Preparing for Centralized Noncommissioned Officer boards

Recommendations on preparing for centralized noncommissioned officer boards. The information provided is drawn from discussions with senior noncommissioned officers who have participated in centralized boards, have experience in preparing official records for boards, and understand what is required to succeed during the board process.

When you attain the rank of Staff Sergeant it’s time to start preparing for the enlisted centralized board process. For some it’s a mysterious, anxiety-creating event, but it shouldn’t be. Individual preparation can reduce the chance and uncertainty that are often perceived as being inherent in the board process and improve your chances for success.

Think back to the comparative familiarity of decentralized boards procedures for promotion to SGT and SSG. You probably collected a tremendous amount of background material on board proceedings and succeeded because you were prepared before you reported before the board. That experience should serve as your guide in preparing for the centralized board. Achieving success in that proceeding requires that you be just as knowledgeable and well prepared.

Though they do not interview you, centralized board members, nonetheless, review and assess your character, physical traits, intellectual skills, and professional qualifications. Unlike unit boards, you do not have the opportunity to describe yourself, explain a discrepancy in your record, or demonstrate your knowledge of and proficiency at the business of being a NCO. Your record stands on its own merit. Let’s begin by reviewing the facts on the Centralized Enlisted Board process.

I. Understanding Centralized Enlisted Board Procedures

1. What kinds of things does a Centralized Enlisted Board select individuals for?
a. First, and of most importance, Centralized Enlisted Boards select NCOs for promotion to the top three enlisted ranks: Sergeant First Class (SFC), Master Sergeant (MSG), and Sergeant Major (SGM). They also select Sergeants Major (SGMs) for appointment to Command Sergeant Major (CSM).
b. Second, Centralized Enlisted Boards select NCOs for the ALC, SLC and the Sergeants Major Course (SMC).

c. Third, Centralized Enlisted Boards serve as a Standby Advisory Board (STAB) for NCOs who may be getting a re-look for the following reasons:

· Have been overlooked for promotion or school by a previous board
· Are being considered for removal from an existing promotion or schools list, or
· Are being considered for elimination from the service as result of being substandard performers under the Qualitative Management Program (QMP).

2. Who serves on a centralized board?

The board is composed of a general officer board president and Career Management Field (CMF) oriented panels. Each panel includes a Colonel (COL) as the panel chief and 5 senior NCOs, normally CSMs, as panel members. This means that an experienced and distinguished group of soldiers is assigned the important task of reviewing your record and deciding if you have the right stuff to advance.

3. What kind of information guides board deliberations?

a. Board members operate under established Enlisted Records and Evaluation Center (EREC) Board Operating Procedures. In addition, a Headquarters Department of the Army (HQDA) Memorandum of Instruction (MOI) issued for each specific board provides additional guidance to members. Taken together, these documents ensure that board members review files in a fair and consistent fashion. This consistency is imperative in order to ensure that every individual being considered is treated impartially and assessed in accordance with established criteria once voting begins.

b. Prior to reviewing individual records, board members receive detailed briefings and information from HQDA, Personnel Command (PERSCOM), EREC and each CMF proponent. The information they receive in these briefings is designed to assist them in selecting the best-qualified NCOs for promotion and advanced military schools. CMF proponents, for example, brief the board on types, variety, and levels of jobs the best candidate for promotion should have. Besides being armed with all that pertinent data, they also have at their disposal all relevant Army regulations and access to subject matter experts.

c. Bottom line: Board members are equipped with the background information required to select the most highly qualified candidates.

4. What official records does the Board review?
Board members review the following documents:

a. Official Military Personnel File (OMPF)
b. Hard copy official photograph
c. Any hard copy documents that have yet to be filed on individual OMPF
d. Personnel Qualification Record (PQR) DA Forms 2A and 2-1
e. Personnel Data Sheet (PDS): Job summary describing individual professional activities of the past few years, to include job titles, type of NCO Evaluation Reports (NCOER) received, and height and weight data. When viewed with other documents, the PDS allows board members to quickly determine whether an individual has experienced significant changes in height or weight, and
· Any individual correspondence provided directly to the board president.

5. What are the voting procedures for a centralized board?

a. Three panel members review and vote your record. The first panel member to vote your record will probably give it the closest scrutiny, highlighting significant positive and negative issues for the other panel members to consider. Items “highlighted” are identified on the basis of information obtained during pre-board briefings and from senior panel members representing your CMF, who recommend areas that should be considered by other board members.
b. Each member voting your record will give it a numerical score ranging between 6+ and 1-. This means a record receiving three 6+ would end up with the highest possible score of 18 points. A record receiving three ratings of 6 would get 17 points. Finally, a record getting a score of three 6- would end up with a score of 16 points.
c. Prior to casting their final votes, panel members engage in a series of practice votes in order to achieve consistency in their voting. As a result, it’s unlikely that there will be a wide swing in votes among panel members. If one voter awards your file a 6, another member will probably not give your record a 2. If your file earns 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 promoted.

II. Individual Preparation for Centralized Enlisted Boards

This background information on centralized enlisted board procedures reveals what you need to do to be successful.

