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24 issues that will shape the Army in 2014

Jan. 2, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  

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The end of Afghanistan. A shrinking force. BAH rollbacks. A new PT test. These are but a few of the topics the Army will address in the new year.

The end of Afghanistan. A shrinking force. BAH rollbacks. A new PT test. These are but a few of the topics the Army will address in the new year.

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1. The end of Afghanistan? One way or another, 2014 will bookend the post-2001 period of U.S. military warfare in the Middle East. The nation’s longest war is slated to formally end next December when the U.S. and NATO mission in Afghanistan expires. And while many Pentagon officials have long insisted that the U.S. military will maintain an enduring presence there, the rocky relationship between the U.S. and Afghan President Hamid Karzai is raising serious questions about whether the U.S. commander in chief might just tell all his troops to pack up and leave, just as they did from Iraq at the end of 2011.

“We continue to plan until such time we’re told not to plan anymore,” a senior Army planner, who spoke on background, told Army Times.

That question will linger for many months into the New Year. A betting sort probably would say the good money is on some number of U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan. But the numbers will be small, no more than 10,000. And the mission will be different: The 14-year operation known as Enduring Freedom will get a new name. And most people, in and outside the military, will stop calling it a war.

For the youngest troops who were in the first grade when a passenger jet struck the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, that will be an extraordinary change.

About 42,700 troops remain in Afghanistan; about 30,000 of them are soldiers, according to information provided by the Defense Department. That number is expected to drop to 34,000 by February.

Karzai so far has refused to sign an agreement outlining a 10-year extension for U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan, even though a deal seemed to be finalized in November after the thorny issue of legal immunity for U.S. troops was resolved and a conference of Afghan tribal leaders approved the draft agreement.

Senior U.S. officials have said the agreement must be signed soon to allow for the U.S. and NATO to properly plan for the post-2014 force.

The Army continues to train and prepare soldiers for potential deployments amid the uncertainty. The Pentagon on Dec. 13 announced upcoming deployments for about 8,300 soldiers from four brigades and a division headquarters.

They will deploy this spring and summer.

2. A shrinking force. There’s no doubt that the U.S. military will get smaller in 2014. The question is by how much – and with how much pain. The Army and Marine Corps already have plans to reduce force levels and are likely to request permission from Congress to cut even more rapidly than initially planned.

The Air Force recently unveiled plans to cut the force to its lowest level ever. The Navy may follow suit if the budget outlook does not improve.

For individual troops, that will mean the growing fear of enlisted retention boards, in some cases even for E-9s. Involuntary separations will cause anxiety throughout the ranks.

Both officers and enlisted at the 15-year mark may have retirement options.

And for those who stay, promotion boards will be tougher than ever as part of the force reduction plans will inevitably involve “attrition” – i.e. not promoting people and letting them separate voluntarily or politely shown to the gate with an up-or-out cap.

And commanders likely will crack down on low-level misconduct, simply because they can. Those who are fortunate enough to make rank and stay in uniform probably will end up doing more with less.

Keep your ear to the ground in February when the Pentagon sends its annual budget request to Congress. That’s when the real extent of the problem is likely to be revealed.

3. BAH rollbacks? Personnel programs are in the cross-hairs as Pentagon leadership adjusts to the long-term reality of the budget cuts known as sequestration. And none is centered more than the Basic Allowance for Housing. The bean counters have their eyes on that $20 billion annual budget that helps about 1 million troops pay their monthly rent. It’s not part of “basic compensation,” but for many troops, BAH helps pay a big portion of the monthly bills.

Troops could see a return to the 1990s rules, when BAH was intended to cover only about 80 percent of average rental housing costs, with troops expected to cough up the rest out of pocket. Or the entire system might be simplified, scaled back and given a new name. One reason it’s a target is that the Defense Department may not need congressional approval to make such changes (unlike many other big-ticket personnel programs). Details likely will come in February when the Defense Department unveils its annual budget plans.

