Army Leaders: Enlisted Promotions Will Get Tougher as Force Shrinks

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler III takes part in a promotion ceremony. (U.S. Army photo)
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler III takes part in a promotion ceremony. (U.S. Army photo)

The U.S. Army's top enlisted soldier said young soldiers should not look for promotions to get any easier as long as the service is downsizing.

A soldier from Fort Lee, Virginia, asked Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and Sgt. Major of the Army Raymond Chandler III during a virtual Town Hall meeting if the Army was going to create any new promotion opportunities for young enlisted soldiers now that deployments are winding down. 

Chandler said that promotions becoming more difficult are directly tied to the challenges the Army faces with reducing the size of the force. But the senior leadership has no plans to make changes to the current promotion system, Chandler said.

"We have a good promotion system. I would compete the promotion system we have against any of the other services," Chandler said during the Jan. 6 event. "We don't just test cognitive abilities. We look at everything that person does to determine whether they've got the potential for future promotion."

Over the past decade, the Army grew to a 570,000-strong active force. Over the past few years, the service has reduced its size to just over 500,000 and is on track to go down to 450,000 by the end of 2017. If the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration return in fiscal 2016 -- as is currently the law -- then the Army will shrink to 420,000.

"From 2004 to 2012, the Army was growing. Because it was growing we were promoting people faster," Odierno said.

"Frankly, I would make the argument that we were promoting people too fast because a lot of people were not qualified for the rank that they were getting promoted to. They didn't go to the schools they were supposed to. They didn't have the experience they were supposed to."

To Chandler, any soldier can be promoted to the next rank even if the cutoff score is 798.

"We see it every single month even in what we call those maxed out MOSs someone ends up getting promoted with 800 points," Chandler said. "But it takes a lot of hard work, it takes self-discipline, it takes and an engaged leader to them get to their full potential."

Over time, the challenges with high cut-off scores will come down as the Army gets to down to an active force of 450,000, Chandler said.

Making promotions more challenging will maintain high standards in the Army's noncommissioned officer corps, Odierno said. 

"What we want to do is promote the right people … so we maintain a strong Army," he said. "The sergeant major and I fully understand that we cannot limit; we've got to have promotions people want to move forward … but it is not going to be as fast as it was five years ago."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at

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