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Under proposed changes, cutting scores would be the least of promotion requirements

Mar. 24, 2014 - 06:10PM   |  
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Marines may soon have to work even harder to earn the coveted blood stripe of a noncommissioned officer, thanks to new policies being evaluated by Marine officials, and promoted by the Corps' top enlisted leader.

Marines may soon have to work even harder to earn the coveted blood stripe of a noncommissioned officer, thanks to new policies being evaluated by Marine officials, and promoted by the Corps' top enlisted leader.

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Marines may soon have to work even harder to earn the coveted blood stripe of a noncommissioned officer, thanks to new policies being evaluated by Marine officials, and promoted by the Corps’ top enlisted leader.

The changes would increase the promotion eligibility requirements for lance corporals and corporals, taking the emphasis off of cutting scores as the primary determining factor. If the requirements changes are approved, would-be NCOs would have to complete resident and non-resident professional military education and get a recommendation from their chain of command to earn their next chevron — all while maintaining “in-zone” cutting scores.

Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Mike Barrett told Marine Corps Times via email that the changes under review are in keeping with the spirit of existing guidance for NCO promotions. The Marines’ enlisted promotion manual emphasizes the high standards that NCOs are, in theory, expected to maintain.

“Marines in the grades of [corporal and sergeant] are required to exercise an ever-increasing degree of maturity, leadership, and professionalism,” the portion on NCO promotions reads. “To a large extent, accomplishment of the ultimate mission — success in battle — depends on the manner in which Marines are developed into small unit leaders and their professional abilities ... Marines should be recommended for promotion to corporal or sergeant only after demonstrating they are worthy of the next higher grade.”

The manual notes that lance corporals and corporals must demonstrate “potential, motivation, and maturity to satisfactorily discharge the duties of a small unit leader” in order to move to the next pay grade.

Enlisted PME, Barrett said, was becoming especially crucial for Marines in an increasingly complex global environment.

This effort dovetails with a broad emphasis on the role of NCOs that has been a focus in recent years. The commandant’s “reawakening” tour has taken him to Marine Corps installations worldwide to hold town hall meetings with corporals and sergeants, aimed at reinforcing the moral standards of these enlisted leaders and discouraging unprofessional and lawless behavior, particularly in garrison.

Gen. Jim Amos has made a point of highlighting NCOs in other ways too: The announcement about his decision to return Marines to rolled sleeves on camouflage utilities in the summer was first sent exclusively to the Corps’ 64,000 corporals and sergeants via an email blast, and he credits them with prompting his decision to reverse the sleeves-down uniform policy.

One of the initiatives within Amos’s reawakening package dispenses with group promotions for corporals and sergeants.

“Each promotion to these ranks will be personal and meaningful,” he said in a slideshow briefing that introduced the reawakening to general officers around the Corps last fall.

The review also comes amid ongoing changes in professional military education for corporals and lance corporals. As of Oct. 1, 2013, the Marine Corps began requiring that all corporals complete an online or command-sponsored corporals course to be considered for promotion to sergeant. This course had been in the works for nearly five years, developed in the early stages by enlisted leaders at the 2009 Sergeants Major Symposium, who found that fewer than 10 percent of corporals had taken the voluntary course prior to their promotion.

The now-mandatory corporals course emphasizes mentorship and small-unit leadership, and demands 30 hours of MarineNet instruction, or three weeks of command-sponsored training on the ground.

Meanwhile, Marine Corps Training and Education Command is working with Barrett to develop a new ethics course for lance corporals that will discuss hazing, sexual assault, and drug and alcohol abuse, and will eventually be added to the Leading Marines course as required PME for promotion.

It’s not clear what other PME requirements may be added for corporals and lance corporals on top of these existing elements.

The Marine Corps recommends that lance corporals and corporals participate in the Marine Corps Professional Reading Program and a professional self-study program, and suggests that senior lance corporals enroll in the Sergeants Distance Education Program, which becomes a requirement at the next rank.

Barrett said the existing command-sponsored and resident PMEs for junior Marines and NCOs were currently under review, but didn’t elaborate on how they might be changed.

“We are always taking and making assessments,” he said.

The level of involvement from officials in a Marine’s chain of command that may be required to approve NCO promotions is also unspecified. According to current regulations, a unit commander must issue the certificate for a lance corporal or corporal’s promotion to the next rank, but the process is largely hands-off and tied to the factors that make up a Marine’s composite score.

Officials with Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs and Training and Education Command could not immediately answer questions about the changes under review. It’s unclear when a decision might be made to implement new promotion policies.

While the changes remain in the planning stages, Barrett made clear he supported the move to more rigorous education standards for NCOs.

“PME or ignorance,” he said. “Pick one.”

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