By: Peter Sessum
There are a lot of unknowns surrounding the disappearance, capture and finally the release of Bowe Bergdahl but one thing that isn’t in question is his rank. It is a minor issue but now that there are rumors that he has a promotion waiting for him I think it is worth addressing. If nothing else this will help civilians better understand why it is so wrong.
How promotions work
Advancements from E-1 – E-4 are considered automatic. They are determined by Time in Service (TIS) or Time in Grade (TIR). These “automatic” promotions must still be reviewed and approved by the Soldier’s Chain of Command (CoC). If a Solider is not performing or the CoC has reservations about that solider they can hold off on the advancement. I have seen this happen where a Solider had a profile for an injury and the First Sergeant wanted to make sure he wasn’t milking the profile and would be a decent troop. That Solider was given E-3 only a month or two behind his peers.
Most Soldiers enter the Army as an E-1 Private. There are a few exceptions. If someone has college credits, ROTC or Blue Falcon someone (get a friend to sign up with them) they can enter at a higher rank. E-1 is considered “recruit” rank because most Soldiers will meet the Time in Grade (TIG) requirement to be advancedd in training. Infantry, which Bergdahl was, has a short overall training time.
The TIG to be advanced from Recruit (E-1) to Private (E-2) is six months. After four months TIG and 12 months TIS a Soldier will be moved to E-3, Private First Class (PFC). After six months TIG as an E-3 and 24 months TIS a Soldier can be avanced to Specialist (E-4).
After Specialist the promotion system changes. There it has to do with how many slots the Army has at each rank and promotion points. A promotion packet is sent to the promotion board and there are criteria that must be made. There has to be a slot granted by Big Army and then a Soldier has to survive a promotion board of First Sergeants and headed by the Command Sergeant Major and have the promotion points to make rank. There are points awarded by the board, commander’s recommendation points, awards and military education. An enlisted Soldier with a college degree or some ROTC time can get points for civilian education. A solider also need and up to date PT test and weapons qualification.
The biggest hurdle is getting the recommendation from the unit. No matter how high speed a Soldier is his or her CoC still has to allow him or her to put in a promotion packet. A stellar Soldier might have the promotion points but if the commander doesn’t grant any that will send a message to the board that this Soldier doesn’t deserve to be promoted and that Soldier’s packet will not be recommended for promotion.
In the active duty system Soldiers must prove themselves everyday to be able to be considered to be put in for promotion to Sergeant. A board date can be taken away if the platoon sergeant doesn’t like that soldier. Promotions aren’t something that are just given away. A Soldier must prove that he or she is mature enough and is ready for the responsibility of leadership. Or at least that is how it is supposed to work.
How did he get promoted?
If Bergdahl’s status was officially moved to Prisoner of War (POW) his benefits and entitlements would be moved to the Secretary of the Treasury. This would take him outside of the Department of Defense (DoD) system. This explains how he got promoted. The regulations state:
“POW personnel continue to be considered for promotion along with their contemporaries. Policy provides for each missing or captured officer/enlisted member to be considered for promotion to the next higher grade when they are eligible. The eligibility for officers is based on the date of rank in their current grade. For enlisted members, eligibility is based on time in grade and time in service.”
Now that Bergdahl is back in the DoD system the next promotion should be stopped. Especially since a Solider can’t be promoted to E-6 without first attending the Warrior Leader Course. Bergdahl’s attitude and actions make him not a warrior and without a doubt he is not a leader.
Of course there is a loophole in the regulation that Bergdahl slipped though. When he left the DoD system, clearly his records did not make it to the treasury. If they did, he would not have been promoted because of one very specific word, “contemporaries.” The Soldiers that are the contemporaries of that dirtbag are no longer in the Army.
All reports prior to his deployment and desertion paints a picture of Bergdahl as an overly hardcore soldier with a crappy attitude because he thought that he would single handedly save the people of Afghanistan. While we will have to wait for the whole story to come out if he fits the definition of traitor, it can be determined that Bergdahl voluntarily walked off his fire base and therefore deserted his unit. AWOL means Absent Without Leave and that only counts when in garrison. On deployment it is desertion. If he gets a court-martial and is found guilty he should have the rank of Sergeant stripped and lose all that extra pay back dated to the time of his desertion. His captivity sucked enough and as long as he wasn’t turned by the Taliban and therefore a threat to the country, he should be discharged and not jailed.
It is an injustice that someone can do what Bergdahl did and get promoted past the men that died looking for him, past a real hero like Pat Tillman or be promoted to the same rank as Medal of Honor recipient Ty Carter. All of whom had to work for their rank. Bergdahl needs a trial not another undeserved promotion.
*Editor’s note: Corrections have been made after being reminded that the correct term for making rank for enlisted is “advanced” not “promoted.” A Soldier is promoted to NCO ranks. The changes were made in the post but the correcting comment has been retained so he can have the credit.