Army Changes Course Again and Extends Rules Allowing NCOs to Be Promoted Before Schooling

U.S. soldiers assigned to 1st Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment execute platoon-level maneuver live fire exercises in the Grafenwoehr Training Area
U.S. soldiers assigned to 1st Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment execute platoon-level maneuver live fire exercises in the Grafenwoehr Training Area April 24-26, 2023. (Orion Magnuson/U.S. Army)

In a sudden reversal, the Army has yet again extended temporary promotions allowing noncommissioned officers and specialists to progress to the next rank without previously required NCO academies, according to an internal service memo on Thursday that was reviewed by

The extension into 2024 will make the third year that the COVID-19 pandemic-era policy has been in effect, as Army planners originally were set to scale back temporary promotions in January.

Now, temporary promotions will be the new status quo, putting into question the relevance of NCO academies that used to be prerequisites for promotion until late 2021. The schools train noncommissioned officers on key Army policies and programs and are attempts to standardize basic leadership expectations, but have also been seen by some in the force as a bureaucratic hurdle in the promotion process.

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"Currently, we've decided STEP will remain suspended and have not determined a timeline for reimplementation," Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Weimer said in a statement to, referring to the Select-Train-Educate-Promote policy. "Our goal is to ensure our soldiers' careers do not suffer from factors outside of their control."

Weimer added that soldiers should continue to go to school. Part of the concern over the policy is that a swath of NCOs were promoted under the temporary promotion system but never went to school, and service leaders didn't want to strip ranks en masse, an Army official told

The STEP rules established in 2016 boosted the standards for enlisted promotion, requiring soldiers to complete the appropriate level of military education before being qualified for promotion. Each NCO rank has a corresponding academy to attend.

Temporary promotions allow a soldier to be promoted without the course, so long as they complete it within a year of earning their new rank.

The decision to extend the pandemic-era policy could spell doom for the Army's old way of promoting NCOs through the STEP system, which was put on pause in 2021 when capacity issues at NCO schools were aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Soldiers have reported difficulty in finding open slots to attend the schools.

In some cases, schooling needs to be scheduled months in advance before the class fills up, making it difficult for troops and their families to anticipate schedules, particularly in the Army Reserve and National Guard where soldiers have to juggle civilian careers or college.

The academies also stretch for weeks. The Advanced Leader Course, or ALC, which is required for the rank of staff sergeant, is typically a month long and traditionally does not offer distance learning.

The Basic Leader Course, or BLC, which is for the rank of sergeant, is 22 days. But Army planners are looking to extend the course by about three days in late 2025 to add more time for combat training and testing such as land navigation, which has taken a back seat in favor of academic work.

Temporary promotions aren't the only area where the Army has relaxed requirements for troops to progress in rank. In November, the service started offering fast-track promotions for recruiters, promoting sergeants to staff sergeants for attending recruiting school, regardless of time in grade.

Staff sergeants who recruit 24 applicants in their first year as a recruiter will be promoted to sergeant first class.

Related: Army Basic Leader Course Will Soon Be Longer and Have Graded Land Navigation

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