New rules for noncommissioned officer careers will give thousands of soldiers more time in grade and more time to get ready for duty at the next rank.
Younger soldiers will be expected to move up or out faster to get rid of rules that "perpetuate mediocrity."
An NCO leader development strategy that tightens the linkage between promotions and military education, and introduces new methods for selecting and preparing soldiers for promotion, will be implemented in phases for the active and reserve components beginning in early 2014.
The new strategy supports a 32-year career timeline that will see soldiers, on average, advance to sergeant at 4½ years of service, staff sergeant at eight years, sergeant first class at 14 years, master sergeant at 20 years and sergeant major at 25 to 26 years.
During a full career, soldiers would expect to spend about 12 to 18 months in the school house or institutional courses learning military occupational specialty-specific skills, about 16 years in home-station units, 10 years deployed and five years in joint and/or broadening assignments.
This career track stretches out the average times between promotions in the senior NCO ranks from 12½ to 14 years for sergeant first class, 17.7 to 20 years for master sergeant and 22.6 to 25/26 for sergeant major.
The increases are designed to provide additional time for professional development activities needed to prepare soldiers for duty at the next higher grade.
During the design phase of the new timeline, "it became increasingly important to ensure that policy changes not only facilitate leader development but achieve a balance between (force generation requirements for operations) and the demands for education, training and broadening experiences," said Gerald Purcell, a personnel policy integrator in the office of the Army G-1 (Human Resources).
"The only answer was to increase the time in grade at both staff sergeant and sergeant first class before promotion to the next higher grade," Purcell said. "This ensures that all of these NCOs are provided ample opportunity to not only complete training, but are afforded avenues to complete developmental assignments."
The career template is designed so that soldiers who elect to voluntarily retire at 20 years of service will do so as sergeants first class. Soldiers who remain, and who are promoted to sergeant major, will have an opportunity to serve at least one tour as a battalion command sergeant major before retiring at 32 years of service.
Because the career timeline supports promotion to sergeant first class at about 14 years of service, many soldiers will have an opportunity to be promoted to master sergeant before reaching 20 years of service. However, because promotion to master sergeant carries a three-year service obligation, "the typical soldier electing to retire at 20 years of service will be a sergeant first class," Purcell said.
Getting time to excel
A phased readjustment of retention control points that began in 2008 will continue in fiscal 2014 with the elimination of extended tenure for specialists and sergeants of the Regular Army and Active Guard and Reserve who have been boarded and placed on selection lists for sergeant and staff sergeant.
Under a policy change tentatively set for October, the retention control point for promotable specialists will be reduced from 12 years to eight years, and for promotable sergeants from 15 years to 14 years.
Soldiers who exceed the new RCPs on the effective date of the policy change will be allowed to complete their current enlistments. If promoted, they will have the RCP for their new rank.
"We took a long hard look at the RCPs for these grades and found that we had rules that perpetuate mediocrity," Purcell said. "While the Army fosters and supports an environment to facilitate careers, it remains an institution deeply rooted in the development of tomorrow's leaders. In fact, the development of our NCOs is what makes our NCO Corps unique to every other army in the world.
"As a professional corps, there is an expectation that its members will excel by constantly striving to improve themselves," he added.
Purcell noted that under the new career timeline, the typical soldier will become a sergeant at 4½ years, yet a policy that will be eliminated this year allows specialists to stay in the Army for 12 years if they have been placed on the sergeant recommended list.
"That doesn't make sense when you look at the 32-year career path and see we are trying to grow the typical staff sergeant by their eighth year of service."
New system coming
Although the new leader development strategy is slated for full implementation by the end of fiscal 2015, some near-term changes will take effect Jan. 1 that link, for promotion purposes, the completion of Structured Self-Development and professional military education courses.
Soldiers must complete an appropriate level of SSD to be considered for promotion to sergeant, sergeant first class and master sergeant. This is ordered in a July 1 directive from Army Secretary John McHugh.
The SSD program consists of three online courses of 80 hours each that serve as a bridge between the various courses of the NCO Education System.
Under an interim step toward implementation of McHugh's Jan. 1 deadline, SSD-1, SSD-3 and SSD-4 became requirements for attendance at the Warrior Leader Course, Senior Leader Course and Sergeants Major Course this year.
McHugh also has directed that, on Jan. 1, the authority will be rescinded to waive the Warrior Leader Course as a requirement for boarding and pin-on to staff sergeant.
Although waiver extensions are authorized for certain categories, such as deployed soldiers, staff sergeants who fail to comply with the training requirement will be removed from the E-6 selection list or reduced to sergeant, as appropriate.
Picked for promotion
A key component of the new system is the adoption of a select-train-promote concept, already in place for advancements to sergeant major, that will be extended to all NCO ranks of the Regular Army, National Guard and Army Reserve in the next two years.
Under the existing system for sergeant major, master sergeants with strong promotion potential are selected for the Sergeants Major Course. Upon graduation, these soldiers are frocked to sergeant major and promoted by seniority as vacancies occur in their MOS.
When that methodology is applied to the lower grades, soldiers will be selected for promotion based on potential, and once promoted, the Army will train them, both in units and schools, which in turn will lead to a recommendation for promotion.
Soldiers in the promotion pipeline will be trained by unit leaders, through mentoring, coaching and counseling, operational experiences, and in schools through a combination of distance learning, such as Structured Self-Development and resident NCO Education System courses.
The new strategy will require commanders and supervisors to be attentive to their subordinates' professional development in terms of mentoring, coaching and making sure they get to school on time.
"It's critical that all of the developmental counseling takes place so that soldiers know exactly what they need to do to excel," Purcell said. "Only unit leaders can do this."
Commanders will base their promotion recommendations for sergeant and staff sergeant on personal observations and input from key leaders, such as first sergeants, platoon sergeants and first-line supervisors, according to Purcell.
Promotions to the senior NCO grades will be made by board members who will interpret a soldier’s performance and potential for promotion, as reflected on evaluation reports and service records.