Big Changes Coming For Nco Assignments Meaning

FORT EUSTIS, Va. — With the new year came a number of changes in Army noncommissioned officer professional development, and NCOs can expect more changes coming soon, said Command Sgt. Maj. David S. Davenport Sr., U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s senior enlisted adviser.

These changes are part of a larger effort called the NCO 2020 Strategy, which, according to Davenport’s blog “represents an analytical, data-driven process for evolving the Noncommissioned Officer Education System of today into the Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development System of tomorrow.”

Below are some of the recent changes, along with advice from Davenport on how NCOs can prepare and what to expect.

Join Command Sgt. Maj. David Davenport March 3 from 5-7 p.m. EST for a live-streamed discussion to talk about major changes in Army noncommissioned officer development and what they mean for NCOs. To learn more about the live-streamed town hall or to watch, visit (U.S. Army graphic by Sue Ulibarri)

1. The new NCO promotion system

Why it’s important: As of Jan. 1, Select, Train, Educate, Promote, or STEP, is how Soldiers will get promoted. Davenport explained it as:

S – “Select” means Soldiers who meet Army standards – based on their performance and potential – get the opportunity to compete for promotion.

T – “Train” recognizes the operational domain’s responsibility in training Soldiers.

E – “Educate” represents the formal education and training of developing leaders – that’s what TRADOC does. Education  ultimately leads to “P.”

P – “Promote” means Soldiers who have met all requirements will earn the rank and be officially promoted by U.S. Army Human Resources Command.

What’s changed: Unlike STEP, the previous promotion system didn’t place a value on education, Davenport said.

“We thought that just because you did something over and over, that certified you in that core competency. Knowing the standard from doctrine and knowing the standard from something that has been handed down over time are two different things.

“Through formal education, we make sure that noncommissioned officers are certified in their core competencies before being promoted.”

Bottom line: NCOs need to know STEP is the standard.

“Beginning Jan. 1, STEP is the manner in which you get promoted in our Army.”

He explained that once NCOs become eligible for promotion, they have 18 months to complete their professional military education in order to pin on the next rank.

Davenport said he thinks the force is starting to realize the value of educating its noncommissioned officers because TRADOC has seen an increase in the use of formal school seats.

“Right now, we have a backlog of Soldiers needing school, and they’re our priority,” Davenport said. “But if we don’t get our Soldiers to school on time, and if they’re not prepared to go to school, what we’re going to have is a promotion backlog, not an education backlog.”

2. The new NCO Evaluation Report

Why it’s important: The new Noncommissioned Officer Evaluation Report, or NCOER, took effect Jan. 1, and although the new system is different, Davenport said it was a needed change that will strengthen the backbone of the Army.

What’s changed: The new NCOER system incorporates a number of changes, including more narrative-style writing and three different evaluation forms, based on rank: the direct level form for E-5, the organizational level form for E-6 through E-8, and the strategic form for E-9.

“It’s really a complete change in the way we’ve been doing business,” he said. “And of course, when there’s change, there’s apprehension about the effects … but Army senior leaders think this is the right direction for the NCO cohort – to truly recognize excellence and those who set themselves apart.”

Bottom line: In addition to knowing the standards, NCOs need to know themselves.

“Anytime we talk about a standard, NCOs need to know the standard,” Davenport said, recommending Soldiers attend training workshops to understand not only the NCOER process, but also why the Army needed a new NCOER system.

To familiarize themselves with the new NCOER system, Davenport suggests NCOs read ADRP 6-22, as well as two supplements: the U.S. Army Performance Evaluation Guide and the NCOER Performance Measure Supplement.

TRADOC’s command sergeant major also advises NCOs to have self-awareness in order to take the initiative to improve or excel in areas that may be lacking on their evaluations.

3. Basic Leader Course

Why it’s important: The Basic Leader Course, previously called the Warrior Leader Course, teaches noncommissioned officers the foundation of what they need to know – and be able to do – as NCOs.

What’s changed: In addition to the name change, which will benefit Soldiers as they transition from the Army, Davenport said there will be drastic changes to BLC, including a required written communication assessment that will follow Soldiers throughout their career. This assessment will determine each NCO’s proficiency in listening and verbal and written communication skills at each level of PME.

“At every NCOPDS course, they will build on that assessment,” Davenport explained. “They will get reassessed and we can see their progress – or lack of progress – as they move forward.”

Additionally, there will also be changes to the Service School Academic Evaluation Report, more commonly known as the Department of the Army Form 1059.

“You may be tracking that we retooled the 1059,” Davenport added. “We’re going to start putting grade point averages on there, enumeration of class standing, as well as height, weight and (Army Physical Fitness Test) data, so it truly will be a picture of performance as you attend NCOPDS, or PME courses.”

