [assessment] results with the small group leader, and preferably with their home station leadership and mentors,” Ferguson said. “Soldiers need to ask themselves, ‘Am I as good of a leader as I need to be? Do I want to get better? Am I willing to put in the work?’ If the answer is yes to these three questions, then they will see the importance [of Project Athena].”

Project Athena assessments are scheduled for implementation in ALC in March 2021, SLC in April 2021, and MLC in May 2021 at select pilot locations. The assessments will be included into all NCO PME courses throughout fiscal year 2022.

For more information on Army enlisted professional military education, visit