In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Army has initiated several policy exceptions that will impact enlisted promotion cycles scheduled until the end of this fiscal year, unless terminated sooner, G-1 officials announced Tuesday.
Due to the recent restrictions placed on travel and training, the Army is altering its approach to semi-centralized promotion boards, along with changing the training requirements required for promotion eligibility, said Sgt. Maj. Mark A. Clark, the Army G-1 directorate of military personnel management sergeant major.
The exception will impact the active-duty and Army Reserve force, with many of the alterations taking effect during the May promotion month, Clark said. The National Guard will produce additional guidance at a later date.
"The overall impact is to protect the force and preserve readiness," Clark said. "We are trying to get ahead and be proactive and creative. We want commanders and Soldiers to understand that we're thinking about what's best for them and what's best for the Army -- all at the same time."
As the COVID-19 environment continues to evolve, the Army will continue to review its policy exceptions every 30 days and make any necessary changes. The modifications will be in place until Sept. 30.
Commanders are now authorized an alternative means to evaluate personnel during a monthly unit promotion board, Clark said.
With the exception to policy, commanders can conduct a promotion board within a virtual environment. It will be up to the command team to determine their proper means of communication, he added.
"We gave some latitude to the command teams, allowing them to be creative on how they want to assess their Soldiers," Clark said. "With all of the different virtual options that command teams will access to… it gives the commander the option to do [their promotion boards] via the internet or in an environment that supports social distancing."
In addition to the virtual boards, leaders can also rely on their battalion command sergeant major to make promotion recommendations based on their "one-on-one interactions with an eligible Soldier," Clark added. Battalion CSMs can obtain input from their chain of command or through the noncommissioned officer support channel to make an informed decision about an eligible Soldier.
PROFESSIONAL MILITARY EDUCATION
Starting in May, the Army will temporarily suspend its PME course requirements for staff sergeants and sergeants first class who need to complete the Advanced Leader Course or Senior Leader Course, respectively, Clark said.
The temporary suspension of PME will not waive the PME requirement, Clark said. Soldiers will still be required to complete the course at a later date and will be prioritized first in the training pipeline to ensure they meet this training requirement.
"Soldiers who have always been doing the right thing … by already completing their requisite level of professional military education to qualify themselves for promotion, will be selected for promotion before [the Soldiers] that have not completed their professional military education," he said.
Soldiers who fail to fully qualify themselves for promotion consideration before reaching their primary zone could put their careers at risk, Clark added.
U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command has distance learning options for Soldiers attending the Basic Leader Course, Master Leader Course and the Sergeants Major Course, therefore negating a need for an exception to policy for these respected ranks, Clark said.
For the National Guard only, the force is authorizing the Director, Army National Guard to determine the appropriate applicability since the policies on completing PME to qualify for promotion differ. The National Guard will produce additional guidance at a later date.
Similar to the changes to the active force, the temporary suspension does not diminish the importance of PME. A Soldier will be required to complete this training requirement at a later date.
AFPT, WEAPONS QUALIFICATIONS
The Army Physical Fitness Test will continue to be a promotion eligibility requirement, officials said. However, Soldiers will be able to use their last recorded APFT for promotion recommendation and pin-on, regardless of when the fitness test was administered.
"There are certain organizations that currently are not resourced to perform the APFT," Clark said. The Army created this exception to policy to "adhere to the travel restrictions and training restrictions, along with ensuring social distancing."
The policy exception also prevents Soldiers from falling off of the promotion standing list because of an expired APFT, Clark said. Further, commanders cannot flag Soldiers for failing to take the fitness test during this time.
Soldiers who previously failed the APFT will remain flagged until they can successfully pass their fitness evaluation. Additional guidance will be published at a later date, officials said.
Beyond the APFT, the Army is also providing the same extension to weapons qualifications, Clark said. While weapons qualifications are not tied to a Soldier's promotion recommendation or pin-on eligibility, a Soldier's weapons qualification score is incorporated during a unit promotion board process.
Until the exception of policy is lifted, a Soldier's promotion points will be based on their most recent weapons qualification, regardless of when completed, officials said.