Category Archives: Toolkit

Shake-up in promotion, NCOPD policy a ‘STEP’ in right direction

NCO Journal

The path to promotion in the Army’s Noncommissioned Officer Corps has been reshaped as the Army has rolled out its initiative to systematically realign the structure of its “backbone.”

Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh recently signed Army Directive 2015-31, which affects Soldiers vying for promotion to the ranks of sergeant through sergeant first class.

The change in the system shifted the synchronization of the noncommissioned officer professional development system and promotion eligibility requirements as part of the Army’s Select, Train, Educate and Promote (STEP) program.

“Under STEP, NCOs will have to meet Army standards for the knowledge, skills and attributes for the grade they wish to hold, before they will be promoted,” said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey.

“For years, that wasn’t the case,” said the 15th sergeant major of the Army. “During the height of the deployment years, NCOs could advance with no additional primary military education.

“Under this realignment, we are reaffirming that America’s sons and daughters are being trained and mentored by men and women with quantifiable standards of knowledge, skills and attributes associated with the grade and position they hold,” he said.

Lessons learned

The change was prompted by the NCO 2020 survey, which was compiled from NCOs throughout the NCO Corps and validated during subsequent studies by the Center for Army Leadership Annual Survey of Army Leadership; and the Research and Development Corporation.

“We learned … that a more rigorous and effective system is needed for developing NCOs today — not based on a desire to separate from past traditions — but instead based on getting back to a focus on building a competent and professional NCO Corps,” said Sgt. Maj. James Thomson, the sergeant major for the Institute for Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.

According to Thomson, four key roles and competencies of the NCO, both now and in the future, will be to lead by example; train from experience; enforce and maintain standards; and take care of Soldiers, their families and equipment.

“Until now,” Thomson said, “development of NCOs focused on leveraging their experiences in the operational realm and providing individuals with exposure to technical training in the institution.

“Now, following a long period of war and deployments, Soldiers can benefit greatly from a revitalized set of processes designed to shape their professional growth and optimized performance,” he said.


The change in the promotion system will have a ripple effect on how Soldiers are enrolled in NCOPD schools.

“Under the STEP career model,” Thomson said, “HRC will [send only] those selected for promotion to sergeant first class to attend SLC. So the scheduling is going to be, when the E7 list comes out, HRC is going to schedule all those [Soldiers] to go to school.

“Every month, when they get the new list from the E6 board,” he said, “those folks will be scheduled to go to school. We actually think that we’ll gain efficiencies in our school scheduling and attendance processes.”

Recently promoted Sgt. Felipe Zamora, a paratrooper assigned to the 407th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, passes through the archway, symbolizing his induction in to the noncommissioned officer corps during an induction ceremony Aug. 27 on Fort Bragg, N.C. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Hull)
Recently promoted Sgt. Felipe Zamora, a paratrooper assigned to the 407th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, passes through the archway, symbolizing his induction in to the noncommissioned officer corps during an induction ceremony Aug. 27 on Fort Bragg, N.C. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Hull)

There will be no new additions to school backlogs as of Jan. 1. because Soldiers will not be scheduled to attend school if they are not in a promotable status, Thomson said. However, there will be a backlog for Soldiers who have not attended schools that will be required for their rank.

“There are some staff sergeants today who have not been to ALC,” Thomson said. “After [Jan. 1], they will be in what we call the ‘legacy backlog.’

“We are going to give every one of those [Soldiers] in that legacy backlog one opportunity to complete their [Professional Military Education],” he said. “If they don’t complete it, if they don’t take that opportunity, they will not have an opportunity to go again, nor will they be competitive for any future promotions.”

The realignment will serve as a potential promotion opportunity for Soldiers who are doing the things needed to qualify for promotion.

“As Soldiers choose not to attend their requisite schooling or meet the prerequisite standards for PME success like [the Army Physical Fitness Test] and height/weight,” Dailey said, “they are self-selecting to be removed from the promotion lists. This will allow those who are committed to the Army profession a chance to demonstrate initiative, and they will be the ones to get promoted.”

