The Select, Train, Educate, Promote (STEP) system took effect Jan. 1, and Command Sgt. Maj. David Davenport, command sergeant major of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, said NCOs have noticed the new education requirements and are filling Army schoolhouses.
“Right now, we have a backlog of Soldiers needing school, and they’re our priority,” Davenport said. “But if we don’t get our Soldiers to school on time, and if they’re not prepared to go to school, what we’re going to have is a promotion backlog, not an education backlog.”
Davenport said STEP’s requirements that NCOs be completely up to date on their formal education before they can be promoted will help the Army and noncommissioned officers.
“Before STEP, we didn’t value education,” Davenport said. “We thought that just because you did something over and over, that certified you in that core competency. Knowing the standard from doctrine and knowing the standard from something that has been handed down over time are two different things.
“Through formal education, we make sure that noncommissioned officers are certified in their core competencies before being promoted,” Davenport said.
Requiring the proper education before promotion should help noncommissioned officers step smoothly into the roles and responsibilities they are assigned, said Sgt. Maj. Michael Haycraft, chief of the enlisted promotions branch at Human Resources Command.
“STEP is important to the Army because it allows us to train and prepare these Soldiers and these NCOs — these leaders — before we put them in the position,” Haycraft said. “In the past, we would put them in a position before we actually had a chance to get them through school and get them the education they needed. Now, this will better prepare them for the added responsibility of that promotion.
“The biggest misconception is that a lot of NCOs think it’s going to have a negative impact on them. However, I disagree,” Haycraft said. “Based on us preparing them upfront, it makes them ready to have that added responsibility and take that promotion. Whereas in the past, we would throw them in the position, promote them, and then get them to school hopefully in the next year, sometimes later. The Army didn’t receive the added advantage of having a school-trained leader in that position.”
Senior NCOs will first notice STEP requirements with coming promotion boards, Haycraft said. There will be a master sergeant promotion board in March, but STEP won’t take effect for senior NCOs until June.
“In June, we’re having a sergeant first class promotion board. With that one, the results will come out, and they will be the first ones that the STEP process will be applied to,” Haycraft said.
But for junior NCOs, STEP took effect Jan 1. And with STEP’s implementation comes changes to the Promotion Points Worksheet for those being promoted to sergeants and staff sergeants. Accumulating points, up to a max of 800 points, is how junior NCOs get promoted. How many points Soldiers need to get promoted depends on the military occupational specialities.
Because of STEP’s education requirements, Soldiers will no longer receive promotion points for the Basic Leader Course or Advanced Leader Course. Those courses are now required for promotion.
“We took away promotion points for school, but we added in points to APFT,” Haycraft said. “We’re trying to promote health and wellness more. We added points to weapons qualification. If you get commandant’s list, or you get honor graduate or the distinguished leader award in one of your Noncommissioned Officer Education System courses, we give points for that. We added points for language proficiency. We’re trying to put it back in the Soldiers’ hands and give them the motivation to go out there and do great things and better themselves. We doubled the points in civilian education to try to promote the young Soldiers and NCOs to become critical and creative thinkers.”
To take a closer look at the Promotion Points Worksheet, or to find answers to commonly asked questions about the worksheet or STEP, Haycraft pointed NCOs to the Human Resources Command website.
“I think the biggest thing I’d like to have NCOs understand is … our website, if they have any questions at all about STEP, go to the Enlisted Promotions website,” Haycraft said. “Any questions they have should be answered on that website. It has all the current policies. It has points of contact for us if they have questions they can’t find the answers to.”
By MASTER SGT. JAMIE K. PRICE
Department of the Army Secretariat
When it comes to military advancement, the questions abound — why wasn’t I selected for promotion? What must I do to be competitive? Is it whom you know that will get you promoted? Why is my cutoff score so high? What makes them better than me?
These are common questions enlisted Soldiers ask their supervisors, organizational leadership and mentors to get a better understanding of how the promotion system works. Unfortunately, everyone will have a different perspective.
