On April 15, 2019, the United States Army announced its intentions to refresh the centralized promotion board system for the first time in fifty years, shifting from a time-based model to a merit-based model. The ultimate goal of the new system is to increase the number of promotions based on a soldier's skills, merit, and experience, and decrease the number of soldiers who end up in long promotion queues or those promoted based on seniority alone. This new system will be rolled out over the next three to four years, planning for a full implementation by fiscal year 2021.
What is the Army promotion board system?
If you serve with the U.S. Army, you're probably familiar with the current system for promotions. Officers in the Human Resources Command can forecast the size and shape of the Army in future years by assessing the number of soldiers who will be leaving service up to two years in the future. These projections are then used to determine what promotions will need to be filled and when.
Meanwhile, soldiers who have been in good standing in their current ranks for long enough are identified as promotable and marked as such in HRC records. Promotable soldiers are assigned a sequence number on an order of merit list (OML), based on their time in grade, date of birth, and length of service. This creates a large pool of soldiers who are ready for promotion, so that the Army may draw on available soldiers as they are needed for higher-ranking promotions.
One of the downfalls of this system, however, is that the HRC's projections cannot be accurate enough to reflect unexpected requirements, such as reductions or changes to the Army's structure. Because of this, the surplus of promotable soldiers is kept unnecessarily large, and soldiers end up waiting a very long time for promotions they deserve. For example, if there are 50 positions available that a list of 500 soldiers qualify for, the top 50 names on the list will receive promotions, even if the most qualified soldiers are actually further down the list. In some cases, the seniority issue has resulted in less-than-perfect assignments, as the lists of “promotable” soldiers are not necessarily processed according to those soldiers' best skills.
How will the promotion board system change, and who will be affected?
Under the new system, which will impact all current active soldiers and those serving as Active Guard Reserve, the promotion system will shift to a basis of merit rather than time in rank. Instead of sorting the OML by seniority, Army officials will use annual reviews to maintain separate OMLs for each grade and military occupational specialty, with soldiers' OML sequence number decided by merit rather than seniority.
In the next few months, soldiers will be able to access their personal OML standings through the Army Career Tracker website and have an accurate expectation as to when they will receive their next promotion. Promotions will be announced on the 15th of each month, to take effect on the 1st of the next month, so that soldiers have a two-week period to prepare and make any necessary changes to take on their new ranks and roles.
The new OML system will also help Army officials identify any soldiers whose service is not fully qualified – meaning, soldiers who are unable to fulfill their duties as expected and may require additional support or separation from service.
When will these changes take effect?
The Army plans for the system to be in effect by 2021, enacted in three stages. The first is underway now, in which merit-based promotion sequence numbers are being introduced for all ranks over the course of fiscal year 2019. 2019 will also bring access to OML standing through the Army Career Tracker, and the new system will be used to inform command sergeant major and sergeant major eligibility and slating.
During fiscal year 2020, the Army will use the OML both to assist with assignment and training decisions and to identify any service members who are not fully qualified for service. The Army Career Tracker will be updated to include board feedback on their OML rankings.
In 2021, the Army will finish its rollout process by implementing 90-day forecasts for all ranks (replacing the long-range forecasts the HRC currently uses), eliminating the old “promotable” status for NCOs, and implementing the monthly promotion selection process. 2021 will also be the first year in which the separation process begins for soldiers who are identified as “not fully qualified” by the OML.
How does this impact my career as a Soldier?
According to retired Sgt. Maj. Gerald Purcell, who now serves as the personnel policy integrator with Army G-1, the new system is designed to reward soldiers who shine. “If you excel at what you do, we're going to promote you,” Purcell says. “Everything is predicated on everybody doing what they're expected to do — leaders and Soldiers alike. We're trying to create an environment to facilitate all of that.”
Ultimately, the new system is meant to improve promotion opportunities for all ranks and reduce the circumstances under which a seniority-based promotion could weaken the Army's efficiency or place a soldier in a position that doesn't suit their skills. As the new system continues to roll out, the Army will continue to keep soldiers informed of their career path and open up new opportunities for those who have proven themselves on merit.
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