SECARMY: Sweeping changes coming to Army junior NCO promotions

Spc. John Fish, a soldier with 38th Engineer Company, assigned to Combined Task Force 4-2 (4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division), reports to the president of his promotion board in this file photo. Sweeping changes are beginning in May 2018 to SGT and SSG promotions, according to a newly-released Army directive released on December 7. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kimberly Hackbarth, 4th SBCT, 2nd Infantry Division Public Affairs Office)

The Army’s latest guidance on junior noncommissioned officer promotions, signed by Army secretary Mark W. Esper on December 7, is a game-changer, seemingly starting off an “up or out” policy in the middle of a growth period for the rest of the service.

Army Directive 2017-28, titled “Sergeant and Staff Sergeant Promotion Recommended List,” appears to place the burden on company-level officers and NCOs to develop their youngest leaders and make them ready for a promotion board appearance as soon as they reach the primary zone for promotion. If the board recommends the soldier, they’ll be integrated into their respective promotion list. If not, they will be potentially barred from continued service.

The directive also does away with the controversial Command List Integration (CLI) program, where troops who were in the primary zone for promotion with a certain amount of time in that grade were automatically integrated onto the promotion list with a minimum number of promotion points. The Army is not only changing the name – from CLI to “mandatory list integration” – but is changing the requirements.

Soldiers added to the promotion list through the MLI will compete for promotion with all the promotion points they have earned through military and civilian education, awards, and soldier-focused tasks like PT tests, rifle marksmanship, and the like.

Some of the changes also impact commanders. Beginning in May, commanders no longer have the ability to deny integration onto the promotion list. The directive now orders commanders to use the Bar to Continued Service as an administrative tool to identify soldiers with little or no potential for continued service or leadership. The bar must include counseling that gives the soldier solid guidance on areas to improve – and if those improvements are made, soldiers can compete for promotion with all of their points. If they don’t improve, they will not be allowed to reenlist.

Although much of the onus falls on local commanders, big Army has its own part to play in this new policy. Once the policy is in effect, officials will place a HQDA Bar to Continued Service on troops who don’t complete their Structured Self Development (SSD) requirement prior to entering the primary zone for promotion. According to the memo, the Bar “puts a Soldier on notice that his or her continued service may not be in the Army’s best interest.”

Once “on notice,” commanders will have the option to separate soldiers involuntarily after a year if they have not yet qualified themselves for a board appearance after being eligible for MLI.

“These changes will enhance Army readiness by aligning individual capabilities with the Army’s needs while optimizing human performance and engagement,” Army secretary Esper wites. “The changes recognize and capitalize on the unique talents every member of the Army team possesses and employs each member to maximum effect.”

USAWTFM has reached out to senior Army leaders for comment. This story will be updated with new information as we get it.