That’s because the abundance of variables factoring into promotion can seemingly leave no clearly defined path for selection at certain levels. That complexity spurs conspiracy theorists, fiction writers and anyone else to voice their opinion on how the “system” works. Though the Army has changed the selection process for junior and senior NCOs in many ways during the past 15 years, transparency has always been a goal of the Army’s senior leaders. The force has tried to give its No. 1 resource — the Soldier — a treasure map to success. However, poor dissemination and improper interpretations of the information consistently cloud Soldiers’ view of this map.
Enlisted cutoff scores are a mystery to many Soldiers. The confusion is evident on various social media websites. One will illustrate the Soldiers’ frustration with how high one career field’s score is while another site expresses joy with how low the score is. Do we as Human Resource professionals understand how the score is calculated? What avenues have been taken to educate our Soldiers?
Cutoff scores to sergeant or staff sergeant vary depending on the Army’s readiness needs at the time the cutoff score is being published. Soldiers may look in their current command and realize their unit is short of people at certain grades, and they may not understand why the Army is choosing not to promote.
The basics of junior NCO promotions are:
1.) A Soldier has to make the cutoff score.
2.) Points are updated through the Promotion Point Worksheet (PPW).
3.) A certain level of Structured Self Development (SSD) is required for each promotion.
4.) A Soldier under a suspension of favorable actions or barred from reenlistment cannot be considered for promotion.
5.) A Soldier must have at least 12 months in service remaining if being promoted to staff sergeant.
While most of this is accepted, Soldiers may not understand the intense level of detail that goes into establishing a cutoff score. It is a system designed to help the Army maintain balance within skill sets to carry out the Army’s extremely diverse mission. Evaluation, Selections and Promotions Division (ESPD) is the face of promotions to Soldiers in the Army.
Soldiers may also not know that their career branch, enlisted Force Alignment Division (FAD), and the office of the Director of Military Personnel Management (DMPM) all play a role in how the Army promotion system works.
These departments receive input about the Army’s current inventory, authorizations, projected gains and losses, Military Occupational Specialty conversions, force structure changes, DMPM allocations based on the Army’s budget, etc. This input is used by U.S. Army Human Resources Command to set the cutoff score. HRC optimizes readiness by developing the force and promoting Soldiers to sergeant and staff sergeant in the fields in which they are needed.
Readiness dictates how high or low the sergeant or staff sergeant cutoff score is set but the Army doesn’t prevent Soldiers from striving for promotion. If a Soldier puts in the hard work and dedication toward maxing out his or her MOS’s cutoff score, the Army recognizes it by selecting the Soldier for promotion.
Understanding junior level promotions is comparatively simple. The majority of confusion and questions enters at the senior level. Promotion paths to sergeant first class, master sergeant and sergeant major are not as clearly defined. Simple eligibility criteria such as time in service, time in grade and educational requirements are articulated in the message announcing a selection board. AR 600-8-19 gives a brief overview of how the selection board is set up, but the question now is: What’s next? What information does the board consider in selection or non-selection? What is the gauge for measuring a record? Are Soldiers compared to one another?
Board members are selected because of their experience in their respective career fields as defined by the DMPM and divided into panels that cover those fields. Each panel has three or more members consisting of sergeants major, command sergeants major and a colonel in the same field. They’re charged with selecting the best qualified Soldiers for promotion based on demonstrated leadership, effectiveness and potential.
During the board process, candidates are scored from 6 to 1 based on an evaluation of the Soldier’s MyBoard File. A 6 represents superior performance with potential for promotion and continued service, and is a score usually assigned to a select few. A score of 1 shows unsatisfactory performance and little to no potential for continued service. The MyBoard File consists of board correspondence, the Soldier’s DA photo, Enlisted Record Brief, performance, education and training, records and a commendatory section of the Soldier’s Army Military Human Resource Record (AMHRR).
But what makes the board member give a certain score? This is where the selection process enters the “unknown zone.”
When a selection board begins, the board recorders assigned to the DA Secretariat brief the board members on the requirements set by the Memorandum of Instruction (MOI). The MOI provides administrative instructions identifying zones of consideration, special skill requirements and board procedures, and outlines selection board authority. This is what’s referred to as the “left limit” of the board members’ voting philosophy. The “right limit” is the board members’ leader experience.
Each board member is given information explaining the career paths of MOSs being considered in their particular panel, along with Army regulation updates for MOS changes provided by DMPM. Board members then evaluate candidates’ MyBoard file and score them based on this information.
