Centralized Boards - Preparing for the Process
When you reach the rank of Staff Sergeant (SSG) it's time to start preparing yourself for the enlisted centralized board process. A little homework will remove the mystery from this process and improve your chances for success.
Recall how familiar you were with the decentralized boards you appeared before for promotion to Sergeant (SGT) and SSG. You knew all about that particular board procedure and succeeded because you knew what to prepare for and how. The way to succeed in your central board appearance is to be just as knowledgeable and just as well prepared.
Your appearance in front of a centralized board is not physical, but it's just as real as your appearances in front of the other boards were. The difference is that you won't be there to tell the board about yourself, explain a discrepancy in your record or demonstrate your knowledge of and proficiency at the business of being a NCO. Your record will have to speak for you. Before we get to helping you prepare let's first give you a little G2 on Centralized Enlisted Boards.
What do they select for?
First and most significant is that they select for promotion to the top three enlisted ranks, Sergeant First Class (SFC), Master Sergeant (MSG) and Sergeant Major (SGM) and they also select SGM for appointment to Command Sergeant Major (CSM). For schools, they select NCOs for the Sergeant's Major Course (SMC) and the Advanced Noncommissioned Officer's Course (ANCOC). The boards also have the additional missions of conducting a Standby Advisory Board (STAB) for NCOs who may be getting a re-look for varied reasons; who may have been overlooked for some reason by a previous board; and those being looked at for removal from a list and referring sup-par performers for consideration under the Qualitative Management Program (QMP).
Who is on the board?
The board consists of a general officer board president and career management field (CMF) oriented panels. Each panel will have a Colonel (COL) as the panel chief and 5 senior NCOs, normally CSMs, as panel members. In other words, an experienced and distinguished group of soldiers look you over and decide if you're ready to advance. Your de-centralized board should already be looking easy in comparison.
What are they armed with?
The board receives a Headquarters Department of the Army (HQDA) Memorandum of Instruction for the board they are conducting (we'll discuss that more when we start talking about you). They operate under established Enlisted records and Evaluation Center (EREC) Board Operating Procedures. Like any other operation they need procedures to follow in order to remain consistent in their work - for the board this consistency is imperative and they work hard to ensure they have it before the voting even starts. They get very detailed briefings and information from HQDA, The Personnel Command (PERSCOM), EREC and each CMF proponent. The information they receive in these briefings is designed to help them pick the best qualified NCOs for promotions and schooling. For example, the CMF proponents brief the board on what types, variety and levels of jobs the best candidate for promotion will have. Besides being armed with all that pertinent data, they also have at their disposal all relevant Army regulations and expert assistance to research a subject if required. In summary they are well equipped and prepared for their mission.
What does the board see?
They see your Official Military Personnel File (OMPF) on microfiche, your hard copy official photograph, a Personnel Data Sheet (PDS) (which is a summary of your past few years laying out job titles, the type of NCO Evaluation Reports (NCOER) you received and your height and weight - this makes it easy for the board members, for example, to see at a glance if you've gained weight or grown taller in recent years), your Personnel Qualification Record (PQR) DA Forms 2A and 2-1, any correspondence you send the board president and any hard copy documents that have yet to be filed on your microfiche OMPF.
What do they do then?
They vote. Three panel members will review and vote your record. The first panel member to vote your record will likely give it the closest scrutiny highlighting any significant positives and negatives for the other panel members. Most of this "highlighting" is based on information obtained in pre-board briefings, and what the panel members (who are senior soldiers in your CMF) think is so significant that it should not be missed by other board members. Each member voting your record will give it a numerical score ranging anywhere from a 6+ to a 1-. This is not as complicated as it sounds. For example, a record receiving three 6+ would end up with the highest possible score of 18 points. Three 6 would get you 17 points and three 6- would get you 16 points. From the example you can easily figure out the combinations. What is important for you to understand is that panel members go through as many practice votes as it takes for them to become consistent in their voting, in other words it's unlikely that there would be a wide swing in votes between panel members - if one voter gives you a 6 another will not give you a 2. If you end up with a total score of 7 points or higher, you're considered fully qualified in your MOS. Naturally, the higher your total point value the more likely it is that you will get the promotion.