The STEP program is one of several ways the Army plans to improve its NCO Corps.

“There is more work to be done,” Dailey said, “including adding levels of PME and adding rigor to the course work in those classes, which also can lead to ultimately more college credits. With these and other advancements in the works, we are on a path to maintain the undisputed title of ‘The Most Highly Educated Enlisted Force in the World.’”

New requirements

Beginning Jan. 1, Soldiers competing for the rank of sergeant must be graduates of the Basic Leader Course and individuals competing for the rank of staff sergeant must be a graduates of the Advanced Leader Course in addition to meeting or exceeding the promotion point cut-off score, which is published monthly. Those who meet point requirements but have not completed school requisites will not be promoted, but will retain their promotable status.

Staff sergeants who are selected for promotion by the fiscal year 2016 Regular Army or Reserve sergeant first class selection board will be required to have completed Senior Leader Course to be fully eligible for promotion, regardless of their sequence number. Soldiers who are eligible by sequence number but have not completed SLC will retain their sequence number, but will not be selected for promotion until they have completed the course.

The realignment will also affect National Guard Soldiers. Those Soldiers selected for higher-grade positions but who have not completed the NCOPD requirements will have 24 months to complete the level of NCOPD required for promotion pin-on or they will be removed from the position that fill.

“One key line of effort for the [NCOPD] is a focus on ensuring that NCOs have exposure to the right types of education and broadening experiences as a part of their career life-cycle,” Thomson said. “Systematic changes to the way the Army trains and develops NCOs are also necessary to achieve strategic goals and objectives the Army has in mind for its operating concept in the future.

“NCOs must become more knowledgeable regarding their role within unified land operations, joint force planning, and the tenets of operational art,” he said.

Additional reading

To read the full text of Army Directive 2015-31, click here.

NCO promotions get tougher this year; more changes ahead

Broad changes for enlisted promotions took effect March 2. More are expected later this year.

The most recent comprehensive list of changes to Army Regulation 600-8-19 are tied to the reduction in size of the force, Army Chief of Staff Raymond T. Odierno said Jan. 6 during a virtual town hall event at Fort Lee, Va. During the past 10 years, the Army peaked at a force level of about 570,000 Soldiers. That number is scheduled to dip to 450,000 by the end of 2017.

To maintain high standards in the Army’s NCO Corps, promotions have to become more challenging, Odierno said.

“What we want to do is promote the right people … so we maintain a strong Army,” he said. “We’ve got to have the people we want to move forward. But it is not going to be as fast as it was five years ago.”

To that end, changes to the NCO schooling system were announced in February, with the revised promotion regulations coming soon after.

Among the key changes is the implementation of a link between promotion and the successful completion of Structured Self-Development courses. The SSD program helps develop adaptive, agile and critical-thinking leaders as well as prepare Soldiers to function effectively in the Contemporary Operational Environment, or COE. Now, the course is a requirement for promotion for Soldiers vying for ranks from sergeant to master sergeant.

Another key change is a policy that allows promotion points for Soldiers who have spent time in a combat zone. Previously, Soldiers in the Middle East were often kept from taking part in distance education studies because of the rigors of deployment. Now, sergeants can attain up to 30 points and staff sergeants up to 60 points for their time overseas.

A closer look at some of the pertinent updates to this year’s enlisted promotion changes, along with resources for more information, may be seen below.

Click here to download a printable version of the document.

Click here to see a complete look at AR 600-8-19

—      Compiled by Pablo Villa


What NCOs need to know about the new tattoo policy

NCO Journal

The Army has revised its tattoo policy again —the third time in just more than a year.

On April 10, Army Regulation 670-1 was updated to remove restrictions on the number and size of tattoos on the forearm and the leg below the knee. Soldiers and recruits are now allowed appropriate tattoos of any size anywhere on their body except their head, neck and most of their hands (AR 670-1 allows one “ring” tattoo per hand.)

