Army to allow some virtual promotion boards for enlisted force during coronavirus outbreak

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 25, 2020

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WASHINGTON — The Army will allow commanders to conduct some promotion boards by video conference and has suspended temporarily some requirements for enlisted soldiers to be promoted as it responds to the deepening coronavirus pandemic that has forced military posts to close to nonessential personnel. 

The adjustments balance the need for the Army to advance soldiers to ensure combat readiness while taking measures to protect the force from the virus, which has sickened at least 44 active-duty soldiers, Army officials said Wednesday. 

"We are trying to get ahead and be proactive and creative,” said Sgt. Maj. Mark A. Clark with the Army’s directorate of military personnel management office. “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.”

The announcement came Wednesday, just one day after the Army advanced its health protection condition at its installations worldwide to HPCON Charlie, the second-highest threat level. That condition restricts post access to essential personnel and forces installations to close many of their access points in an effort to keep much of its workforce at home.

Most of the temporary policy changes for promotion boards will begin in May and are expected to continue through fiscal year 2020, which ends Sept. 30. They could be extended further or halted sooner, depending on the impact of the coronavirus, Army officials said in a statement. The policies apply to active-duty and Reserve soldiers and exemptions for National Guard soldiers will be announced in the future, they said.

The Army will allow commanders to conduct so called semi-centralized promotion boards for staff sergeants and sergeants first class via internet video communications, Clark said. The temporary change allows commanders to observe social distancing practices as public health officials have encouraged in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.

Clark said the service has provided commanders leeway to determine precisely how to conduct the virtual promotion boards, such as through popular video teleconferencing software programs such as Skype or WebEx. 

The service has also elected not to require professional military education courses typically needed by staff sergeants and sergeants first class to be selected for promotion. It will also allow soldiers to use their most recent fitness test and weapons qualifications scores for their promotion boards, Clark said.

The temporary exemption to the professional military education course requirements — the Advanced Leader Course for staff sergeants and the Senior Leader Course for sergeants first class — does not mean soldiers will not attend those courses. They will be required to complete those classes in the future, Clark said. 

Soldiers who have a track record of completing their required education courses will be promoted before others who have not completed such courses, he said.

The Army Physical Fitness Test will remain a requirement for soldiers to be promoted, but because many units are not able to conduct such tests during the coronavirus pandemic, soldiers will be able to submit their most recent score for the board, Clark said.

The temporary policy change also means soldiers whose last APFT score is expired — fitness test scores are valid for one year — will not be deemed ineligible for promotion as long as the outbreak continues, he said. 

The service is making a similar policy exemption to allow soldiers to submit their most recent weapons qualifications scores for their promotion boards regardless of when those scores were recorded, Clark said. 

The service, Clark added, will continue to review its promotions boards policies every 30 days throughout the coronavirus outbreak and provide the force further guidance as warranted.

Twitter: @CDicksteinDC