4. In-state tuition. Lawmakers in the House and Senate worked on bills to push colleges and universities to automatically offer in-state tuition to all veterans, regardless of whether they are state residents, but they were unable to pass them into law in 2013. The effort will continue in 2014, and it could make a big difference in how much vets have to pay for school and where they can go.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill covers the full cost of in-state tuition at public schools. But any extra costs associated with out-of-state tuition are not covered, which sometimes forces vets to pay the difference themselves. And that’s not a small amount: In the 2012-13 school year, in-state tuition averaged $8,655 while out-of-state tuition averaged $21,706, according to the College Board.

Bills in Congress aim to address the problem, which is common for service members often forced to relocate by Uncle Sam, by requiring public colleges and universities to either offer state residency waivers to veterans or lose all eligibility to accept the Post-9/11 GI Bill. This would likely mean that vets 100-percent eligible for the GI Bill could attend more schools with no out-of-pocket costs. Yet it would also likely shrink the number of schools at which vets can use their Post-9/11 benefit.

5. New PT test in the works. The gender-neutral physical standards established for combat specialties will provide the backbone of a new PT test in the works.

Fitness officials at Fort Jackson, S.C., are developing a test comprised of three or four common tasks that will be used across the Army. Soldiers in combat specialties will have to do the MOS-specific tasks to certify them for inclusion in that field.

While a new test is not likely in 2014, soldiers can expect to see a lot of details as the test is developed. A version will be used at recruiting stations to let candidates know if they have what it takes to be in combat arms. Cognitive tests will eventually be added to pre-qualify recruits.

6. Army drawdown. The Army will continue paring down the active-duty force in 2014 as it seeks to reach an end-strength of 490,000 in two years.

The drawdown of 80,000 soldiers was supposed to be spread across four years, through fiscal year 2017, but the cuts were accelerated to help the Army prepare for any additional manpower reductions generated by the ongoing budget crisis.

As of Nov. 30, the Army’s end-strength was 528,000, down from a war-time high of about 570,000.

This means the Army has to reduce the active force by about 38,000 soldiers by Sept. 30, 2015, and these reductions will happen in tandem with one of the Army’s largest force structure reorganizations since World War II.

At least 10 brigade combat teams will be inactivated over the next two years.

In addition, most of the remaining armored and infantry BCTs will each receive a third maneuver battalion and enhanced engineer and fires capabilities.

In 2014, the Army will use a number of involuntary separation tools, including Officer Separation Boards, Enhanced Selective Early Retirement Boards and the Qualitative Service Program for senior noncommissioned officers.

As early as this spring, about 19,000 captains and majors will face the OSB and E-SERB. Army officials said up to 2,000 officers will be selected for separation.

This is the first time since the 1970s that the Army will convene reduction-in-force boards for captains and majors in over-strength year groups. What has yet to be determined is what might happen once the Army reaches its goal of 490,000.

Further cuts of up to 70,000 more soldiers could take place between 2018 and 2023, although Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno has testified on Capitol Hill that the Army’s active-duty end-strength should not drop below 420,000.

7. Retirees back into Prime. As many as 171,000 retirees and their family members booted from Tricare Prime in October will be invited to rejoin the plan.

They were pushed out of Tricare Prime when the Defense Department decided to strictly enforce Prime Service Areas as within 40 miles of a current military medical facility or within 40 miles of a closed facility on a base that had shut down under base realignment and closure. Prime had a wide reach for much of the past decade defense officials believed it was more economical. The savings did not materialize and the Pentagon turned to this new plan, which has been in the works for several years.

Those retirees and families on Oct. 1 had to switch to Tricare Standard, which has higher out-of-pocket costs. That sparked outrage within the retiree community and its advocates in Washington. Lawmakers listened, and gave the group the the chance to opt back in under a provision of the recently passed 2014 National Defense Authorization Act.

When and how they will be able to do this, however, remains to be seen. Pentagon officials have said they must follow procedural rules and study the issue, publish federal notices and solicit comment from the public before it can act.

8. Regional alignment. The Army will continue to align its forces with the geographic combatant commands around the world in 2014, a senior Army planner told Army Times.

“What we can expect in 2014 is continued success,” said the planner, who spoke on background. “What we have now are bona fide data points that show us it is working.”

The 1st Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team was the first Army brigade to be aligned, and the soldiers’ work with U.S. Africa Command over the past year — including military-to-military engagements, multinational exercises and advise-and-assist missions — has had a “huge” impact, the senior planner said.

