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Enlisted Promotions Made Simple

Part 1 - Army Enlisted Promotion System


U.S. Soldiers Celebrate A Promotion In Baghdad
Chris Hondros / Staff / Getty Images News / Getty Images

Each year, when Congress passes the Defense Authorization Act, they tell the Army exactly how many people can be on active duty during the year. By separate legislation, Congress also limits what percentage of the total active duty force can serve in each commissioned officer rank, what percentage of the total active duty force can serve in each warrant officer rank, and what percentage of the active duty force can serve in each enlisted rank, above the grade of E-4 (there are no statutory limits for E-4 and below).

That, then, becomes the basis of the Army enlisted promotion system. The Army takes the number of "slots" they have for each enlisted rank, above the rank of E-4, and allocates them to the different MOS's (enlisted jobs). In other words, MOS 123 may be allowed to have 5,000 E-5s at any point in time and 2,000 E-6s, and MOS 456 may be authorized 7,000 E-5s, and 5,000 E-6s (as a general rule, the higher the rank, the fewer positions there are).

In order to promote someone (above the rank of E-4), there must be a "vacancy." For example, if an E-9 retires in a certain MOS, that means that one E-8 can be promoted to E-9, and that opens an E-8 slot, so one E-7 can be promoted to E-8, and so-forth. If 200 E-5s get out of the Army in a particular MOS, then 200 E-4s can be promoted to E-5.

The Army has 401,138 enlisted members on active duty. Here's how it breaks down, by enlisted rank:

  • Private (E-1) - 20,284 (5.1%)
  • Private (E-2) - 3,334 (9.1%)
  • Private First Class (E-3) - 56,757 (14.1%)
  • Specialist/Corporal (E-4) - 107,634 (26.8%)
  • Sergeant (E-5) - 73,034 (18.2%)
  • Staff Sergeant (E-6) - 56,664 (14.1%)
  • Sergeant First Class (E-7) - 36,725 (9.2%)
  • Master Sergeant/First Sergeant (E-8) - 10,541 (2.6%)
  • Sergeant Major (E-9) - 3,165 (0.8%)

So, how does the Army decide which enlisted members are going to get promoted? They do this using three systems: Decentralized promotions for promotion to the grades of E-2 through E-4, Semi centralized promotions for promotion to the grades of E-5 and E-6, and centralized boards for promotions to E-7, E-8, and E-9.

Decentralized Promotions (E-2 through E-4).

Decentralized Promotions means that the unit (company) is the promotion authority. By theory, the commander decides who gets promoted and who doesn't. In actuality, because there are no quotas for promotion for E-2s through E-4s, commanders pretty much promote everyone (as long as they do their job okay and don't get into trouble) who meet the "promotion criteria." The "promotion criteria" is set by the Army to ensure that the "promotion flow" remains stable, and everyone (regardless of MOS) can expect to be promoted at the same (approximate) time-frame.

For soldiers in MOS 19D, and 19K IET, commanders may promote up to 10 percent of each 19D and 19K class upon completion of basic combat training (BCT) portion of one station unit training (OSUT) to PV2 and an equal number to PFC upon graduation from the MOS producing course.

Finally, if the unit is undermanned in specific grades, the Army may allow the unit commander to waiver TIG and TIS requirements. When specifically authorized, the commander can waiver up to 2 months TIG for promotions to E-2, 6 months TIS/2 months TIG for promotions to E-3, and 6 months TIS/3 months TIG for promotion to E-4.

The promotion criteria for promotion to the ranks of E-2 to E-4 are:

  • Private (E-2) - Six months time-in-grade (TIG) as a private (E-1).
  • Private First Class (E-3) - Four months TIG as a Private (E-2) and 12 months time-in-service (TIS).
  • Specialist/Corporal (E-4) - 6 months TIG with 24 months TIS.

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