Army NCO Schools Going Partly Online, Temporary Promotions Going Away

NCO induction ceremony at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.
U.S. Army soldiers recite the NCO creed during an NCO induction ceremony at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Feb. 9, 2019. (U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Jordan M. Rose)

The Army is looking to shift some parts of its noncommissioned officer academies to virtual learning and scale back temporary promotions in one of its most dramatic overhauls of how NCO careers are managed.

The Army's Advanced Leader Course, or ALC, and Senior Leader Course, or SLC, will shift part of their coursework to online learning in the coming months, has learned. Army planners hope the move will make attendance more convenient for part-time troops in the National Guard and reserve, in addition to making it less likely students will drop the courses.

"That reduces no-shows," Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston told on Wednesday. "We can add a few more people to get some of the academics done. And that's what we're looking at. And it also gives you a little more time in your house, before we send you."

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The length of the courses vary depending on a soldier's job but are typically one to two months long. Those schools are needed for promotion to staff sergeant and sergeant first class -- the linchpins of the rank-and-file leadership. Each NCO rank has a corresponding academy.

About one week of the courses covers academic work focusing on general Army knowledge about regulations, customs and history. Army planners are looking to move that part online but have soldiers attend in person the coursework that specifically pertains to their job. For example, infantry ALC has components related to tactics and weapons that would have to be in-person.

As Grinston said, one of the big issues senior leaders hope to fix is soldiers dropping courses before they begin, which can happen for numerous reasons. It can be difficult for the schools to quickly fill the empty seat with another soldier who needs the class.

Moving at least a chunk of the courses online could make it more likely students who signed up will show up for the course, according to the Army.

The newly virtual parts of ALC and SLC are not planned to be online training that soldiers can do at their own pace, such as the current training required before attending the schools, Grinston explained.

Students would be enrolled in a particular class, and the online portion would be live with an instructor lecturing in real time.

Attending those schools can be difficult, especially for Army Reserve and National Guard members, who also have to juggle full-time civilian jobs. While employers are required by law to let those soldiers off for the schooling, it can still be a hurdle for the troops to find time for military education.

That means their careers commonly move at a much slower pace than their active-duty counterparts. The Justice Department has a long history of suing employers for not abiding by laws protecting Guardsmen from being retaliated against for taking time off to serve.

Graduating NCO schools was traditionally required before moving onto the next rank. But in 2021, the service issued a policy to allow so-called temporary promotions. This granted units the ability to promote soldiers before attending school, with the caveat that they had to attend within a year or be demoted.

That gave units much more flexibility with promotions as schools faced a bottleneck of students trying to attend and long wait times due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as an administrative issue that allowed soldiers who weren't fully qualified to attend. But that bottleneck has started to clear with some Army jobs.

"We are going to rescind that very shortly," Grinston said, referring to the temporary promotion policy.

The service has been reexamining how it manages career development in the enlisted ranks. On Friday, it revealed a new counseling form -- effectively an employee review -- that could shift how soldiers and leaders are graded on their performance.

The Army is also eyeing major changes to its Basic Leader Course, or BLC, the school needed for promotion to sergeant. It has slowly reintroduced land navigation to the school after combat tasks were eliminated in favor of more lectures on policy and academics. That 22-day school could be extended several days in the near future to make room for more tactical training.

-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.

Related: Time in the Field, Longer School. The Army's Basic Leader Course May Get a Big Overhaul.

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