Preparing for a centralized selection board while deployed
SFC Bill Costlow
US Army Elements Public Affairs
Allied Command Europe
(KOSOVO, PRISTINA, 21 Dec, 2000) -- Deployed NCOs facing a Centralized DA promotion board may think their prospects are bleak when it comes time to updating those records and reviewing their files, since few soldiers actually bring copies of their records to a field environment, updating the Official Military Personnel File (OMPF) and other personal records can be difficult.
“Some sergeants may have to contact their spouse or friend back in the rear to sort through their records to locate a missing document,” said SGM Steve Burback at a recent NCOPD on centralized boards at NATO’s KFOR Headquarters in Pristina, Kosovo.
Burback is the US Army Elements, Allied Command Europe Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel Sergeant Major and recently visited Camp Able Sentry and KFOR Rear in Macedonia, the NATO compound in Larissa, Greece and NATO’s Pristina compound and Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo to discuss personnel issues with soldiers deployed there.
“The results of any selection board can be no more valid than the information upon which the board bases its judgment,” said SGM Burback. A soldier’s file and records must portray an accurate profile of that individual’s ability and potential. During selection board proceedings, three board members review each soldier’s individual record. They review the OMPF microfiche, Personnel Qualification Record, DA Photograph, Personnel Data Sheet, and other hard-copy documents, and compare them with the approved panel standards. Then they place a numerical score ranging from 6+ to 1- on each soldier’s board file. This process ensures that no single success or failure is an overriding factor in determining the soldier’s standing in relation to his/her peers. Panel members are charged to consider the “total soldier” in determining those best qualified for promotion.
Burback noted that NCOs on a long deployment don’t have the luxury of waiting until the last minute to update their OMPF and DA photo. “Too often, records submitted to a board are incomplete or are missing data,” he said. “Also, records without a photo or an outdated photo leaves a poor impression of the soldier’s interest in his or her promotion opportunity,” said Burback. Before taking a photo, soldiers should be absolutely sure that awards worn are authorized and properly documented in their PQR and OMPF.
“It’s also difficult to update a photo in some NATO assignments,” he said. “Some locations don’t have a facility to take DA photos. There are special instructions that come with assignment orders detailing problem areas like this and advising the soldier to have a new photo taken before reporting for duty.” Sometimes though, the soldier may not receive all the special instructions and report for duty without an updated photo. This is a common problem in some locations within Allied Command Europe, which will not send a soldier TDY to take a photo, he noted. When this happens, Burback recommended a letter to the president of the board explaining the circumstances.
“Letters to the President of the board should follow the memorandum format outlined in AR 25-50, be concise with the bottom-line up front and contain only information not already listed in the record,” he said. Too often letters are poorly prepared and inappropriately focused. “Limit letters to documentation of current performance or new facts that influence review of the soldier’s file – no grievances or justifying poor behavior. Letters are representative of the soldier and those that are not properly formatted and grammatically correct may provide members of the board with a negative impression. “Soldiers should ask their command sergeant major or sergeant major review the letter prior to forwarding it to the board. And, don’t forget to sign that letter before dropping it in the mail,” said Burback.
The E-9 promotion board reviews about 70% of the E-8 and E-9 population of today’s Army. About 66% of the E-7 population is looked at by the Master Sergeant promotion board and nearly 25% of the NCO Corps and 75% of the E-6 population is screened by the Sergeant First Class Board. Most centralized boards range from 23 to 30 days in length, he said.
The Personnel Qualification Record (PQR) is made up of DA Form 2-1 and an Enlisted Record Brief (ERB). “Too often, the PQR contains conflicting data between the ERB and DA Form 2-1 or the ERB contains unpopulated data in many of critical data elements. It is imperative that personnel officers and soldiers place special emphasis on resolution of errors prior to dispatching the PQR,” Burback said.
Along with promoting soldiers, centralized selection boards are also charged with culling the ranks and separating those NCOs who don’t meet the standard. The Qualitative Management Program (QMP) is designed to keep the Army’s ranks filled with solid performers, Burback said. The final QMP board reviews those records of NCOs and makes final recommendations on separating NCOs, if any, from the Army. The QMP Appeals board reviews and determines whether or not to approve appeals to the initial QMP decision.
Finally, Standby Advisory Boards (STAB) may meet to review cases where a material error existed in the soldiers OMPF when the file was reviewed by the promotion board. The conditions and rules for a STAB are outlined in paragraph 4-14 of AR 600-8-19.
Updating the OMPF microfiche is crucial to scoring well on a promotion board, he told the class. Awards, NCOERs, promotion orders, college transcripts, certificates of achievement, and Army correspondence course completion notices are among some of the documents that should all be in there. “If a NCO doesn’t care enough to update his or her official OMPF microfiche, it’s a strong signal to the board that this NCO may not make extra efforts for subordinate soldiers either,” said Burback.
“Sometimes you’ll even see an article 15 or letter of reprimand in the OMPF microfiche that’s for a different soldier,” he said. “Mistakes like that are easy to fix, but if you don’t get that taken out, you’re saying something about yourself to the promotion board.”