The board members receive candidate files in random order, limiting the number of voters evaluating the same record at any given time. Board members cannot discuss files as they evaluate candidates within their panel. Any questions about a candidate’s file are addressed to and answered by the board recorders. There is no specific panel standard that states criteria for a certain score. A board member may use personal knowledge of the individual in scoring a candidate’s file but may not share that information with the board.
After board members within a panel score all candidates in their panel, these scores are combined to give the candidate a total score. For example, if four panel members score a candidate with a 6, the candidate has a total score of 24.
All candidates of a particular MOS are rank-ordered, creating an order of merit list set by their total score. The best-qualified-for-promotion line is drawn based on the number of required promotions of an MOS and grade to meet the readiness needs of the Army.
But what earns Soldiers a certain score? Opinions vary. Army leadership maintains that certain assignments and experiences are necessary to be selected for promotion. As Soldiers reference their career maps and requirements outlined in Army regulations they need to understand that many Soldiers have achieved the same benchmarks.
What makes one Soldier better than another? Most believe that it is the individual’s performance in key jobs. Soldiers are taught if they do what is required of them to the best of their ability, everything will work out. That may get them on target for the next rank, but it may not be enough. A Soldier’s performance muse be articulated through evaluations in such a way that it is evident or established that they are capable of serving at the next level. This is where the conspiracy theorists and fiction writers begin the tales of “whom you know” and many other falsehoods. Approximately 90 percent of all senior NCOs receive “Among the Best” and a 1/1 rating for promotion and potential in their evaluation reports. This is where the job of scoring a Soldier’s record becomes difficult.
Our society is in the “Information Age,” making it easier than ever to get information distributed to the masses. This is great in many respects; however, our wish to share information has led to a decrease in originality. When board members score records, they routinely view the same ratings or wording on multiple evaluations given — outstanding becomes average. The only thing a board member has to score your record is what is annotated in your AMHRR. This means the Soldier’s entire record must contain information that clearly distinguishes him or her from anyone else within the career field. Evaluations that articulate the Soldier’s importance to his or her assigned organizations and the Army, academic reports showing the Soldier is among the top few in his or her field, a DA photo showing your attention to detail and military bearing is the next hurdle in getting one closer to the coveted rank.
The last step is something over which Soldiers have no control — Army readiness. Readiness will dictate whether one or one thousand can be promoted. The Army’s mission is: “to fight and win our Nation’s wars by providing prompt, sustained land dominance across the full range of military operations and spectrum of conflict in support of combatant commanders.” Soldiers’ records may receive perfect scores from every board member, but if they are limited by no requirements in their career field, the Army cannot promote them.
As the Army’s force structure changes to adapt to the evolving battlefield, requirements are created in some specialty MOSs and cut in others to meet the Army’s needs. New career fields were created, such as 25D (cyber network defender), 29E (electronic warfare specialist) and 51C (contracting NCO), where historically there was not a requirement. Other career fields were forced to release NCOs by using force alignment tools such as the Qualitative Service Program (QSP), which means that if the Army has no requirement for that MOS, then there is no opportunity for promotion.
The question of “what must I do to get promoted?” is different for every Soldier. The first step is the Soldiers’ responsibility: They must be willing to accept challenging assignments, perform their duties to the best of their ability and ensure their exceptional performance is articulated specifically in their evaluations.
Next, they should make sure the rest of their records reflect their abilities. Their ERBs and DA photos must reflect the attention to detail that demonstrates the Soldiers’ potential.
The final step to being selected is patience. Soldiers’ careers are built over time. Selection for promotion to sergeant or staff sergeant may be credited to personal accomplishment, but promotions to senior grades are attributed to an overall view of Soldiers’ careers as reflected in their AMHRR.
A career takes time to develop, just as the Army takes time to change. It’s important to understand that many people have the same goals with similar paths. The number of candidates makes promotion extremely competitive. It takes hard work and timing. A Soldier’s personal record is the tool used by the Army’s leadership to select its future leaders. That record and the Army’s readiness needs are the driving force to promotion.
Master Sgt. Price is the senior enlisted advisor for the Department of Army Secretariat, which conducts all centralized Army selection boards for promotion from sergeant first class to master sergeant in the Army.
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.