So there is your basic G2 on the centralized board process. Admittedly it's a brief overview, but having an idea of how and what the board looks at is the first important step in preparing for it. Now, let's talk about getting you ready.
Where do you start?
That's simple - refer back to what the board sees. Those documents and the things you control such as your photograph must be as near perfect as you can make them.
Your PQR. If your DA Form 2-1 looks like a chicken may have dipped its feet in ink and walked across your record get it neatly retyped before it goes to the board. Your Personnel Service Center will do this for you if it's in bad shape (However, if you wait until peak records review time - usually just before a board - your chances of getting it retyped are not good. There is no rule that says wait until board time to review your record.), if not, volunteer to retype it yourself - it's worth the effort and a clean, neat record will be read.
Your OMPF. Request your OMPF as often as you want, but annually at a minimum. It's such a simple process on the touch tone phone that there is no excuse for not doing it ((703) 325-3732 or DSN 221-3732). Review your OMPF thoroughly - ensure that none of the critical documents are missing. Those most critical are your NCOERs and your Academic Evaluation Reports. Everything that should be on there is important, but those evaluation reports are most critical. Make sure someone else's documents didn't turn up on your file by accident - it's happened or it wouldn't be worth mentioning.
NCOERs. Take an active role in your evaluation reports. This is something you must always do and not just for the last report before the board. Every board, without fail, points to the NCOER as being the most valuable document in the OMPF when evaluating NCOs for promotion. Therefore, it should be the most important one for you. Medals are nice, but your NCOER really tells what you did. Most raters have good intentions, but some are just plain lazy. Don't let your rater fill up your NCOER with a lot of puff bullets (puff-bull) supporting excellence blocks. Insist that your report have solid bullet comments that actually spell out your work. Those solid bullets and success blocks will carry you a lot farther than puff-bull and excellence - count on it.
About that photo. The rules say take an official photograph once every 5 years or when the photograph doesn't properly represent you. Can you think of any circumstance where you would want a 4 plus year old photo of you appearing in front of the board that is looking to select you for promotion? We all can think of reasons, but none of them are good. The panel members may draw the same conclusions. Example: Your PDS indicates that you have gained 15 pounds over the past five years. Your NCOERs all indicate that you comply with the body fat allowances. Your picture is 5 years old. You know that you have been on a weight lifting program for the past five years and have put on 15 pounds of muscle. The board doesn't know that, so what's their likely conclusion. I'm betting they'll think you're trying to hide a fat body in a 5 year-old photo. Bottom line - take a photo every year.
Your uniform for the photo. It's time to lose the class A uniform you were issued in basic training - even if you are proud that it still fits. Chances are it's faded from much cleaning and will not look real good in a color photo. Invest some money in a new uniform and have it properly fitted. While you're at it make sure all the awards and other accouterments are clean and in top shape - dirty or frayed ribbons show up in color photos. Everything on your uniform must be reflected on your PQR and it must be on your uniform to exact AR 670-1 standards (that means get out the book and the ruler). For men, wear a long sleeved shirt and make sure you have the proper collar size - a half-inch too big is better than a half-inch too small. If you have a job that requires you to wear low quarters with your uniform everyday, do yourself a favor and buy a pair of shoes just for wearing with your class A uniform. Then, keep them clean, keep edge dressing on the soles and heels and keep shoetrees in them when you're not wearing them.(maybe this is not as important to the photo since we switched to the smaller one, but it's still important) For men again, get a good haircut and if you have a mustache make it picture perfect and legal (as it always should be). Don't get a high and tight the day before your photo if that's not your normal hairstyle - the tan lines will give you away. Lastly, have someone look you and your uniform over.
Once you have your photo look it over thoroughly. If you think it's good enough, then have someone else look at it with a critical eye. Get your photo early to allow you the opportunity to retake it if necessary.