The release of AR 670-1 came less than two weeks after Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno announced that change was imminent during a news conference April 1 at the Association of the United States Army Global Force Symposium and Exposition in Huntsville, Ala.

“As part of the regular process that we go through in reviewing regulations covering the wear and appearance of the Army uniform and the appearance of our Soldiers, we will be releasing in the coming weeks an update to that policy,” Odierno said. “And the most notable change is going to be the change in the tattoo policy in the Army.”­

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey seemed to have telegraphed the potential for the changes in the weeks preceding the announcement. Dailey took over as sergeant major of the Army in January. Even during his first troop visit in early March to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., it was clear that many Soldiers were unhappy with the policy, which was revised in March last year to limit the number of new tattoos below the elbows and knees and scale back some allowances made in 2006, during the height of the surge in Iraq and Afghanistan.

About a week after his visit to JBLM, Dailey was at Fort Bragg, N.C., where he opened his talk with Soldiers and their families by saying that he had some idea about the concerns they would raise.

“I’d bet my next paycheck that someone in here wants to talk about tattoos,” he said.

The new AR 670-1 includes a few other changes, as well. It authorizes Soldiers traveling commercially on official business to wear their Army Combat Uniforms. Previously, Soldiers had been required to wear their dress uniforms. The new regulation also clarifies the wear of Army uniforms at off-post establishments that sell alcohol — Soldiers may be in uniform when buying liquor at a liquor store, for instance, but not while drinking at a bar.

However, it was the new tattoo policy, first announced in March 2014 and then revised in September 2014, that had drawn the most attention — and ire.

After Odierno announced the latest changes, Dailey said, “You can’t go anywhere without hearing about the Army’s tattoo policy. It came up when I was at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy (at Fort Bliss, Texas), too. So it’s not just Soldiers, but leaders as well.”

Dailey also said that “overwhelmingly,” Soldiers have told him the tattoo policy would play a role in whether they stayed in the Army.

“So then we struggle with: Do the standards of discipline we’ve established override the needs of what we need to maintain the all-volunteer force, and the quality of the all-volunteer force?” he said. “When we move this standard too far to the right, can we actually maintain the all-volunteer force in the future?”

When Dailey was at Fort Bragg, one Soldier told him that he would like the Army to return to the “pre-surge” standards, when tattoos were allowed as long they weren’t visible while a Soldier wore his or her Class A uniform.

“Does that sound fair?” Dailey asked the room. He was met with a resounding “Hooah!” from the Soldiers in the room. And he and the secretary of the Army listened.

—      The Army News Service contributed to this report.

Tattoo bans over the years

Read more in interactive chart.

Toolkit: Dealing with the media

NCO Journal

In every conflict since the Revolutionary War, members of the media have been present on the battlefield documenting American servicemembers on the front lines. During World War II for example, Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal was embedded with the U.S. Marines on Iwo Jima when he snapped the iconic photo of five Marines and a Navy corpsman raising the Stars and Stripes on Mount Surabachi. During the Vietnam War, reporter Joe Galloway was alongside Soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division and then famously told the story of their fight in the la Drang Valley in Vietnam.

Modern wars are no different. In the early 1990s, media members reported from Baghdad during Operation Desert Storm and were with Army units when U.S. forces crossed into Iraq in 2003. Even today, there is media embedded with units on patrol in Afghanistan.

Staff Sgt. Brett Perry and former Staff Sgt. Sal Giunta, who received the Medal of Honor in 2010, are interviewed by WGN radio in Chicago in December 2010. (Photo by Master Sgt. Alberto Betancourt)
Staff Sgt. Brett Perry and former Staff Sgt. Sal Giunta, who received the Medal of Honor in 2010, are interviewed by WGN radio in Chicago in December 2010. (Photo by Master Sgt. Alberto Betancourt)

Because the Army’s public affairs branch is small, public affairs officers and NCOs cannot be assigned to each media member embedded on the battlefield. That’s why it’s important for all NCOs to prepare their Soldiers to deal with the media.

