News: Sergeants major get promoted, too
Story by Sgt. Christopher Zahn
QUANTICO, Va. - The ranks of sergeant major and master gunnery sergeant are the highest ranks an enlisted Marine can attain. Once a Marine gets to that level of the pay charts, they can’t get promoted again. Or at least they can’t attain a higher pay grade.
They can get promoted to different billets, though. For example, a sergeant major serves as the senior enlisted advisor to the commanding officer. The level of command dictates the billet. A sergeant major in a battalion commanded by a lieutenant colonel is outranked by a sergeant major in a regiment commanded by a colonel.
At the top of the scale are the sergeants major who work for general officers, Marine Expeditionary Units and the base sergeant major for Quantico.
The Corps determines which sergeants major get those prestigious billets through a process called “slating.”
“It’s a stepping-stone process,” said Sgt. Maj. Laura Brown, the base sergeant major. “You already know when you get selected for sergeant major, you start at a battalion or squadron, then you move to a group or regiment level, and eventually you make your way up to a base. Then you start working for generals.”
When a vacancy is scheduled to open in one of those billets, there will be a Marine Administrative Message released that has the requirements for that billet, per All Marine Message 057/03.
Some of those requirements are typically a set date of rank for eligibility, 24-36 months of time in service remaining, compliance with height and weight standards and have passed the most recent physical fitness test and combat fitness test. For some commands, like Marine Forces Pacific, there is also a requirement to occupy designated housing.
After the billets that are open and the requirements have been published, all sergeants major who meet the criteria can submit their name for consideration.
The Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps will then convene a sergeants major slating board to consider all eligible Marines who submitted for that billet. The board consists of the sergeants major of Marine Forces Command, Marine Forces Pacific, Marine Forces Reserve, the three Marine Expeditionary Forces (I MEF/II MEF/IIIMEF), Marine Corps Combat Development Command, and the personnel management division.
The board examines every package, reviews that Marine’s background, their fitness reports, their relationship with their current commander and their personality.
“That’s definitely one of the things we look at,” said Sgt. Maj. Dennis Reed, the sergeant major for MCCDC. “Does the person have the personality for the position we are putting them in and can they adapt?”
Every billet has different needs from their sergeant major that determines a good fit. While a senior enlisted advisor is expected to understand all three components of the Marine Air Ground Task Force, a good fit for a Marine Aircraft Wing billet would be a Marine with a aviation background, instead of one with a infantry background.
Quantico is unique in that it is a base billet that it goes through the slating process, but the sergeant major doesn’t work for a general officer. The high profile of the base and the proximity to the National Capitol Region means the Marine picked to serve at the “Crossroads of the Corps” must be handpicked.
“What was dynamic for me was that I got selected from my peers,” Brown said. “They selected me to come to this base and, for me, that meant they recognized my talents.”
Brown, as the base sergeant major, has different duties and responsibilities than Reed, which was something that the board considered before slating her to the position.
“Someone equated it to being the mayor of a small city,” Brown said. “And that’s true, you have to get out of your office, you have to make relationships. I knew that was going to be a part of being a base sergeant major as opposed to being a [Marine Aircraft Group] sergeant major.”
“She has an awesome background,” added Reed, who is a voting member of the board. “She has the military and civilian education needed, experience with wing units, base units and the logistics element. More importantly, she has the diplomatic ability, poise and experience to deal with civilians.”
When the board votes to decide who gets slated where, it is done with an open vote observed by other sergeants major who are nonvoting members. This is to ensure that the process is fair and everyone in the room understands why that particular sergeant major was picked.
“There are no secret ballots, no secret deals,” Reed said. “If you can’t sit in front of your peers and articulate why you’re voting that way, then you don’t belong at the table. This is the big boys table where we make the heavy decisions.”
Ultimately, the selection process holds true to the leadership principles that apply to all Marines, no matter the rank.
“We are trying to develop and steer Marines to their greatest potential and extend them to the maximum they can,” Reed said.
“That goes for lance corporals, sergeants and staff noncommissioned officers.”