Bottom line: Davenport said all the subjects in BLC are currently “on the table,” as leaders look at ways to improve the course.

“We’re looking at really getting back to what we need noncommissioned officers to be able to do,” he said. “What are those core competencies – those knowledge, skills and attributes that we want our sergeants to have.”

4. Master Leader Course

Why it’s important: The Master Leader Course fills the PME gap between the Senior Leader Course and the Sergeants Major Academy – a gap that could potentially last several years. The second – and perhaps more important reason – is that it’s required for promotion.

“With the implementation of STEP, if you’re going to get promoted to master sergeant, STEP created a requirement that you have to have the formal PME – the ‘E’ in STEP – before you can pin on master sergeant rank,” Davenport said.

What’s changed: “It’s not the old first sergeant course of days gone by at Fort Bliss, Texas,” Davenport said. “It’s really about beginning the transition from the tactical level to the operational level. And, it’s about having a bigger understanding of how the Army runs.

“It’s not necessarily the administrative tasks that they may have heard about in the old first sergeant course,” Davenport explained. “Remember – master sergeants can be both primary staff NCOs, and they can be selected to be first sergeants, so we want to make sure there’s balance within the course.”

Bottom line: NCOs need to be prepared.

“We’re not wasting time in the classroom to catch everyone up,” he said. “In the self-development domain, you’ve been given the read-ahead assignments, and it’s expected that you do the coursework before coming to the course.”

Davenport said students should go online – before they attend the Master Leader Course – and read the required materials provided by the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy.

5. Executive Leader Course

Why it’s important: The Executive Leader Course is the formal education requirement between sergeant major and the promotion to nominative sergeant major.

What’s changed: Previously, the course was only for nominative sergeants major – those who worked for general officers; however, the course is now part of the NCOPDS.

“If we really want to have STEP be the standard, then we need to make sure that anytime someone’s selected for a promotion – going from sergeant major to nominative is a promotion – that there should be a formal ‘E’ – an education portion,” Davenport said.

Bottom line: The end result is more educated, trained sergeants major.

“After the board releases those sergeants major eligible to compete for nominative positions, they’ll get a school slot, and they’ll get educated for the chance to compete.”

After the board releases sergeants major who are eligible to compete for nominative positions, they are assessed by a panel and receive a school slot. The sergeants major then receive formal education for the chance to compete for the position.

“Over time, this will build depth in our NCO Corps,” Davenport said.

6. Broadening

Why it’s important: Davenport defined broadening as the experiences inside and outside the Army – the diversity that creates a well-rounded NCO. However, it’s also more than just drill sergeant, recruiter or (Advanced Individual Training) platoon sergeant experiences; broadening also includes working with industry or fellowships, like the USASMA fellowship.

What’s changed: Davenport and his team began developing the new career map to better explain broadening to Soldiers so they will have an understanding of opportunities and can leverage the Army Career Tracker. Although not every proponent has the opportunity to work with industry, teams are looking at ways to tie programs together.

Bottom line: NCOs need to know and leverage career maps and take advantage of broadening opportunities.

“Your talents and attributes are the most important combat multiplier our Army and nation can rely on,” Davenport said in a blog post on broadening. “It is imperative we identify your talents, develop them and optimize them for our nation’s national security, the future of our force and for the future of our society as you become veterans employing your talents in the civilian workforce.”

7. Army University

Why it’s important: The newly established Army University demonstrates the force’s commitment to education, Davenport said, beginning with a Soldier’s first day in the Army.

“As that Soldier raises his or her right hand and they go into basic training or (one-station unit training), we want them to have an understanding that they’re enrolled in Army University, and they’re gaining credit right then and there … on day one of their experience in our Army.”

Davenport said Army U will also benefit NCOs by eliminating redundancies in training throughout PME, making a more efficient use of Soldiers’ time.

“Army University is going to be a great multiplier to the work we’re doing with NCOPDS because of the collaborative synchronization of resources.” he said.

What’s changed: As the Army aligns to a university-type model, Davenport said some of the changes will include an increased rate of innovation within classrooms and instructors who are trained to a common standard.

Bottom line: There’s a lot of power in Army University, Davenport said, and one of the overarching benefits of Army U is that it will synchronize force, which will, in turn, create a stronger Army.

“If we’re doing something with the NCOs, which we are, it’s nested with what the officers are doing or the warrant officers are doing, to include our great civilians on the team,” he said.

Davenport said he’s excited about the changes, which he refers to as “revolutionary, not evolutionary,” and encourages Soldier feedback via his blog to improve processes and affect changes along the way.

