Sharpening Your Board IQ: Advice for Staff Noncommissioned Officers, Reporting Seniors, and Reviewing Officers (2024)

QUANTICO, Va.—With the conclusion of the E-8 and E-9 boards in November, the gunnery sergeant board in January, and the upcoming staff sergeant board—the second in eight months—in April, it is important for Marines, applicants for promotion and reporting seniors and reviewing officers alike, to remind themselves of the process it takes to get oneself or one’s Marine promoted. This includes what Marines should do to stand out for promotion and what those writing the Marine’s fitness reports can do to communicate the value of their Marine and help to get them promoted.

Promotion boards have variations in composition. Additionally, board members typically have differing preferences.

“Every board has some nuances to it, but the concentrated effort is the same on every board,” said Maj. Daniel Moore, head of enlisted promotions with Manpower Management Promotions Branch.

Moore outlined the sequence in which a board considers applicants. First and foremost, the board look at the relative values of the RS and RO, to determine the weight that the values on the FitRep carry, and whether the RS and RO’s comments reflect those values. Next, the Marine’s official military personnel file is evaluated, specifically looking for adversity or stand-out items that immediately put the Marine behind or ahead of the rest of the applicants. Then, they will evaluate training data—physical fitness test (PFT), combat fitness test, and shooting scores, as well as Marine Corps martial arts program belts. Finally, they will evaluate outside education, specifically looking for what the Marine does to go above and beyond their minimum requirements.

Master Gunnery Sgt. Eric A. Arriaga, a board member for the fiscal year 2022 (FY22) staff sergeant selection board, talked about the difficult part of the process. Arriaga stated that top performers are easy to promote and those with adverse material are easy to weed out. However, most Marines are somewhere in the middle.

“It’s a big chunk—that’s the hard part to decipher,” said Arriaga. “That’s where the preferences of each individual board member come into play.”

For Marines applying for promotion, Moore placed special emphasis on writing letters to the board. Letters to the board are letters written by the Marine him or herself, directly to the president of the board, explaining anything that may need context to explain. An example would be a letter explaining a missing PFT or CFT score due to an injury.

“Regardless of anything you hear out in the fleet, they are actually highly encouraged,” said Moore. “They do not need to include the full detail of every billet you’ve had, because most of that the board can already see. Remember that the board has full access to your official military record. You really just need to explain the items that, if somebody was looking at your record and had never met you, would not be apparent.”

For the RS and RO, rather than listing billet accomplishments, Section I and K comments should emphasize the potential for leadership that the Marine has for future billets. The reason for this is twofold. Primarily, the purpose of a promotion is for the Marine to take on a higher leadership role than he or she currently fills. So, regardless of how a Marine fulfills their current responsibilities, it is more important that they show potential for greater leadership. Second, the diversity of military occupational specialties and experiences on a board assists in deciphering the value of specific accomplishments. Further, it is important for RSs and ROs to remember that the audience of a fitness report is the board, and that accomplishments highlighted in Sections I and K should demonstrate how the Marine is fit for the next billet. Moore explained that it is important for the RS to look at the projected career road map of the MRO and explain specifically why the MRO would perform well in the next billet or show that the Marine has demonstrated leadership above and beyond their current grade.

There have been two recent developments to the enlisted promotion system that are intended to improve the lives of Marines. The first is an updated boards schedule. The dates of the FY24 staff sergeant board and reserve staff noncommissioned officer board were flipped, putting the staff sergeant board in April and the reserve SNCO board in July. This allows for results for staff sergeant promotions to be released before the summer order cycle, allowing monitors and Marines to plan for the Marines and their families further ahead of time.

The second development was sequenced professional military education, which was implemented on the previous staff sergeant board in FY23. Sequenced PME enabled Marines who were not PME complete to be selected for promotion, if they completed their PME by the time they were promoted. This development allowed the Marine Corps to begin closing the gap between staff sergeant positions available and the number of applicants who are eligible due to PME status.

Sharpening Your Board IQ: Advice for Staff Noncommissioned Officers, Reporting Seniors, and Reviewing Officers (2024)
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