Dear President of the Board. Should you write a letter? If the following applies you should:
The letter. Your letter must be concise and as brief as possible - never more than one page and preferably less than that. You don't want someone who only has minutes to look at your record spending all of his or her time on a 5-pager. Simply tell them what you've done that's significant and not posted in your record.
The kiss of death. In your letter you must not:
- If you have a significant amount of time not covered by an evaluation report.
- And you're not eligible for a complete-the-record report.
- And you have a notable accomplishment not yet posted to your record.
Now, how do you stack up? There is another part to preparing for competition on centralized promotion boards that's often overlooked. With every promotion list that is published there is a copy of the board's guidance and a statistical profile of all the selects. This is important G2 to arm yourself with unless you're willing to take a shot in the dark. An analysis will give you some insight as to what the board was paying particular attention to and the statistical averages in many areas for those selected for promotion. It gives you the opportunity to make a direct comparison of yourself with successful NCOs in your specific MOS.
How about that MOI? The important thing to look at in the MOI is the guidance the board receives on such things as performance in special duty assignments like recruiting, drill sergeant, inspector general and other difficult special duty assignments. The board is then told to pay particular attention to individuals who sought out and performed well in the tough jobs like being a first sergeant. These general instructions do not change a lot from year to year. Get a copy of the last list that pertains to you and read this part thoroughly - you can only benefit from the knowledge gained. It may also provide you with some things to ponder for your future.
The stats. Reading the statistical profile for selects is where you stand to make yourself more competitive for your board. Start out with that first tough number. That's the select rate for your specific military occupational specialty. If the select rate for your MOS is 20% for example that means that 20 of every one hundred considered were selected. What does that mean to you? It means that eighty people didn't make the cut and you have to make a tough self-assessment to answer for yourself if you are in the top 20% of your MOS. Information a board sees in your OMPF give indicators of where you stand. For example, how often have you been rated as exceeding the standard in a NCO professional development school - a rating reserved for the top 20% of each class. Examine all the numbers. See how much tougher it is to get promoted the second time you are considered than the first time. Don't discount such things as time-in-grade (TIG) stats. If the average TIG for a select in your MOS is 3 years and you have 5 years TIG there is a message in there. Your thorough analysis of the statistical profile for selects will come close to helping you know where you stand in comparison to those selected in your MOS.
- Try to justify past misconduct.
- Express grievances. (Do not talk -whine- about other soldiers who were promoted in the past that you feel were not as deserving as you or explain how you were obviously overlooked the last time. Don't talk about your boss who just gave you a less than satisfactory evaluation.)
- Boast about your greatness.
- Attach extra documents to it.
- Forget to sign it.
So what do you do? Build your self a score card from the profile analysis. The score card will tell you how you compared to the last group selected in your MOS and how you are likely to stack up when it's your turn. Make a list of all the categories in the profile analysis. Beside each category record the average for the NCO selected, beside that put your own stats. This will serve two purposes. It will tell you where you stand now and then tell you where you may need to improve to be competitive. Don't be misled. It takes performance to be selected for promotion and too many NCOs with Masters Degrees have discovered that the hard way. Given that you are a solid performer, as are those selected for promotion, those things measured in the statistical profile will let you know where you stand in comparison.
To get promoted to any rank requires good performance. It's imperative that what the promotion board sees is the most representative of you and the best product you can put in front of it. When a NCO makes the extra effort to ensure a good record appears before the board he or she only improves their chances for selection. The board knows when the extra effort was made. Make your own good luck!
The following Internet links will provide you with more insight for preparing yourself for the Enlisted Centralized Board Process:
PERSCOM Enlisted Selections and Promotions Page - At this site you can view the Profile Analysis and other valuable information for all boards.
Current NCOER Updates - Here you get valuable feedback on how the best NCOERs are written.
NCOER Update - September 1998, Promotion Board Feedback. Valuable feedback on NCOERs directly from the promotion board.
Some other interesting articles:
© 1999 J. D. Pendry