“Soldier feedback is hugely important to me; I can’t tell you how many questions and ideas have come in through the blog,” he said, adding that many of the areas where TRADOC is looking at improvements – including Structured Self-Development – came from Soldier feedback.

Another way Davenport is soliciting feedback is through an upcoming live-streamed town hall on the state of NCO development March 3 from 5-7 p.m. EST. Here, Davenport, along with other subject matter experts, will explain some of the recent and upcoming changes and what they mean for the Army NCO Corps.

“This is just not a bumper sticker. A lot of hard work has gone on behind the scenes to affect this change,” Davenport said.

To learn more about the live-streamed town hall or to watch, visit

Want to submit questions for the town hall? Visit TRADOC on Facebook or Twitter and submit your question using the hashtag #Talk2TRADOC

Photo credit: First Sgt. Kevin Mulcahey and Sgt. Nicholas Tarr, a troop medic, both with Bravo Troop, 1st Squadron, 172nd Cavalry Regiment, prepare to move during an air assault exercise at Fort Drum, N.Y., Aug. 13, 2013. The 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team was participating in an Exportable Combat Training Center rotation in preparation for a Joint Readiness Training Center rotation in 2014. (U.S. Army photo by P Staff Sgt. Sarah Mattison)

Tags: Leader development, NCO 2020, NCO development, NCO education, Soldiers, TRADOC, U.S. Army, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command

There are 13 enlisted ranks in the U.S. Army: Private, Private Second Class, Private First Class, Specialist, Corporal, Sergeant, Staff Sergeant, Sergeant First Class, Master Sergeant, First Sergeant, Sergeant Major, Command Sergeant Major, and Sergeant Major of the Army.

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In general terms these Army ranks are broken down into three groups - Junior Enlisted (E-1 through E-4), NCOs (E-4 through E-6) and Senior NCOs (E-7 through E-9).

Army Junior Enlisted Ranks (E-1 to E-3)

The term as a military rank seems to come from the Sixteenth Century when individuals had the privilege of enlisting or making private contracts to serve as private soldiers in military units. Before the Sixteenth Century many soldiers were  forced (conscripted) into service by royalty or feudal lords.

Some sources claim that the use of "private" as an official "rank" dates back to the 18th century when the French Army, under Napoleon, established the permanent rank of Soldat.

Junior Enlisted in the Army - Privates and Specialists - are promoted automatically based on their time in service and time in pay grade. Privates (E-1) are promoted to Private 2nd Class after completing six months of service and PV2's are normally promoted to PFC when the have 12 months' time in service and 4 months' time in grade. In general, Soldiers earn the rank of Specialist (E-4) after having served a minimum of two years and attending a specific training class.

Private (E-1)

Private (PVT), the lowest Army rank, is normally only held by new recruits while at Basic Combat Training (BCT), but the rank is occasionally assigned to soldiers after a disciplinary action has been taken. The Army Private (E-1) wears no uniform insignia.

Private 2nd Class (E-2)

Private 2nd Class (PV2) is the first promotion most enlisted Soldiers can earn after completing basic combat training (BCT). The Private's job is be to apply the new skills and knowledge learned during basic training and to continue to learn how to follow orders given by higher-ranked supervisors.

Private First Class (E-3)

Private First Classes (PFC) are the basic workforce strength and rank of the U.S. Army. PFC is the point in which junior enlisted soldiers begin the transition from apprentice to journeyman by developing technical and leadership skills.

Army Specialist (E-4)

Specialist (SPC) is considered one of the junior enlisted ranks in the U.S. Army. Ranked above Private First Class (E-3) and holding the same pay grade as the Corporal, the Specialist is not considered an NCO.

The Specialist's job is focused on technical expertise and they normally have less personnel leadership responsibilities than Corporals. they are often promoted to the E-4 pay grade due to enlisting. Those enlisting with a four year college degree or who have certain specialized civilian skills or training can enter BCT as a Specialist.

Army Non-Commissioned Officers (E-4 to E-6)

Like nearly all the other branches of the Armed Forces, the United States Army consider all ranks E-4 and above to be NCOs. Corporals (E-4) are referred to as junior NCOs, however, they are given the same respect as any other NCO.

Corporal (E-4)

The rank of corporal was established in 1775 with the birth of the Army and the NCO Corps. Along with the rank of sergeant, the corporal is the only rank which has never disappeared from the NCO Corps.

The rank of corporal has always been placed at the base of the NCO ranks. For the most part, corporals have served as the smallest unit leaders in the Army: principally, leaders of teams.