Each member of the board will see a personnel data sheet (PDS) on the soldier being considered. It is a computer-generated summary of information, which provides board members with a general overview of the NCO, including a list of the last five NCOERs, height/weight and APFT data, and qualifications. It also includes a section for board members to make written notes about strengths and weaknesses of the soldier’s record being reviewed. This is where a board member can write a note such as NCO of the Year, honor graduate at BNCOC, or file has three Article 15s.
The evaluation report is probably the single most important document on the OMPF that is reviewed by a selection board. “It is a color photograph of the soldier’s performance and potential profile,” said Burback. Evaluations are an ongoing problem. Many continue to reflect 3-line bullets, poorly written job descriptions, excessive use of specific acronyms and buzz words, repetitive bullet comments in successive evaluations (even from different raters), excellence bullets not always justified, rater and senior rater inconsistency, potential not addressed or adequately addressed by Senior Rater, and a cluttered special emphasis block.
Job descriptions must clearly outline a soldier’s responsibilities, and is best outlined in terms of numbers of personnel supervised, the amount of equipment, resources and financial responsibilities involved. “Appointed duties and areas of special emphasis mentioned on the front of the evaluation report are important and should have a bullet comment mentioned on the back, if the soldier made a contribution in one or more of these areas,” said Burback. “Otherwise it appears to be something just put there to look good. The board needs to see clearly just what’s been done by that NCO during the rating period.”
Inconsistent height and weight data marked in evaluation reports is a continuing problem, and in some cases, the height and weight data in the report does not match the appearance of the soldier in the DA photograph. “Not many of us grow taller after our 19th birthday,” he said. Some soldiers’ heights have fluxuated by as much as three to five inches as their weight increases, he said. This makes your file suspect. These are not isolated instances, and particularly stand out on the personnel data sheet reflecting the last five evaluation reports that is provided for each record being reviewed by the board, Burback said. The rated NCO must ensure accuracy of the height and weight data on the evaluation report.
Many soldiers also believe they need to have all excellence bullets to get promoted, said Burback. That is not the case. Soldiers who receive success ratings are being promoted. When writing excellent bullets, they should be clearly articulated as something above the ordinary, fully justified and quantified with specific examples and measurable results. Members of the board immediately disqualify excellent bullets that don’t measure up to these standards, said Burback. Additionally, don’t bury the bullet justifying the excellence rating in the middle of the comments. “The bullet comments used to justify an excellence rating should be up front,” he said.
By the same token, too often the senior rater bullets address performance and do not address potential or address it in vague terms too easily open to interpretation. Senior rater bullets are critical in determining promotion potential, he said. Senior rater bullets must clearly tell the board to promote the soldier now, ahead of peers, with peers, or not to promote. Senior raters also must ensure that the performance and potential blocks checked are consistent with the associated bullet comments. For example, a “promote with peers” bullet and a “1” rating in the potential block are not consistent. The comments must focus on potential and help panel members make the tough calls to clearly identify those soldiers who are superior to their peers.
Strong evaluation reports represented by the quality of the writing gives a clear and accurate assessment of the soldier to the board, said Burback. When evaluation reports are not written properly, they can unintentionally hurt out soldiers. “Junior raters and senior raters must understand the power of the pen, and be thoroughly coached by the senior NCOs and officers in their organization with more experience,” said Burback.
Keeping yourself competitive for promotion goes hand in hand with keeping your records updated. “Soldiers must set short and long term education and promotion goals, and strive toward these goals,” said Burback. Soldiers should periodically evaluate themselves by asking themselves these questions to find out just how competitive they are for promotion:
- What are my chances for promotion?
- When was my last MTOE/FORSCOM assignment?
- What is my military/civilian education level?
- Have I exceeded NCOES course standards, such as distinguished or honor graduate, commandant’s list?
- Do I have strong evaluation reports reflecting outstanding duty performance and potential in a variety of positions?
- Have I received distinguished recognition, such as NCO/Drill Sergeant/Recruiter of the Year, Audie Murphy, Sergeant Morales, etc.?
- Have I maintained high physical fitness standards and consistent compliance with height/weight standards?
“These are just a few of the questions NCOs should be asking themselves to see just how competitive they are for promotion,” he said.
Burback’s class, presented just three days before Christmas, was most timely for those who are preparing for the upcoming Master Sergeant board scheduled to convene at the end of January, said Sergeant Major Charles Allen Sr., KFOR Headquarters Support Group Sergeant Major, and Sergeant First Class Bridgette Jordan, an Admin NCO to U.S. Army Major General Smith, the KFOR Deputy Commander for Operations.
Both SGM Allen and SFC Jordan have been deployed in Pristina since October, along with a number of other soldiers from NATO Headquarters Joint Command Southeast in Izmir, Turkey who now form the core for KFOR Headquarters and are contributing magnificently to building peace and keeping stability in Kosovo.
In summing up his class and before thanking the soldiers for their selfless service and tremendous personal sacrifice and commitment to the KFOR mission, Burback reminded them that preparing for a DA selection board is an on-going process. “What a board member sees in a file is what they vote on,” he said. For that reason, soldiers should keep a current DA photo on file and get in a routine habit of periodically reviewing and updating their records, particularly prior to departing on a lengthy deployment, and not less than six months prior to a centralized selection board. No matter where you are in your career, these actions must be done for ensuring updated and accurate records are presented to a board and for increasing one’s chances for promotion.