“Preparing for a media event should be no different than any other task we do as Soldiers,” said Sgt. Maj. Kanessa Trent, U.S. Army Pacific Command’s public affairs sergeant major. “Dealing with the media requires thorough preparation. It is important to consider who the interviewer or media representative is and the story he or she intends to tell. It’s also important to know who the intended audience is and the story that you want to tell. Taking time to establish that in your mind before speaking to the media ensures that you, as the subject-matter expert, remain in control of the interview.”

The media will tell their stories with or without the help of Soldiers on the ground, Trent said. To make sure the media gets the facts correct; NCOs need to make sure their Soldiers only talk about what they know. 

“Don’t allow yourself to speculate about something that you’re not at liberty to discuss,” she said. “Stay in your lane and tell the truth. Follow those rules when interacting with the media and you can’t go wrong.”

When an event happens that media will want to cover, it’s important to get the correct information out to the public. That starts with Soldiers and NCOs on the ground.

“Releasing as much information as we have quickly is critical to maintaining credibility with the public,” Trent said. “Withholding information only serves to feed those who believe we have something to cover up. Our fundamental practice is maximum disclosure with minimum delay while ensuring the information is as accurate as we know. Of course, the facts will change quickly as more details become available. So providing constant and consistent updates is absolutely necessary, otherwise the Army’s credibility is once again deeply scrutinized.”

Trent added that a well-prepared NCO conducting an interview with a civilian press outlet has the ability to challenge any incorrect information or unwarranted negative coverage but should always be mindful of operational security measures as a top priority.

“No matter how quick we are with the truth or how quickly the truth we’ve released is trumped with additional facts as more is learned, there will always be those who want to portray the news negatively,” she said. “The Army can’t concern itself with the small portion of the media that might wish to twist information to meet their agenda. Being honest, candid and forthright with what we know — even and especially when we’ve made a mistake — is what is necessary to maintain trust with the American public.”


Media tips

Here are some more tips to for dealing with the media that are taught by Army Public Affairs:

  • If you don’t want to talk to the media, you don’t have to. But there are some definite benefits to telling the Army story. The American people are the military’s biggest supporters; by talking to media and getting the word out to them, you build credibility for both the Army and your unit.
  • Remember to always maintain operations security. You can still give general information, but avoid any specifics such as times, unit or equipment numbers, and locations, anything that could give the enemy an advantage and place troops in danger.
  • Always give factual information and avoid speculating. It is OK to say you don’t know the answer to a question.  But avoid the phrase “no comment,” as it makes it seem like you’re hiding something.
  • It’s best to only discuss things you have direct responsibility for or have personal knowledge of. It keeps you out of trouble and makes you sound more intelligent.
  • Feel free to give your opinion, but be aware you are representing the military while in uniform. Don’t talk bad about the chain of command or push political or social issues.
  • There is no such thing as “off the record.” Even when you’re joking around during a card game, everything you say can be published You don’t need to be paranoid, just be mindful.
  • Keep things rated PG-13. Your words will go out to the general public, so you need to make sure your language doesn’t offend and that your description of things is not too graphic.
  • When being interviewed on camera, make sure you present yourself as a professional. That means no chewing tobacco, cigarettes, gum, uniform infractions or general sloppiness. You represent the Army.
  • Avoid jargon, slang and acronyms — anything the general public wouldn’t understand.
  • Above all, be respectful. You are a direct reflection of the Army, your unit and the Soldiers around you. Do them proud.

Sgt. Edward Garibay, 16th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, contributed to this story.

Toolkit: Military moves

NCO Journal

About every two to three years, Soldiers are uprooted from their current duty station and head to another one, sometimes overseas.

Preparing early for a PCS move can ease the process and avoid delays. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army)
Preparing early for a PCS move can ease the process and avoid delays. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army)

To help ease the process, the U.S. Army Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, headquartered at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., oversees moves for service members throughout the Department of Defense.