“About 3,500 men and women have had an impact in 50 different states, essentially,” he said. The 2nd BCT will complete its regional alignment in the February and March timeframe, handing over the mission to the 1st Infantry Division’s 4th BCT.

However, the staffs for both brigades are working together to ensure continuity, the senior planner said.

“If we’re building partner capacity and relationships, we want to make sure we have continuity,” he said. “The planners in the unit that will replace [2nd BCT] have been working with them since September.”

The Army also is extending the 1st Armored Division’s engagement in Jordan, the senior planner said. The division is regionally aligned with U.S. Central Command.

“It’s working very well and the numbers aren’t very large … so we’ve decided to extend them there another year,” he said.

Up to 200 soldiers from the division at Fort Bliss, Texas, began deploying to Jordan in April to assist efforts to contain violence along the Syrian border.

The soldiers, most of them planners and specialists in intelligence and logistics who rotate in and out throughout the year, were to partner with the Jordanian armed forces and the U.S. embassy to conduct humanitarian assistance, stability operations and training with their Jordanian partners.

“Today, the whole U.S. Army is aligned,” the senior Army planner said. “Corps and divisions are aligned, and in some cases the multi-functional brigades that go with them.”

As units come home from Afghanistan, they also will be aligned to a combatant command, he said.

Generally, units on the West Coast of the United States — including I Corps at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., and the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii and Alaska — are aligned with U.S. Pacific Command, he said.

Many units in the “central sector” of the country, including III Corps at Fort Hood, Texas, are aligned with CENTCOM, while 1st BCT, 1st Cavalry Division is aligned with U.S. European Command.

In addition, the 82nd Airborne Division, at Fort Bragg, N.C., serves as the global response force. The Fort Bragg-based XVIII Airborne Corps also has been designated as a global response force, but the corps headquarters is preparing to deploy to Afghanistan in 2014.

Other major units aligned are the 1st Infantry Division with AFRICOM and the Georgia National Guard’s 48th BCT with U.S. Southern Command.

In the near term, regionally aligned brigades are expected to rotate annually, while corps and division headquarters will not, officials have said. One factor that could affect that is the demand in Afghanistan, which remains the Army’s top priority, officials said.

In 2014, the Army will continue to look for more opportunities for regional alignment, the senior planner said.

9. Electronic warfare. The Army is poised in 2014 to develop software that would help manage the jamming of enemy communications, remote-detonated IEDs and radar systems while protecting U.S. and allied signals.

A $97.9 million contract for the software, an Electronic Warfare Planning and Management Tool, has been the center of two protests. Army acquisitions officials expect to begin development in the spring, following a delay of six to nine months.

For Army electronic warfare officers and spectrum managers, the EWPMT will be like a field artilleryman’s fire support command and control software. Support a brigade’s intelligence, operations and signals, electronic warfare officers and spectrum managers would use the software to plan, manage and ensure unit electronic warfare activities do not conflict.

“We have to make sure we’re not stepping on our blue force comms, especially as we introduce offensive alongside defensive jammers in the inventory,” electronic warfare program manager Mike Ryan said.

Electronic Warfare Project Manager Col. Joe Dupont says if, for instance, a brigade wanted to jam an enemy’s command and control signal, it would have to understand what other frequencies are being used, and how they might be effected. That’s where EWPMT comes in to analyze enemy and friendly signals to present options to commanders.

The acquisition office plans to roll out three groups of capabilities over the next several years, after which the software will serve as a hub for several of the service’s electronic warfare technologies, including its jamming and signal collection gear for vehicles, soldiers, forward operating bases — and eventually airborne systems.

The requirement for the software was approved last spring, and the acquisition office awarded a contract first to the mid-sized Sotera Solutions Inc. However, Raytheon protested the award and won the contract away on Dec. 2. Since then, Sotera has lodged its own protest, temporary halting work on the program.

“We will award to somebody this spring and we’ll start,” Ryan said.

10. Subterranean training. Expect training for underground spaces such as tunnels, sewers, caves and subterranean bunkers and facilities as the world’s population becomes increasingly urban, and combat ops become more complex and nonconventional.

