The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

July 31, 2013

Army competition switches to video for interviews

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — Some contestants for the Army's soldier of the year no longer compete against one another in person, but now must be judged remotely.

It's another change prompted by federal budget cuts.

This week, in a conference room in a modern Army office building, a camouflage-clad sergeant major barked out orders like the director on a film set.

He told a handful of uniformed soldiers on posts across the country to move a camera up — no down — so he could get a full view of the person standing in front of him on each of their bases. He needed to see not just their faces, but their boots too. The lighting had to be just right; he wanted to judge their demeanor when they entered a room.

Every detail was important.

"We don't want the soldier behind the desk. That's not going to work," a frustrated Sgt. Maj. Jerry Taylor told soldiers viewing him from a conference room at Fort Benning, Ga. "I've been to Fort Benning. The whole post don't have tables in every conference room."

Taylor was speaking to a camera at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, where the Army's Training and Doctrine Command is based. The command is in the final days of its annual Soldier of the Year contest and for the first time, the command is conducting board interviews with contestants around the country via video-teleconference. Army officials say it is the first of the service's 12 major commands to make that switch for the competition.

The Defense Department has been required to cut nearly $42 billion by the end of September. The Army's share of the automatic cuts over that period has been $7.6 billion.

Ordinarily, the soldiers would travel to Fort Eustis for four to five days of competition where they would directly compete with and learn from each other. That shared knowledge is particularly valuable for TRADOC soldiers, who are responsible for running the Army's basic training as well as more advanced specialty training and education programs at posts around the country.

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