WASHINGTON -- The Army has begun to shift its rank advancement structure for noncommissioned officers by moving from a two-year promotion projection process to a month-to-month format, as well as allowing top performing Soldiers to be eligible for promotion six months earlier.
The overhaul to evaluating NCOs is intended to boost Army readiness and improve the quality of its NCO corps, said Sgt. Maj. Mark Clark, Army G-1 directorate of military personnel management sergeant major. Soldiers will soon feel the impact of those changes as the Army transitions to a greater focus on merit to promote its enlisted leaders rather than on time in service.
As part of the changes, the Army is widening the scope of its order of merit list, or OML, to select NCOs for promotion. The list will be used as a guide to select Soldiers for promotion to sergeant first class through sergeant major. Sergeants and staff sergeants will continue to earn promotions based on points and cutoff scores.
Instead of a centralized promotion selection board, the service will move to a performance-based annual evaluation for Soldiers eligible for promotion to sergeant first class and above. The OML now contains a “fully qualified” list to identify Soldiers who have earned immediate eligibility for promotion. The OML also determines which Soldiers earn selections to go to training associated with rank advancement.
The changes began in fiscal year 2019 with the command sergeant major/sergeant major board in August 2019 and continued with the fiscal 2020 master sergeant board in May. The fiscal 2020 CSM/SGM board is currently underway.
The Army's next policy change will be with the fiscal 2021 sergeant first class board, which will convene on Sept. 20. That board will inform decisions that include selection for training to attend the Master Leaders Course, assignment selections and NCOs with substandard performance.
“The most important [change] was to give us flexibility to be able to respond to emerging requirements,” Clark said in an interview Thursday.
The OML then serves as the promotion evaluation board’s summary of the Soldier’s achievements, including performance reports in military schools, physical fitness, military and civilian education, and the variety of duty and leadership roles held.
“[The OML] is based on the Soldier’s performance over the lifecycle of their career,” Clark said. “So it's a total Soldier evaluation of their potential to perform at the next level.”
Beginning in May, Army will announce the names of Soldiers selected for promotion to the rank of sergeant through sergeant major by the 15th of the month prior to the promotion month.
Under the new changes, Soldiers will be selected from the OML to take required training in an effort to qualify them for promotion.
The Army made the change to create an environment where NCOs train to qualify ahead of their scheduled promotions, Clark said. Under the former 24-month projections, Soldiers were not considered for training until after they were selected for promotion and often could not get fully trained because of scheduling conflicts, deployments or medical profiles.
“It created a false sense of readiness that we had a population that was ready to be promoted, but we could not promote them unless they were school trained,” he said. “So we needed to put the emphasis on getting school trained earlier to identify our [promotable] population.”
The creation of new units, such as security force assistance brigades in 2016, accelerated the need to bring qualified NCOs to new assignments quickly, he added. Army leaders learned that the 24-month projection of force structure and promotion requirements proved too slow to keep pace with the service’s changing needs.
The projection didn’t account for unforeseen variables including an NCO’s availability or changes to force structure. By going to a month-to-month process, the Army can refer to the OML to select the top candidates for newly-created units such as an SFAB. Clark said the ability to choose from candidates already listed in the OML eliminates the need to project losses and promotion requirements.
“We can just simply go down the OML to identify the next qualified individuals to do those requirements versus waiting to do another board and project two years out to do those requirements,” Clark said.
The U.S. Army Human Resources Command uses the OML, in conjunction with its Manner of Performance tool, to determine duty assignments. The tool gives Army talent managers the ability to quickly evaluate where an NCO stands among their peers, based on a Soldier’s career path and the Army’s current needs.
The OML also helps determine which Soldiers will be selected for retention. Soldiers who do not meet promotion requirements or fail to make the fully qualified list could be considered for involuntarily separation.
Soldiers previously seen by an evaluation board can track their OML status at the Army Career Tracker website at https://actnow.army.mil/.