If you’re an E-4 or E-5 looking to move up in the world, you used to be at the mercy of your command for a recommendation to go to a promotion board.

And sometimes, despite meeting every qualification, soldiers aren’t promoted because they haven’t caught their leadership’s attention.

But all of that is over, thanks to a Dec. 7 directive signed by Army Secretary Mark Esper.

The directive turns sergeant and staff sergeant promotions into a centralized system that automatically puts all eligible soldiers on the promotion recommended list, the way it works in the senior noncommissioned officer ranks.

“My expectation is that the vast majority of soldiers will be integrated into the promotion recommended list upon attainment of such eligibility,” Esper wrote, acknowledging the time in grade, operational experience and training benchmarks required for promotion.

The policy will officially go into effect during the May 2018 promotion month, according to an All-Activities message outlining the policy change.

Traditionally, soldiers in either the secondary or primary promotion zone would need unit commanders to recommend them for promotion. That will still be the case for secondary zone soldiers.

As an example, a specialist who has met every milestone for promotion to sergeant hits the secondary zone at 18 months of service and six months in grade. If that soldier is not promoted at that point, they will hit the primary zone at 36 months of service or eight months in grade.

Under this new directive, all soldiers in the primary zone will be added to the E-5 or E-6 promotion recommended list and go before a local board.

“Appearance before a local promotion board is mandatory for all eligible soldiers,” the Army wrote in the All-Activities message. “As the Army transitions to this new policy, commands must board all soldiers who will meet/exceed the revised [primary zone] eligibility criteria and are otherwise fully eligible for board appearance by the April 2018 promotion board month.”

If a battalion commander believes a soldier should not make a board appearance, he or she will have to explain in writing why that otherwise qualified soldier should not be promoted.

At that point, steps will be taken to counsel the soldier, up to and including separation from the Army.

“By affording quality soldiers promotion opportunities and, conversely, denying continued service to those who clearly do not show they have the potential for such service, we strengthen our Army and NCO corps,” Esper wrote.

Full details of the new policy are laid out in ALARACT 114/2017.

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.

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