Like the grade of sergeant, corporals are responsible for individual training, personal appearance and cleanliness of their soldiers.

As the command sergeant major is known as the epitome of success in the NCO Corps, the corporal is the beginning of the NCO Corps. As the NCO Corps is known as the backbone of the Army, the corporal is the backbone of the NCO Corps.

Information Courtesy of the U.S. Army

Moving up the Army ranks: Normally, unit commanders may advance PFCs  to Corporal once they have met the following qualifications:

  • Twenty-six months in service
  • Six months' time in grade, waiverable to three months
  • Security clearance appropriate for the MOS in which promoted; advancement may be based on granting an interim security clearance.

Like the junior enlisted ranks commanders may advance soldiers on an accelerated basis.

Sergeant (E-5)

Sergeants (SGT) operate in an environment where the sparks fly - where the axe meets the stone. Although not the lowest level of rank where command is exercised, this level is the first at which enlisted soldiers are referred to as sergeant, and of all the grades of the NCO, this one, very possibly, has the greatest impact on the lower ranking soldiers. Privates, who are the basic manpower strength and grade of the Army, generally have sergeants as their first NCO leader. It is the grade sergeant that the privates will look to for example.

Like the next grade, the staff sergeant, the sergeant is responsible for the individual training, personal appearance and the cleanliness of their soldiers.

The sergeant is also responsible for insuring that

  • Each member of their unit is trained to competency in their MOS as prescribed in the appropriate soldiers manual.
  • All government property issued to members of their unit is properly maintained and accounted for at all times and discrepancies are promptly reported.
  • While on duty status, they be ready at all times to report to the location and activity of all members of their unit.
  • Their unit is trained to function in its primary mission role.

The authority of the sergeant is equal to that of any other grade or rank of the NCO.Professionally competent leaders inherently command respect for their authority and the sergeant must be unquestionably competent in order to carry out the mission correctly, accomplish each task and care for assigned soldiers.

The rank of sergeant is not a position for learning how to become a leader, no apprenticeship here. While certainly the new sergeant will be developing new skills, strengthening old ones and generally getting better, he is a sergeant!!! and is therefore, no less a professional than those grades of rank to follow.

Moving up the Army ranks: Unlike the promotion processes for Privates, Specialists, and Corporals, promotions to Sergeant (SGT) and Staff Sergeant (SSG) is based on an Army-wide competition. The competition is based on a point system which grants points for firing range scores, performance evaluations, physical fitness, education level, awards and promotion board ranking.

Corporals and Specialists must meet the following basic eligibility criteria to compete:

  • Command Recommendation
  • 36 Months Time-in-service
  • Eight Months Time-in-grade
  • Must graduate the Primary Leadership Development Course (PLDC)
  • Possess a High School Diploma, GED Equivalency, or College degree.

Staff Sergeant (E-6)

The Staff Sergeant rank closely parallels that of the sergeant in duties and responsibilities. In fact, the basic duties and responsibility of all the NCO ranks never change, but there are significant differences between this step in the NCO structure and the preceding one.

The major difference between the staff sergeant and the sergeant is not, as often mistakenly believed, authority, but rather sphere of influence. The staff sergeant is in daily contact with large numbers of soldiers and generally has more equipment and other property to maintain.

The SSG often has one or more sergeants who work under their direct leadership. The SSG is responsible for the continued successful development of sergeants as well as the soldiers in their section, squad or team.

Moving up the Army ranks: SSG candidates must meet the following basic eligibility criteria to compete:

  • Command Recommendation
  • 84 Months Time-in-service
  • 10 Months Time-in-grade
  • Must graduate the Primary Leadership Development Course (PLDC)
  • Possess a High School Diploma, GED Equivalency, or College degree.

Army Senior Non-Commissioned Officers (E-7 to E-9)

Although the Army does not make the official distinction in the rank structure, enlisted ranks of Sergeant First Class and above (E-7 – E-9) are generally referred to as Senior NCOs and they carry increasing levels of responsibility and demand greater levels of respect and deference.

Although there are only three pay grades, the SNCO ranks actually cover six separate ranks or designations – Sergeant First Class (Platoon Sergeant), Master Sergeant, First Sergeant, Sergeant Major, Command Sergeant Major, and the Sergeant Major of the Army.

Unlike the promotion processes for Private through Staff Sergeant, unit commander have little to do with the promotion process to the SNCO ranks. These promotions are completely centralized at the Head Quarters of the Department of the Army (HQDA).

There is no minimum time-in-grade (TIG) requirement for promotion to the Army SNCO ranks, but candidates must meet the following minimum time-in-service (TIS) requirements to be eligible for promotion:

  • Sergeant First Class (E-7) - 6 years.
  • Master Sergeant/First Sergeant (E-8) - 8 years.
  • Sergeant Major (E-9) - 9 years.

