Soldiers deployed to combat or who are pregnant will be able to temporarily promote to the ranks of sergeant through sergeant major before completing the mandatory professional military education courses under an expanded policy that starts Jan. 1.

The policy applies to active duty and reserve soldiers who cannot complete PME, but who are otherwise fully qualified for promotion, including those deployed on a named operation in a hostile fire area or serving on temporary profile due to pregnancy or postpartum.

Prior to the policy change, deployed soldiers could obtain an exception that allowed them to temporarily skip PME. That same allowance wasn’t available to pregnant soldiers, though, and now it doesn’t require a soldier to request an exception.

Though the policy impacts only a few hundred deployed troops currently, that could change. An enlisted advisory council helped craft the policy with the understanding that if combat operations were to scale back up, the Army would need a more fluid promotion system, according to Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston.

“What if we went back to full scale combat in the future? Does our policy [change] allow us to do those promotions more routinely than what we have right now?” Grinston said in a phone interview Monday. “Those are smaller numbers that we have in Iraq and Afghanistan. If we went back to 100,000 deployed … those numbers for combat promotions would be a lot higher.”

Notably, the policy will also help “soldiers who are starting a family, who have the opportunity to be promoted with their peers and stay on line with their peers,” Sgt. Maj. Mark Clark, the Army personnel directorate’s senior enlisted leader, said during the phone call.

Soldiers still have to complete any prerequisite PME courses to keep their temporary rank, though they have one year from redeployment if they were in a combat zone to do so, or a minimum of two years if they were pregnant.

Temporary promotions still require soldiers to demonstrate they have the potential to perform at the next rank by being recommended by their commander, according to Clark.

“I don’t believe we are blindly promoting individuals. These are well-deserved promotions of soldiers who demonstrated the ability to perform at the next level,” Clark said. “There has already been a process established to validate their ability to perform at the next level, the final step is to validate them with training.”

If soldiers fail to complete the mandatory PME, they would revert back to their old rank and retain their previous date of rank. The soldier would not have to pay back any compensation for the higher rank, however, Clark added.

Even though more soldiers could be performing the duties of higher ranks without first completing the necessary PME, Army enlisted leadership does not believe that those PME courses are redundant and can be discarded.

“We changed our PME in the last four or five years [so] it’s progressive and sequential,” Grinston said.

“When I’m going from specialist to sergeant, if I skip that [PME], I don’t have the base to build off when I go to the next course,” Grinston added. “The overall goal is to make sure they get that [first course] so we can continue to build the leader over time — the whole continuum from sergeant or soldier all the way up to sergeant major.”

Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter whose investigations have covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.

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