The effort is led by the Asymmetric Warfare Group, out of Fort Meade, Md. AWG soldiers have put units through subterranean operations in the past year as the unit tries to build doctrine to push out to the force. Unlike jungle and urban operations, doctrine for subterranean operations does not yet exist.

“AWG has conducted a series of tactical level exercises to illuminate the operational challenges and capture best tactics, techniques and procedures,” said Lt. Col. Michael Richardson, the Concepts and Integration Squadron Commander at AWG.

“We want to identify the challenges that our soldiers will face, so that they are prepared to fight in complex environments instead of having to adapt while under fire,” said Capt. Justin Carlton, a troop commander at AWG.

Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, have been training in underground operations as AWG works on developing the TTPs and an Army Techniques Publication. Soon soldiers attending the Combat Training Centers could also be training in underground scenarios.

“Collaboration with the Combat Training Centers is underway to look at integrations of complex environments into future scenarios as the Army maintains its focus on strategic land power,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Cory Ackley, the Concepts and Integration Squadron command sergeant major at AWG.

But soldiers don’t need to travel to the CTCs to do the training. They can do it at their home stations, a concept the Army is focused on with the budget cuts and drawdown.

“The Army is reenergizing home station training and its capabilities as the foundation for readiness,” Ackley said. He said existing infrastructure can be repurposed or adapted for subterranean training, saving the Army money.

“To train and prepare for subterranean operations, units need to train in dark confined spaces. This can be done by blacking out existing training facilities and employing obstacles to simulate underground facilities, “ said Master Sgt. Bill Tomlin III, an operational adviser and troop sergeant major at AWG. “You can employ drainage ditches, connexes (shipping containers), or (Military Operations on Urban Terrain) sites to meet your training objective.”

11. GCV will likely be canceled. Though long-touted as a “must have” for the future Army, the Ground Combat Vehicle may be nearing the end of the road.

The Army, driven by the findings of its Unified Quest exercises, plans to shrink squads and brigades. Having smaller squads could be a kill shot for GCV. The Army has long argued for the vehicle because it can carry an entire squad. The Bradley carries seven soldiers. Nine soldiers comprise the current Army squad.

Squads aren’t the only things being cut. Funding also is taking a big hit, and the Army will spend more than 80 percent of its combat vehicle modernization budget on GCV over the next five years. The program comes in at least $29 billion without overruns, setbacks and other problems these programs tend to face. Some estimates place the cost as high as $34 billion.

An April 17 Congressional Research Service report raised significant questions about the cost and need for the next-generation combat troop carrier. This comes on the heels of an April 2013 Congressional Budget Office analysis that recommended the Army replace the $29 billion program with more Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles or foreign vehicles.

GCV’s size is becoming a hot topic, as well. BAE Systems’ GCV tips the scales at a whopping 70 tons, for example. This matches the enhanced M1A2 tank, making it the world’s heaviest infantry fighting vehicle. Much of its weight comes from multiple armor packages that rest on a steel core hull to provide maximum protection. But Army leadership said in November it wants to use emerging (undeveloped) technologies to ensure the heaviest vehicles come in at 30 tons. That is the optimal size for sustainment and operations in the heavily urbanized environments that lay ahead, officials said.

12. New warfighting function. The Army in 2014 will add a seventh warfighting function that focuses on the human domain.

A warfighting function is a collection of tasks and systems with a common purpose. By establishing it as a warfighting function means the Army will take a tactical approach to the human domain – all matters pertaining to the socio-economic, partner-building, cognitive, and cultural aspects of operations. This will combine decades of lessons learned from the special forces and conventional warfighters’ points of view.

The human and cyber domains of war will be merged. Expect doctrine to address such concepts as engagement and influence.

13. Tuition Assistance. Soldiers of the active and reserve components will be limited to 16 semester hours of Army-funded college studies annually under several changes to the Tuition Assistance program that take effect Jan. 1.

Based on 2013 participation rates, the new rules will apply to nearly 160,000 officers and enlisted soldiers of the Regular Army, National Guard and Army Reserve who pursue college-level studies with TA support.