1. Where do you start?

For starters, consider what the board members review: your individual records and photograph must be as near perfect as you can make them:

a. PQR. If your DA Form 2-1 looks like a chicken may have dipped its feet in ink and walked across your record, it’s time to get it retyped. Make a point of getting this done before your record goes before the board. Given sufficient lead-time, your Personnel Service Center will do this for you. However, if you wait until peak records review time – usually just before a board – your chances of getting it retyped diminish. Keep in mind, there is no rule that says you must wait until right before board time to review your record. If you encounter problems in getting the document corrected, volunteer to retype it yourself. It’s worth the effort. Board members will probably read a clean, neatly prepared record.
b. OMPF. Request a copy of your OMPF at least once a year. There is no excuse for not doing it. It is a simple process using a touch tone phone: call (703) 325-3732 or DSN 221-3732. Review your OMPF thoroughly. Ensure that none of the critical documents are missing. The most important are your NCOERs and your Academic Evaluation Reports. Make sure another person’s documents are not placed in your file by accident. This has happened on occasion.

c. NCOERs. Be active in monitoring your evaluation reports. This is something you must always do and not just for the last report before the board. Every promotion 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 vague compliments or puff bullets (“puff-bull”) to support excellence ratings. Insist that your report contain substantive bullet comments that spell out your accomplishments. Those detailed bullets and success blocks will carry you a lot farther than “puff-bull” – count on it!

d. Official Photo. The rules say take an official photograph once every five years or when the photograph no longer properly represents you. Can you think of any circumstance where you would want a promotion board to consider a photo over four years old presented in front of the board that is considering you for promotion? We can all 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 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? They’ll probably think you’re trying to hide a fat body in a 5 year-old photo. Bottom line: take a photo every year!

e. Uniform for the Official 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 many dry cleanings and will not look good in a color photo. Invest some money in a new uniform and have it properly tailored. 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 use a 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. Get a good military haircut. If you have a mustache make it picture perfect and legal – as it always should be. Don’t get a high and tight haircut the day before your photo if that’s not your normal hairstyle – the tan lines will give you away.

· 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. Keep those shoes clean, put edge dressing on the soles and heels, and use shoetrees when you’re not wearing them. While these steps may not be as important in enhancing your individual photo since the Army switched to the new photo format, they remain valuable.

· Last, have someone look you and your uniform over before getting a photograph.

· After you have received your photo, review it thoroughly. Once you are satisfied, have someone who is knowledgeable and whom you trust study it with a critical eye. Get your photo early enough to allow you to retake it if necessary.

f. Writing letters to the President of the Board. Should you write a letter to the President of the Board?
1) You should if any of the following applies:

· If you have a significant amount of time not covered by an evaluation report
· You’re not eligible for a complete-the-record report, and
· You have a notable accomplishment not yet posted to your record.
2) What should you say in 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 a few minutes to review your record spending all of his or her time on a 5-pager. Simply tell the President what you’ve done that’s significant but is not posted in your official record.

3) The kiss of death. Never do the following in a letter to the board:

· Try to justify past misconduct.
· Express grievances. Do not complain about fellow NCOs who have been promoted. Do not whine about how you were overlooked the last time. And don’t criticize your boss for giving you a less than satisfactory evaluation.
· Boast about your achievements.
· Attach extra documents.
· Forget to sign it.
2. How do you conduct a personal assessment of your record?

a. Study previous board results. There is another part to preparing for competition on centralized promotion boards that’s often overlooked – results of previous promotion boards. Get a copy of the last published promotion list that pertains to you and read it thoroughly. The general instructions contained in the MOI do not change much from year to year. But the information is useful in developing a long-term program for personal professional development. Along with every published promotion list is a copy of the board’s guidance and a statistical profile for all those selected. This is critical information that can help you prepare for your own board. A thorough analysis of the document offers insight on issues the board focused on and the statistical averages in key areas for the NCOs selected for promotion. A review of the most recent board results allows you to compare your accomplishments with peers in the same MOS who have successfully made the cut.

b. Understanding the board Memorandum of Instruction.

1) Review emphasis placed on such things as performance in special duty assignments like recruiting, drill sergeant, and inspector general.
2) Review the instructions the board received on identifying individuals who sought out and performed well in the tough jobs, such as first sergeant.

c. Understanding the statistical data:
1) Reading the statistical profile for selectees enhances understanding of where you stand in making yourself more competitive for your board. Begin by focusing on the first tough number: the selection rate for your specific military occupational specialty. If the select rate for your MOS is 20%, for example, then 20 of every 100 NCOs considered were selected. What does that mean for you? It means that 80 people didn’t make it and you have to make a tough self-assessment to determine for yourself if you are in the top 20% of your MOS.
2) See how much tougher it is to get promoted the second time you are considered than the first time.
3) Don’t discount such things as time-in-grade (TIG) statistics. If the average TIG for a select in your MOS is three years and you have five years TIG there is a message in there – you are probably behind the power curve.
d. Using the statistical data to prepare for the board.

1) Build a personal assessment score card based on the profile analysis derived from the previous board results. The score card will tell you how you compare to the last group selected in your MOS and how you are likely to stack up when it’s your turn.
2) Review your OMPF to determine where you currently stand with respect to your peers. For example, review how often you have been rated as exceeding the standard in a NCO professional development school – a rating reserved for the top 20% of each class.
3) Make a list of all the categories in the profile analysis. Beside each category record the average statistics for the NCO selected and your data. This will serve two purposes. First, it will highlight where you currently stand. Second, it will indicate areas in which you need to improve in order to be competitive.

4) Don’t fool yourself. Promotion is based on performance in your duty MOS; serving in the hard jobs and doing them well. Too many NCOs with college Masters Degrees have discovered this fact the hard way.

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