WASHINGTON — Soldiers soon will shoulder the responsibilities of noncommissioned officers earlier in their careers, following a new Army directive that will promote all junior enlisted members to the rank of corporal prior to making sergeant.
Beginning July 1, all Soldiers with the rank of specialist who have been recommended for advancement by a promotion board and completed the Basic Leader Course, or BLC, will be laterally promoted to corporal, a junior NCO.
Soldiers who currently hold the corporal rank must qualify for the promotion board and graduate from BLC to remain corporals, or they will be laterally assigned back to the grade of specialist.
Further, Soldiers who meet the requirements will wear the corporal rank regardless of the designated grade of their assigned duty positions as they make the transition to the NCO corps.
Soldiers will not receive additional pay when making corporal, nor will they lose any of their base salary if they transition back to specialist, said Sgt. Maj. Kenyatta Gaskins, Directorate of Military Personnel Management sergeant major.
The directive will apply to active-duty Soldiers and Active Guard Reserve members. The instruction will apply to the Army Reserve starting Oct. 1.
“We want to get after leading, teaching and mentoring our junior enlisted Soldiers early,” Gaskins said. “This is a junior leader development process and that's how we're looking at this.”
In the past, the Army selected Soldiers with leadership potential to higher graded positions to become corporals. Now Soldiers who have been recommended for promotion to sergeant and completed the required training will have that distinction.
Gaskins said that the length of time a Soldier spends as corporal will vary but each Soldier will be expected to wear the rank for a period of time before transitioning to sergeant.
“This is a change in culture,” Gaskins, who held the rank of corporal earlier in his career. “This is not something we’re used to.”
The change coincides with the Army’s plans to invest more in the leadership development of younger Soldiers, supporting Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston’s “This is My Squad” initiative. That effort includes a push to further strengthen the Army’s junior NCO corps, and will instill more than just leadership skills.
Promotion boards to sergeant and staff sergeant include situational-based questions on sexual harassment, misuse of drugs and alcohol and suicide prevention. Soldiers will also be quizzed on suicide prevention, physical fitness, and mental health to gauge their reaction to such incidents and to make sure they can care for Soldiers in those situations.
Under the directive, unit cohesion will be strengthened at the lowest levels by promoting Soldiers to corporal.
“We rely on junior leaders to build cohesive teams that are highly trained, disciplined, and mentally and physically fit," Grinston said. "In many cases, a specialist is charged with that responsibility. This allows us to recognize their role as a noncommissioned officer and ensure they’re getting the coaching and mentorship they need to be successful.”
Gaskins said by developing leadership traits earlier in military careers, Soldiers will be able to identify and prevent what Army senior leaders have labeled as “corrosives” to the force including sexual assault and harassment, discrimination and suicide.
The Army also announced that beginning June 1, 2022, for active duty, and Active Guard Reserve Soldiers and Oct. 1, 2022, for Army Reserve, Solders must be recommended by a promotion board to Sergeant before attending BLC.
Instilling leadership early
One of the oldest ranks in the Army, the Corporal rank has been called the “backbone” of the Army’s NCO corps, Gaskins said.
Corporals earn E-4 pay but outrank specialists having the distinction of being NCOs. The Army charges them with leading the Army’s smallest units, teams of Soldiers, while overseeing the care, training and readiness of fellow troops.
Now the rank carries possibly a greater distinction, one that showcases the Army’s commitment to developing responsible leaders early and to combat against misconduct.
“It's a visual reminder that the Soldiers have transitioned from junior ranks to become a member of the NCO Corps,” Gaskins said.