In another major change, soldiers will not be allowed to use TA until one year after they complete initial entry training, whether that is officer candidate school, an officer basic course or advanced individual training. Also, soldiers will not be allowed to use TA for post-bachelor’s degrees until they have completed at least 10 years of service, unless they entered the Army with a bachelor’s degree. Soldiers in the latter category will be allowed to begin graduate studies one year after completion of initial entry training.

Recommendations coming out of an extensive review of the TA program also have resulted in the stricter enforcement of a long-standing rule that requires soldier/students to be in compliance with physical fitness and weight control standards, and not be under a flag for adverse personnel action, to qualify for Army-funded studies.

During 2013, soldiers completed 413,000 TA-funded courses at a cost of $335 million. More than 8,500 soldiers were awarded degrees as a result of those studies.

The TA program will continue to be funded up to $4,500 annually per soldier, with a payment cap of $250 per semester hour. As under existing policy, TA can be used to pay for up to 130 semester hours of study toward a bachelor’s degree, and 39 hours for a master’s degree.

14. New pistol. The new carbine may be shot down, but a new pistol is not.

Testing and evaluation of a variety of pistols should begin early in 2014 as the service looks to replace the M9. The goal is to replace all 239,000 M9s and the concealable M11s with a better pistol at a better price.

Expect a pistol that provides greater lethality and an increase in permanent wound channel, the ability to suppress, grip modularity, integrated rail and night-sight capabilities and a service life of at least 25,000 rounds. The M9 is only required to fire 5,000 rounds. Beretta data shows the average reliability of all M9s to be 17,500 rounds.

Army officials also have taken aim at the M9’s slide-mounted safety and open-slide design, which allow contaminants and dirt into the system.

15. Putting eyes on the enemy. Intelligence gear that operates at the “speed of change” will be the primary focus in 2014. Priorities include getting the network into standard units, more interoperable and user-friendly mission command, mobile and survivable command posts and hands-free heads-up displays.

Service leaders also are seeking a “leap-ahead investment” in cyber, energetics, laser weapons, RF weapons and power. These will better allow for the self-sufficiency needed to overcome the logistics burden and operate in swift fashion.

Investment is needed to retain advantage in computing, night vision and UAVs. Adversaries are already overtaking advantages in active protection, cannon and rocket artillery, chemical weapons, C3/deception, SRB missiles and shaped charges. Army leaders say soldiers will be in a fair fight by 2025 if these changes are not made.

16. Regional career assignments. Top Army leaders are giving this serious consideration.

Intelligence leaders pressed Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno to let their soldiers stay in the region of their expertise, much like the Special Forces. Gen. Robert Cone, head of Training and Doctrine Command, has voiced strong support, as well.

Training in 2014 will be saturated with language, regional expertise and culture training. Soldiers also will spend a lot of time training allied armies to do things they are now unable to do. There will be a lot of joint and partner-building exercises to increase U.S. influence and enhance the nation’s ability to gain access if required.

Therefore, expect a lot of talk and tests that looks at keeping regional expertise in the region. Since there already is a healthy dialogue between trainers and personnel officials, don’t be surprised to see some trial runs that keep soldiers on post, or at least in the region, when it comes time for a career-enhancing assignment such as a tour at a major headquarters.

17. First women entering combat MOSs. The first combat fields – combat engineers and artillery – will open to women in 2014.

The Army has determined gender-neutral physical standards for combat specialties and scientists are now validating that data.

Don’t expect women to enter every company or brigade. Since the number of females desiring to join combat arms will be limited, officials will assemble them in yet-unidentified units.

Combat engineers will be the first to see women in the ranks. The field needs little integration as it has a large population of female officers and NCOs. All MOSs from 12C through 12W are open to women, and many have similar tasks and capabilities as combat engineers. Combat engineers already conduct integrated training with female engineers.

The Army will also tackle field artillery, which has women but fewer than among engineers. Field artillery has a cadre to help minimize the cultural impact when women become cannon crewmembers.

From there, the Army will set standards for armor and infantry, which should open by the end of 2015 or early 2016.

18. New grooming standards. These have been in the works for well over a year, and there is a good chance a decision will come in 2014.

Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said tattoos caused the pause. The original plan would not allow tattoos to extend below the wrist line and or be visible on the hands. Sleeve tattoos would be prohibited. Vulgarities were especially taboo. But Odierno said officials want to make sure the new policy meets professional expectations while taking social realities into account.

The potential changes are part of a comprehensive review of Army Regulation 670-1 led by Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler and his board of directors, which is composed of key command sergeants major. The proposals are sitting on the desk of Army Secretary John McHugh, where they have sat for a couple of months.

Other changes could address everything from civilian attire and hairdos to restrictions on cosmetics, visible body piercings and dental ornamentation, but tattoos restrictions have been the hot button. Chandler’s plan was to forbid ink above the neck line when the physical fitness uniform is worn.

19. New weapons and vehicles. Look for unmanned ground vehicle technology to roll into the ranks as the Army moves forward with its Route Clearance Interrogation System. This calls for a remote-controlled High Mobility Engineering Excavator to interrogate, classify and excavate buried explosives. The RG 31 would be under semi-autonomous control as it detects and neutralizes explosive hazards and trigger mechanisms.

Sixty-six Joint Light Tactical Vehicle prototypes produced by three companies will spend the entire year in rigorous testing and evaluations. An initial order for nearly 55,000 vehicles will go to the winner. Long-term plans include the first Army units receiving JLTVs by fiscal year 2018 and all 49,000 JLTVs delivered to the Army by sometime in the 2030 decade.

Special operators will be rolling in the new Ground Mobility Vehicle. General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems in August won a $562 million contract to build 1,297 Ground Mobility Vehicles. All will be delivered by 2020.

The XM25 Punisher is back on track. The Army in November spent $255 million on new M2A1 Quick Change Barrel Kits. The Lightweight Counter Mortar Radar, whose funds were cut by half last year, is budgeted for $83 million in the 2014 NDAA. That is a more than a 200-percent increase. And the M240L light medium-machine gun is moving ahead smartly.

The Bradley fighting vehicle will get $158 million for modifications while the M88A2 improved recovery vehicle program will get $186 million, a 68 percent increase over the Army request. Modifications to Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles are funded at $563 million.

20. Officer evaluation report. The Army is preparing to launch an extensive training program that will prepare the officer corps for a new evaluation reporting system that goes live for the active and reserve components on April 1.

The new OER system had been planned to start Dec. 1, but has been delayed to accommodate changes to the rating form for colonels, and to introduce a new support form that will become mandatory for colonels and below next spring.

A major feature of the new system is separate reports, four in all, for company-grade commissioned and warrant officers, field-grade officers in the ranks of major, lieutenant colonel and chief warrant officer 3 through 5, and strategic leaders in the ranks of colonel and brigadier general.

The evaluation report for colonels will have four senior rater boxes, with two of those boxes being control boxes.

The top box (multi-star potential) will have a senior rater ceiling of 24 percent, and the second box (promote to brigadier general) a range of 25 percent to 49 percent. Senior raters must limit checks in the top two boxes to no more than 49 percent of the colonels they have rated, much like the inflation-dampening technique used on the current OER.

The senior rater portion of the colonel form is designed to identify the future general officers of the Army, according to George Piccirilli, chief of the evaluations, selections and promotions division of the Human Resources Command.

The new support form will be used for the mandatory counseling of colonels and below regarding performance objectives for the rating period.

The form (DA Form 67-10-1A) becomes mandatory April 1, but has been fielded online to familiarize the officer corps with the five-page document so it can be used for OER training that begins in January.

21. NCO evaluation report. The design of a new evaluation reporting system for noncommissioned officers remains a work in progress, but will likely include several innovations that are sharply different from the current rating system, according to Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler.

Personnel officials expect that design work on the system will continue in 2014, so that new NCOER forms can be launched in 2015, about one year later than the new officer system which launches in April.

Tentative design changes include three separate reports, based on rank and operating environment, according to Chandler.

Tactical: There will be one report for sergeants and staff sergeants that will be used to evaluate a soldier’s ability to do his or her job and meet Army standards for performance.

Organizational: A second grade-plate under the new system will be used to evaluate sergeants first class and master sergeants, which are soldiers who typically serve as leaders at the organizational level.