Sergeant First Class (Platoon Sergeant) (E-7)

The SFC is the first level at which the term senior NCO properly applies. The platoon sergeant or sergeant first class generally has 15 to 18 years or more of military experience and is rightfully expected to bring that experience to bear in quick, accurate decisions that are in the best interest of the mission and the soldier.

Depending on experience and billet assignments, the SFC's role may be that of platoon sergeant or NCOIC (NCO in Charge) of the section.

'Platoon Sergeant' is a duty position, not a rank, the platoon sergeant is the primary assistant and advisor to the platoon leader, with the responsibility of training and caring for soldiers. The platoon sergeant takes charge of the platoon in the absence of the platoon leader. Platoon sergeants teach collective and individual tasks to soldiers in their squads, crews or equivalent small units.

The position title of platoon sergeant is considered key in the command structure of the Army. The platoon sergeant generally has several staff sergeants who work under his direct leadership.

During the Vietnam era, the platoon sergeant was affectionately referred to as the "Plat-Daddy", and although the term has since faded, the role remains that of the "Father of the Platoon."

Information Courtesy of U.S. Army

Master Sergeant and First Sergeant (E-8)

The Master Sergeant's Roles and Responsibilities - The Master Sergeant is the principal NCO at the battalion level, and often higher. Not charged with all the leadership responsibilities of a First Sergeant, but expected to dispatch leadership and other duties with the same professionalism.

The Sergeant First Class's Roles and Responsibilities - When you are talking about the first sergeant you are talking about the life-blood of the Army. When 1SGs are exceptional, their units are exceptional, regardless of any other single personality involved. Perhaps their rank insignia should be the keystone rather than the traditional one depicted here. It is the first sergeant at whom almost all unit operations merge. The first sergeant holds formations, instructs platoon sergeants, advises the Commander, and assists in training of all enlisted members.

The 1SG may swagger and appear, at times, somewhat of an exhibitionist, but he is not egotistical. The first sergeant is proud of the unit and, understandably, wants others to be aware of his unit's success.

The title of address for this grade is not sergeant, but first sergeant! There is a unique relationship of confidence and respect that exists between the first sergeant and the Commander not found at another level within the Army.

In the German Army, the first sergeant is referred to as the "Mother of the Company."  The first sergeant is the provider, the disciplinarian, the wise counselor, the tough and unbending foe, the confidant, the sounding board, everything that we need in a leader during our personal success or failure. The Mother of the Company...

Information Courtesy of U.S. Army

Sergeant Major and Command Sergeant Major (E-9)

The Sergeant Major's Roles and responsibilities - The SGM is the key enlisted member of staff elements at levels higher than battalion. The sergeant major's experience and ability are equal to that of the command sergeant major, but the sphere of influence regarding leadership is generally limited to those directly under his charge. 

The Command Sergeant Major's Roles and Responsibilities - Enlisted soldiers who attain the distinction of being selected by the Department of the Army for participation in the command sergeants major program are the epitome of success in their chosen field, in this profession of arms. There is no higher grade of rank, except Sergeant Major of the Army, for enlisted soldiers and there is no greater honor.

The command sergeant major carries out policies and standards of the performance, training, appearance, and conduct of enlisted personnel. The command sergeant major advises and initiates recommendations to the commander and staff in matters pertaining to the local NCO support channel.

Perhaps slightly wiser and more experienced than the first sergeant, the CSM is expected to function completely without supervision. Like the old sage of times past, the command sergeant major's counsel is expected to be calm, settled and unequivocally accurate, but with an energy and enthusiasm that never wanes, even in the worst of times.

Assignable to any billet in the Army, the CSM is all those things, and more, of each of the preceding grades of rank.

Information Courtesy of U.S. Army

The Sergeant Major of the Army (E-9S)

The Sergeant Major of the Army (SMA) is a rank held by only one enlisted Soldier at a time. The holder of this rank is the most senior enlisted member in the Army. The SMA's primary function is to address the issues of enlisted soldiers at the Army's highest levels. The SMA is the senior enlisted advisor to the Army Chief of Staff and is selected based on his (or her) outstanding leadership, extensive experience, and ability to communicate both up and down the Army chain of command. The SMA is giving the highest level of honor and respect of any other enlisted Soldier.

Each SMA's duties are determined by the current Chief of Staff. However, as a rule the SMA serves as the Army hierarchy's eyes and ears keeping the Chief of Staff abreast on virtually any subject that affects enlisted Soldiers and their families.

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