Junior enlisted soldiers will soon have to pin on the rank of corporal before they can become sergeants, according to an Army news release.

Corporals are formally recognized as noncommissioned officers but retain the same E-4 pay grade as specialists. As a junior NCO, a corporal also takes on leadership duties for a small unit, like a fire team.

Starting July 1, all active-duty specialists who have been recommended for promotion and completed the Basic Leader Course will be laterally promoted to corporal. BLC is the required training to enter the NCO corps.

Current corporals will need to qualify for promotion and complete BLC, or else be laterally reassigned as specialists.

“We want to get after leading, teaching and mentoring our junior enlisted Soldiers early,” Sgt. Maj. Kenyatta Gaskins, Directorate of Military Personnel Management sergeant major, said in the release. “This is a junior leader development process and that’s how we’re looking at this.”

The rank of corporal has historically been a recognition of leadership potential and is a somewhat rare sight in the Army. Requiring the rank for all soldiers represents a change in culture, Gaskins said.

National Guard and Reserve soldiers will also be included in the change, but the new directive won’t be applied to reservists until Oct. 1.

The change is part of broader efforts in the Army to develop junior leaders and give them the experience and preparedness to one day excel as squad leaders.

“We rely on junior leaders to build cohesive teams that are highly trained, disciplined, and mentally and physically fit,” Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston said. “In many cases, a specialist is charged with that responsibility. This allows us to recognize their role as a noncommissioned officer and ensure they’re getting the coaching and mentorship they need to be successful.”

The rank of corporal was one of the original ranks established with the U.S. Army in 1775, and since then has been one of two ranks to never leave the NCO corps.

New requirements for BLC were also announced in the news release.

All soldiers attending BLC must first be recommended for promotion to sergeant. This change goes into effect on June 1, 2022, for active-duty soldiers and Oct. 1, 2022, for reservists.

It is not yet clear how much time soldiers must spend at the rank of corporal before promotion to sergeant.

Harm Venhuizen is an editorial intern at Military Times. He is studying political science and philosophy at Calvin University, where he's also in the Army ROTC program.

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