Strategic: A third grade-plate that will be limited to sergeants major.

Similar to the enumeration features of the new officer evaluation system, the new NCOER may include changes that will limit the number of people who can be given top-box ratings by the senior raters at the strategic, and possibly the organizational, level.

22. NCO promotion forecast. Promotion totals for sergeant through sergeant major are expected to remain relatively steady in 2014, despite a planned reduction that will see the Army’s active-duty rolls reduced by at least 24,000 soldiers over the next 12 months.

Pentagon personnel officials expect there will be 44,258 promotions to sergeant, staff sergeant, sergeant first class, master sergeant and sergeant major in 2014, a reduction of 240 from the NCO promotion total for fiscal 2014.

The annual promotion forecast developed by the Office of the Army G-1 (Human Resources), calls for 655 advancements to sergeant major, an increase of 121 over last year; 2,291 to master sergeant, an increase of 96, and 6,320 to sergeant first class, an increase of 494.

Promotions to staff sergeant will total 11,480, a decrease of 707 from 2013, while advancements to sergeant will total 23,512, which is 244 fewer promotions than last year.

The forecast could be revised if retirement and separation projections change.

23. Schools and promotions. A new NCO leader development strategy that tightens the linkage between promotions and military education will be implemented in phases, beginning in January.

The upcoming changes link, for promotion purposes, the completion of Structured Self-Development and professional military education courses.

Soldiers must complete an appropriate level of Structured Self-Development to be considered for promotion to sergeant, sergeant first class and master sergeant, under a directive issued by Army Secretary John McHugh.

The SSD program consists of three online courses of 80 hours each that serve as a bridge between the resident courses of the NCO Education System.

As an interim step toward the Jan. 1 changes, SSD-1, SSD-3 and SSD-4 became requirements for attendance at the Warrior Leader Course, Senior Leader Course and the Sergeants Major Course this past year.

Under the Jan. 1 changes:

■ Specialists and corporals of the Regular Army and Army Reserve must complete SSD-1 to be recommended for promotion to sergeant.

■ Specialists and corporals of the Army National Guard must complete SSD-1 to be eligible for promotion against a valid promotion vacancy.

■ Staff sergeants must complete SSD-3 to be eligible for promotion to sergeant first class.

■ Sergeants first class must complete SSD-4 to be eligible for promotion to master sergeant.

The common core phase of the Advanced Leaders Course continues to serve as a bridge between SSD-1 and SSD-3, but is not a promotion requirement.

Because the SSD courses are delivered online, the lack of funding for temporary duty assignments, such as school attendance, “should not prevent the new policies going forward on Jan. 1,” said a Pentagon source.

Soldiers who could not attend a resident NCO Education Course because of the government shutdown in October, and who do not have the required NCO education credit to be considered for promotion, should request an exception to policy, according to personnel officials.

24. NCO leader development. In addition to tightening the linkage between promotions and military education, Army leaders have approved changes to the NCO career map that feature new methods for selecting and preparing soldiers for promotion.

The new leader development strategy is scheduled to be fully implemented by September 2015.

The new strategy supports a 32-year career timeline that will see soldiers, on average, advance to sergeant at 4.6 years of service, staff sergeant at eight years, sergeant first class at 14 years, master sergeant at 20 years and sergeant major at 25 to 26 years.

The career template is designed so that soldiers who elect to voluntarily retire at 20 years of service will do so as sergeants first class. Soldiers who remain, and who are promoted to sergeant major, will have an opportunity to serve at least one tour as a battalion command sergeant major before retiring at 32 years of service.

During a full career, soldiers should expect to spend 12 to 18 months in the school house or attending specialty-specific training courses, about 16 years in home-station assignments, 10 years deployed and five years in joint or broadening assignments.

The career track stretches out the average times between promotions in the senior NCO ranks from 12.6 to 14 years for sergeant first class, 17.7 to 20 years for master sergeant and 22.6 to 25 to 26 years for sergeant major.

The increases are designed to provide additional time for the leader development activities needed to prepare soldiers for duty at the next higher grade, particularly in the senior NCO grades.

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