April 2, 2011:
After a decade of war, the U.S. Army has recognized the value of combat experience in promoting junior NCOs. Thus the promotion system is being changed to deemphasize some online professional development courses, and put more weight on how much time candidates have spent in combat, and any recognition these troops have received for extraordinary performance under fire. In addition, more weight will be given to military skills. Less emphasis is put on the commander's recommendation, as this was found to be almost always automatic, because company commanders did not know the candidates well enough to give an accurate assessment.
These changes are actually part of a trend that began before September 11, 2001. Back in 2000, the army changed the promotion process to assign more points (out of 800, which come from several sources) to actual accomplishments by the candidates. This included ranger and Special Forces training courses, as well as more weight to physical fitness and weapons proficiency, as well as college courses (which troops take at night, at army expense.) Combat experience was not a big factor back then, but that all changed after September 11, 2001.