Let's say that there are 700 E-4s (Army-wide) on the "recommended list" for promotion to E-5 in MOS 123, "Left-handed Fence-pole Climber." The Army Personnel Computers do their magic, and determine that in order to fill the vacancies, they must promote 50 E-4s within the MOS to E-5 during the month of June. The Army looks at all the scores (total administrative points and board scores) of all the soldiers on the "recommended list" within that MOS. The 50 E-4 soldiers with the most combined points within that MOS (Army-wide) will be promoted. The person (within that top 50) that has the lowest score establishes the score cut-off. In other words, let's say that the 50th person on the list has a total score of 450 (out of 800 possible). The Army will then send out a message saying that everyone in MOS 123, on the "Recommended List" for promotion to E-5 with a score of 450 or greater will be promoted.
Of course, some MOS's (jobs) have faster (average) promotion times than others. Why? It's because there are more vacancies within that MOS. For example, if MOS 123 really sucks, or the civilian-equivelent pays high, a lot of E-4s and E-5s will get out (or possibly re-train) after just one 4 or 5 year hitch. That means there are fewer E-4s and E-5s competing for open promotion vacancies, which means less competition, which, in turn, generally means one needs a lower "cut-off" score to be promoted. Additionally, if the job pays high in the civilian sector, or really sucks, more senior NCOs will elect to retire at 20 years of service, instead of staying for 25 or 30 years, thereby opening up more promotion slots.
Centralized Promotions (E-7, E-8, and E-9)
Centralized promotions are conducted Army-wide, at Army Personnel Headquarters. The unit/battalion has nothing (or little) to do with the promotion process. There are no minimum time-in-grade requirements for promotion to E-7, E-8, or E-9, but soldiers must meet the following minimum time-in-service 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.
(Note: This doesn't mean that you'll find too many (or any) Sergeant Majors with only 9 years in the Army. As you'll see below, the promotion board puts a lot of stock into experience. Someone with only 9 years in the Army is unlikely to have enough experience to impress the promotion board members).
The Centralized Promotion Board consists of at least five members. The board can (and usually is) divided into separate panels, which, in turn, review/score the promotion records for those being considered in different MOS's. If so, each panel must include at least three voting members. The President of the Board must be a General Officer. Board members are commissioned officers and Senior NCOs.
Unlike the promotion boards for E-5s and E-6's, soldiers do not personally meet the Centralized Board. The board makes their decisions based on the contents of the soldier's promotion records.
Each year, the Army decides how many soldiers within each MOS it plans to promote to the ranks of E-7, E-8, and E-9. For example, if the Army plans to promote 17 E-7 soldiers in MOS 123 to E-8 within the next year, they basically say to the board, "Here are the promotion records of everyone eligible for promotion to E-8 in MOS 123. Please review these records, discuss them, vote, and select 17 of them to be promoted within the next 12 months."
Soldiers eligible for consideration may write to the president of the promotion board to provide documents and information drawing attention to any matter concerning themselves that they feel is important to their consideration. Although written communication is authorized, it is only encouraged when there is something that is not provided in the soldiers records that the soldier feels will have an impact on the boards deliberations.