The competition to make master sergeant is like snowboarding at the Olympics. One slip-up and the other guy is standing there with the medal and the smile.
Your version of the Olympics is getting your file exactly right — so right that you impress the steely-eyed missile men on the board, who know that the Army has to get much smaller.
Just weeks ago, the 2014 master sergeant names were released, and only one soldier in every nine or 10 made the cut. Of course, plenty of standout soldiers were among those who didn’t make it. So what happened? Where did they go wrong?
The after-action reports to the latest board for the Regular Army and Active Guard and Reserve reveal some insights into the mistakes that soldiers (and their senior raters) made in preparing their promotion packets. There are some epic failures in these findings. So, regardless of your rank, take note. Their blunders could save your career in the years to come.
Official photos are the first documents the selection boards see when considering soldiers for advancement to sergeant first class and above. Photos can set the tone for the promotion review.
■Show the wrong rank in your photo. Several files had photos that were two to five years old, board members said. Sergeants first class whose files pictured them wearing staff sergeant stripes sent the wrong message. Regulations require soldiers to update their photo when they are promoted.
■Leave the photo out. “Missing or outdated photos raised a red flag with panel members and triggered a more thorough look into the [noncommissioned officer’s] record in an attempt to uncover potential misconduct issues or other areas of failure to meet standards,” reported members of the Regular Army board.
■Make dumb mistakes. Some photos had glaring mistakes, such as insignia displayed on the wrong lapel of the uniform.
The AGR board “found countless files with no photographs, old photographs, incorrect rank and soldiers wearing non-permanent awards, incorrect appurtenances and (awards) not in the correct order of precedence,” the after-action report said.
The senior rater block check is the most important tool for gauging an NCO’s promotion potential. On the NCO Evaluation Report, it must be used to set soldiers apart for performance and potential, according to the Regular Army master sergeant board.
Board members were specific about how senior raters should handle the block checks.
■Be specific and clear. Choose words carefully in writing bullet comments to support block checks for promotion potential, the board members said.
Examples of good bullets:
■Promote first look in the secondary zone.
■Has potential as a future command sergeant major or sergeant major.
■This soldier is among the top two of the 26 sergeants first class in the battalion.
■Be accurate. Rater assessments were frequently not justified by bullet comments, the AGR board found. They “did not provide an accurate reflection of the soldier’s performance for the rating period,” the board found.
■Say “among the best” if you can’t back it up. “Raters’ overall potential ranking of ‘among the best’ were often not congruent with their own ratings, and the senior rater bullet comments for performance and potential,” the Army Reserve panelists reported.
Rated NCOs are responsible for making sure their NCOERs are in the file, clean and accurate.
■Double check. When reviewing your file, be particularly alert for missing NCO evaluation reports.
■Make sure it’s polished. Several reports had errors in grammar, punctuation, counseling dates, observing the three-lines-per-bullet limit, height and weight fluctuations, and rater and senior rater disconnects, board members reported.
“Rated NCOs,” they said, “should be keenly aware of (policy and regulations) to ensure complete accuracy of their evaluation report and to provide … advice to the rating chain as appropriate.
■Let mistakes embarrass you. “Inaccurate, error-ridden evaluation reports do not display knowledge and attention to detail required of senior NCOs,” the board members said.
Some other observations from the master sergeant boards.
Forget the Enlisted Record Briefs. A large number had inaccurate or missing information, and clearly had not been updated or validated, board members said.
■Specify skill level. The “duty MOS” entered on record briefs and evaluation reports should clearly state what skill level, such as 11B40 or 11B50, is required for the soldier’s position.
“When trying to determine if someone has been working above their current grade, this is an important component on the NCOER,” the board members said.
■Go to school. Regular Army panelists were particularly supportive of soldiers who strive to improve their professionalism through military and civilian education. Civilian education shows initiative and personal investment, board members said, even though it isn’t necessary.
“NCOs should strive to achieve an associate, bachelor’s or master’s degree in addition to mandatory military education,” they said.
Completing military and civilian education “with excellence” will help now that senior NCO promotion is highly competitive, the panelists said.
■Talk about it. Just a few soldiers communicated with the board to point out minor errors in their file, the AGR board members said. But they cautioned that board communications should not be used by soldiers to justify their inaction in updating their file.■