Command Sgt. Maj. Cedric Thomas, command sergeant major of SDDC, said the command works to contract out individual Soldiers’ permanent change of station moves.

“We set up the contract to get the carriers to go out and move the Soldiers’ household goods,” Thomas said. “The contractors will do the packing and the loading and will deliver to the location.”

When Soldiers receive orders to move, they should link up with the transportation office or visit the website, Thomas said. The peak season for all military moves is from May to August. During this time, it is critical that Soldiers who receive PCS orders visit the website or their transportation office promptly to start coordinating their moves.

“As soon as they receive PCS orders, they need to request a pickup and delivery date as soon as possible,” Thomas said. “It will give them a better chance of getting the dates they want. They can’t wait until the last minute. If they wait until the last minute, there’s a good chance they won’t get the dates they want, and they’ll have to accept what’s available. If you wait until the last minute, your stuff may be four weeks behind you, especially if you’re going overseas.”

A typical move coordinated with SDDC can last from a couple of days to two months, depending on whether the move is overseas or during the peak season, Thomas said.

Though early planners tend to get the dates they request, all Soldiers need to be flexible with their move dates and should list alternate dates. Soldiers should also create a personal calendar — a sample is available on — and compile phone numbers and a household goods checklist to further assist the move.

If Soldiers are unavailable during their move dates, they need to arrange for the proper paperwork —including a power of attorney — so that a representative, their spouse for example, may act on their behalf with the moving contractors.

The website also has a calculator to help Soldiers figure out how much their household items and furnishing might weigh. Weight restrictions are in place and are based on a Soldier’s grade.

The website provides training that NCOs can use to become familiar with the moving process. The information can help NCOs and their junior Soldiers as they PCS.

 “NCOs have to understand the move process to better help their troops,” Thomas said.


Moving tips

Follow these tips to ensure a smooth process during the peak moving season (May through August):

  • Before you begin the moving process, create a personal move calendar with checklists, phone lists, to-do lists and links.
  • Your installation’s transportation office or personal property shipping office is your primary point of contact for customer service.
  • Once you get PCS orders, immediately start the moving process for a better chance to lock in your preferred pickup and delivery dates.
  • Requested pickup and delivery dates are not confirmed until coordinated with your contracted transportation service provider.
  • Pack, pickup and delivery dates are scheduled on weekdays during which you or your designated representative must be available between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
  • A quick method for estimating the weight of your items is to calculate 1,000 pounds per room. A more detailed weight-estimating tool can be found at
  • You can request a free re-weigh of your personal property shipment if it is near or over your weight entitlement, which is determined by your pay grade.

For additional information, visit


Tips for packing up your house

  • Use a digital camera to take photos or video of your belongings to record their condition and appearance, especially that of expensive items such as electronics.
  • Follow weight allowances. These are based on rank and vary depending on whether dependents are accompanying you. Allowances for enlisted personnel range from 5,000 pounds for a private without dependents to 15,000 pounds for a sergeant major with dependents. Typically, a minimum of $100 is charged for being over your weight allowance.
  • Disconnect, empty and clean all appliances and electronic components.
  • Dispose of worn-out or unneeded items before the move to avoid wasteful packing and moving expenses.
  • Special rules exist for shipping professional books and gear, firearms, alcohol, motorcycles and boats. Visit the website for more information.
  • SDDC will not ship the following as part of your household goods:
    • Personal baggage.
    • Automobiles, airplanes, mobile homes, camper trailers, horse trailers and farming equipment.
    • Live animals.
    • Building materials.
    • Privately owned live ammunition.
    • Hazardous articles such as explosives, poisons or propane gas tanks.
  • Check the inventory to ensure it is accurate and complete before you sign it. A good inventory shows in detail what you shipped and what condition it was in. Avoid generic descriptions (“ceramics”) and be more descriptive (“Lladros”) when necessary.
  • Do not argue with the transportation service provider’s representative. If you have a problem, contact the transportation office immediately.