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Changes to retention control points providing increased promotion opportunity for mid-grade Soldiers

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (May 31, 2016) -- WASHINGTON (Army News Service) -- Sergeants first class seeking another stripe saw increased opportunity during the fiscal year 2016 master sergeant promotion board, as the selection rate jumped 35 percent, from 8.4 in FY15, to 11.8 in FY16.

Those increased opportunities to serve come as a result of projected openings in the master sergeant ranks that will come as a result of changes to retention control points for sergeants first class, master sergeants and sergeants major, that were announced, May 26, in Army Directive 2016-19.

According Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey, the changes to RCPs are part of an effort to right-size the Army for the current mission, reduce the need for forced separations, and create increased opportunities for promotion.

Similar increases in selection rate to sergeant first class are also expected during the 2016 board. Last year's board selected about 25.4 percent of the staff sergeants considered.

Beginning Oct. 1, some senior enlisted Soldiers will find they have a new "expiration, term of service," or ETS, as a result of changes to their retention control points.

Those changes roll back RCPs for sergeants first class and above who are in the Regular Army, or who are serving under the Active Guard Reserve program. The changes will shorten RCPs by two to three years, and will help reduce the total size of the Army, in keeping with congressional mandates to do so; shape the NCO promotion system and NCO Corps; and help ensure upward mobility for mid-grade NCOs.

An RCP indicates the number of years of time in service a Soldier may not exceed for the grade they serve in. For instance, the RCP for a sergeant is 14 years. Sergeants must either leave the Army at 14 years, or get promoted to staff sergeant. The RCP for staff sergeants is 20 years. At 20 years, a staff sergeant must either retire, or get promoted to sergeant first class in order to continue to serve.

For sergeants first class, including those who are promotable, their RCP will change from 26 to 24 years. For first sergeants and master sergeants, their RCP will be reduced from 29 to 26 years. For first sergeants and master sergeants who are promotable (upon graduation from United States Army Sergeants Major Academy), their RCP will drop from 32 to 30 years. And finally, for command sergeants major and sergeants major, their RCP will also drop from 32 to 30 years.

The changes to RCPs will be applied incrementally to those affected over the course of three years, ensuring every Soldier affected will have at least a year's notice to plan with their family for their retirement. The first retirements due to the RCP changes will start to take place in October 2017. Most Soldiers will have well over a year to prepare.

Additionally, every Soldier affected is already retirement-eligible, has more than 20 years of service under the belt, and will be able to take advantage of a full military retirement.

"This is the best course of action to right-size the Army with regards to a readiness perspective for the future," said Dailey. "It's the right thing to do. This is not a small decision. It was eight months of running numbers, projections and outcomes."

It's expected that approximately 3,000 NCOs will leave the Army earlier than anticipated due to the RCP changes, said Sgt. Maj. LeeAnn M. Conner, Senior Army Career Counselor.

GROWING, SHRINKING, UPWARD MOBILITY

Dailey said, back in 2007 the Army needed to grow in size in order to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We were at war, and the Army needed to get bigger, quick, and build more brigades and battalions," he said.

The Army used recruiting and retention tools to help grow the Army. Another tool they used was to increase the RCPs for senior enlisted personnel.

Now that the conflicts in the Middle East have drawn down significantly, and the Army has been told to shrink its force size, the Army is reversing the tools it used almost a decade ago to grow in size, Dailey said.

"Now we are in the inverse," he said. "We were directed to make the Army smaller, historically consistent with every post-war era."

Dailey said the Army is "focused on doing a talent-based drawdown." The changes to RCPs are part of that drawdown.

"We wanted to keep those with the benefits of the wartime experience they gained for the last 10 to 12 years of war, and we wanted to make sure we transitioned our Soldiers appropriately," he said. The Army also wants to "maintain the skills we needed in an Army that was going to get smaller, and doing it appropriately in regards to mitigating the risk against the Soldier, the family and readiness."

What Dailey said the Army hopes to achieve by putting the RCPs for senior enlisted back to where they were in 2006-2008, is to maintain upward mobility for Soldiers in the middle NCO ranks.

"You have got to create upward mobility," he said of opportunities for mid-grade NCOs. "These are highly-qualified, very motivated individuals, they are aggressive seekers of further responsibility. That's exactly what we trained them to be. If you don't provide that opportunity, there is a risk you could lose talent."

Dailey said Army number crunching reveals that these most recent changes to RCPs will result in increased opportunities for mid-level NCOs.

NO CLIFF

The new RCPs will require as many as 3,000 NCOs to leave the Army earlier than they expected, but they will not all leave at the same time. Instead, the Army will stagger the adjustment of their RCPs over a period of about three years. All of those NCOs will be able to retire with at least 20 years of service, but most will retire with more than that, Conner said.

While for many NCOs, a new ETS will be a surprise for them, every Soldier affected will have more than a year to plan their retirement. For instance, for sergeants first class and promotable sergeants first class, the implementation of RCPs will be staggered in this fashion:

-- Beginning Oct. 1, 2016, for SFC and SFC(P) who enlisted Oct. 1, 1992 or earlier, their RCP will be reset to 26 years.

-- Beginning Oct 1, 2016, for SFC and SFC(P) who enlisted between Oct. 2,1992 and Apr. 1, 1994, their RCP will be reset to 25 years.

-- Beginning Oct 1, 2016, for SFC and SFC(P) who enlisted Apr. 2,1994 and after, their RCP will be reset to 24 years.

A similar staggering of RCP implementation will happen for master sergeants, command sergeants major and sergeants major so that they too will have plenty of time to plan their retirements.

NOMINATIVE POSITIONS, EXCEPTIONS

For the senior-most NCOs in the Army, the sergeants major, their RCPs will be moved from 32 years down to 30. But those sergeants major will be offered the opportunity to serve longer -- provided they are at Headquarters Department of the Army or Army command level, in a nominative position, and are rated by a general officer, member of the senior executive service, or equivalent.

A sergeant major who is serving as the command sergeant major at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy, for instance, or as executive officer to the Sergeant Major of the Army, will also be authorized to serve beyond 30 years.

But once they leave those positions, they will need to go to similar jobs if they want to continue to serve beyond 30 years.

"If a sergeant major is past 30, they have to keep competing for a nominative positon," Conner said. "If they are not selected for another one of those positons, it's time for them to retire. It fits the Army's promotion modeling system."

Other NCOs will also get exceptions to the new RCP policy as well, based on if their command requests an exception to policy, and if the request meets the needs of the Army.

"We expect to approve some justified exceptions to policy in the first three years," Conner said. "We will publish a message that addresses exceptions for reasons such as assignment service obligations and promotions service obligations. For example, if a sergeant first class is on assignment to Germany for a three-year tour, with this change that Soldier may only be able to go for two years and some change. Human Resources Command will have to decide if they want to give an exception to policy for the assignment, an exception of policy for the RCP, or delete the assignment."