The Army is dramatically scaling back a two-year-old policy that allowed noncommissioned officers to be promoted before they attended an academy required for their next rank, according to a policy memo recently issued to the force.
In January, active-duty enlisted soldiers and their full-time counterparts in the Army Reserve will no longer be able to be promoted before attending schools such as the Advanced Leader Course, or ALC, required for promotion from sergeant to staff sergeant. The return to the status quo goes into effect for the Army National Guard and part-time reserve enlisted soldiers beginning in October 2024.
Those courses were required to be completed before promotions until late 2021, when issues including a capacity problem at the academies, aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic, made it difficult to get troops through the education pipeline. Soldiers who were given promotions prior to the required schooling had a year to complete their education or be reduced to their previous rank.
But the service isn't outright terminating temporary promotions and is leaving a lot of latitude for commanders to promote their NCOs ahead of attending school.
NCOs may still get an early promotion if the rank for their job in the Army falls below an "acceptable level," according to the policy memo outlining the exceptions. For example, if there are limited infantry staff sergeants, commanders may promote sergeants into those roles before they attend ALC.
Soldiers may also be promoted before attending school if they are serving in a combat zone for at least eight months or are pregnant or postpartum.
Some senior commanders and NCOs took issue with the 2021 policy at first, concerned that temporary promotions discounted the legitimacy of NCO academies. Those courses teach enlisted leaders Army doctrine and how to manage soldiers in their respective fields.
Michael Grinston, who was the sergeant major of the Army at the time, said he wished the service didn't have to extend the policy into this year, but it simply wasn't able to clear the backlog of students, and senior leaders did not want to hold back careers of otherwise qualified NCOs.
In 2015, the service implemented the Select-Train-Educate-Promote, or STEP, policy requiring attendance at those schools, which has been part of a larger effort in recent years to formalize NCO training on Army doctrine and encourage professional development. NCOs are also increasingly expected to have college degrees as they advance in rank.
"Initial implementation of STEP was suspended due to temporary conditions, but those have passed; therefore, we move forward, ensuring our soldiers have the training and resources they need to succeed as leaders in our Army," Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Weimer said in a statement.
Weimer, who took the reins as the service's new top enlisted leader in August, told reporters then that NCO development is among his top priorities, but he has yet to articulate specifics on what that means in practice.
Meanwhile, the Army is also eyeing extending the length of the Basic Leader Course, or BLC, by several days. The course is required for promotion from specialist to sergeant.
Army planners are working on adding more field training to the 22-day school, as combat training has been slowly phased out in recent years to accommodate more classroom instruction on Army policy.
Last year, the Army had a pilot program reintroducing land navigation to the course. Half of the 914 soldiers in that pilot across different BLC schoolhouses failed.
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.