YONGSAN GARRISON, Republic of Korea - The Army's new promotion system officially took effect in January 2016 and some of the changes may impact Soldiers stationed in South Korea.
The revised program, known as STEP (select, train, educate, promote), means a significant change in how Soldiers are promoted. Under previous guidance, noncommissioned officers could pin on a new rank and later attend the noncommissioned officer education system (NCOES) course commensurate with their new paygrade at their convenience.
However, under STEP Soldiers must complete both an online structured self-development course and the resident Army school associated with individual jobs before they can pin on a higher rank.
For junior NCOs the new policy requires completion of the Army's Basic Leader Course prior to being promoted to sergeant and the Advanced Leader Course to become a staff sergeant.
Changes for senior NCOs are coming as well. As of the June 2016 sergeant first class board, NCOs must attend the Senior Leader Course to be promoted to sergeant first class and within a few years the Army's new Master Leader Course will be required for promotion to master sergeant.
"If you're not qualified when your number comes up, you don't get promoted," said Sgt. Maj. Willie Grandison, Eighth Army G1 personnel management division. "If a Soldier gets selected (to senior NCO) but doesn't go to school within 90 days, it takes a general officer letter to say why they can't go to school."
Grandison said those stationed in Korea face a unique situation. Soldiers being promoted to sergeant can easily attend BLC at Camp Jackson in Uijeongbu, but several promotion-based resident courses can only be taken stateside.
The challenge for unit leaders on the peninsula will be finding a way to get Soldiers trained while still maintaining 'Fight Tonight' readiness. Because Korea is a forward-deployed location, units must maintain manning at a high level at all times.
It's a problem that Army leaders in the Republic of Korea agree has no easy solution. Eighth Army Command Sgt. Maj. Rick Merritt says it's imperative that Soldiers and leaders work together to find a solution.
"We will work hard to make sure … Soldiers won't be disadvantaged because they're serving the Republic of Korea," said Merritt. "We have to be involved in STEP at all levels."
Merritt said the best solution is to "front-load" Soldiers eligible for promotion into the necessary training before they arrive.
"If you know you're headed here, you need to work together with your Leaders to get yourself in school," he said.
Units with inbound Soldiers who are promotable can work with losing units to make sure Soldiers have the opportunity to attend training before they arrive.
For those who are already in country, Grandison says that school attendance depends on the individual Soldier's timeline. Ideally, when a Soldier learns that he or she is promotable to staff sergeant or above, the unit can work to get a school date immediately following his or her tour.
By exception though, some NCOs who become promotable just before arrival or early in their tours can be sent on a temporary duty assignment to attend school so they don't fall behind.
"Eighth Army will stand strong while you're in school," said Merritt, "but we need to ensure our few Soldiers who return stateside in the middle of their tour here should be the exception rather than the expectation."