|Military Commissioned Officer Promotions|
|Promotion Times and Promotion Rates for Promotions to O-2 through O-6|
The legal basis for commissioned officer promotions is contained in Title 10, United States Code (USC). This law prescribes strength and grade authorizations, promotion list components, promotion procedures, and separation procedures resulting from non-selection. The statutory requirements of Title 10 USC have been promulgated through regulatory, directive, and policy means in the establishment and administration of the promotion system.
Changes in authorizations, losses and promotions to the next higher grade create fluctuations in both the time in service (TIS) and time in grade (TIG) for each of the military services. However, DOD requires that promotion opportunities for commissioned officers be (approximately) the same for all of the services, when possible, within constraints of available promotion positions.
The below chart is derived from DOD Instruction 1320.13. It shows the point where commissioned officers (in any of the services) can expect to be promoted (assuming they are selected for promotion), based upon their time-in-service. Minimum time-in-grade for promotion is established by federal law (10 U.S.C.) and is also shown in the chart below.
The above chart shows promotion time-in-service flow and promotion opportunity rates for "in the zone" promotion.
Commissioned officers are recommended for promotion by their commanders, and are selected by centralize (service-wide) promotion boards, who make promotion determinations based upon the officers' promotion records.
There are basically three promotion opportunities: Below-the-Zone, In-the-Zone, and Above-the-Zone. Below-the-Zone only applies for promotion to the rank of O-4 to O-6. One year before they would be eligible for In-the-Zone consideration, up to 10 percent of those recommended can be promoted Below-the-Zone.
Most promotions occur In-the-Zone. Those not selected In-the-Zone have one more chance, a year later -- Above-the-Zone (the selection rate for Above-the-Zone is *extremely small* -- around 3 percent). Those "passed over" Above-the-Zone must separate or retire (if eligible for retirement).
The two most significant factors in an officer's promotion records are inarguably their fitness report(s) and level of responsibility in their current and past assignments. Because of this, many people consider the officer promotion system to be very "political," in nature. A "blah" fitness report can result in being "passed over." Lack of current or previous assignments that had significant degrees of responsibility can also result in not being selected.
Once selected for promotion by the promotion board, not all officers are promoted at the same time. Instead, officers are assigned a "line number." Each month, the service releases the line numbers of officers to be promoted during the month. This ensures a smooth promotion flow throughout the year following the promotion board.
Line numbers are determined using the following criteria:
Reserve vs. Regular Officers
Many folks are confused about the differences between a "Reserve Officer" and a "Regular Officer." Being a Reserve Officer does not mean the officer is serving in the Reserves. In the "old days," graduates of the service academies were commissioned as Regular Officers, while those commissioned under ROTC or Officer Candidate School (called Officer Training School in the Air Force), were commissioned as Reserve Officers, who then "competed" later during their careers to be appointed as Regular Officers.
Being a Regular officer means a better chance of being promoted, protects against RIFs (reduction in force), and allows an officer to serve longer.
These days, all officers (including Academy graduates) are initially commissioned as Reserve Officers, and compete among themselves for appointment to regular officer at the time they are considered for promotion to major (O-4). Major-selects who also win appointment to Regular status receive the advantages of being a Regular Officer. This means:
By law, Regular Officers promoted to lieutenant colonel (O-5) may serve for 28 active commissioned years, while those promoted to colonel (O-6) may stay for 30 active commissioned years-unless earlier retired by other provisions of law. By policy, Reserve Officers are limited to 20-years of military service; this may be extended as needed to meet specific service requirements.
Regular Officers may not be involuntarily released from active duty because of a reduction in the size of the officer force. Reserve Officers however, serve at the discretion of the Secretary of the service and may be involuntarily released at any time if the manning ceiling warrants.
Because of Regular Officers' greater tenure, they have some advantage over Reserve Officers. The military must obtain a return on a training investment and; therefore, requires officers to serve a certain period of time after the training is completed. Reserve Officers who have limited retainability may not be able to complete the required period of service. Thus, Reserve Officers may be ineligible for training, whereas, Regular Officers with the prospect of greater tenure are eligible.
Added Note: As part of the 2005 Military Authorization Act, Congress has mandated that all commissioned officers on active duty be given a "regular" commission. Officers commissioned in the Reserves will continue to receive a "reserve" commission. The services are now in the process of implementing this new law.
General Officer Promotions
You can get more "political" than promotions to general officer (also known as "Flag Officer"). General Officers (Flag Officers) are those in the paygrades of O-7 through O-10. Fewer than one percent of career officers will ever be promoted to Flag Rank.
General officers are nominated for promotion by the President of the United States, and confirmed by the Senate. You can't get more "political" than that. The services hold in-service promotion boards to recommend officers for general officer promotion to the President. When vacancies occur (a general officer gets promoted or retires), the President nominates officers to be promoted from these lists (with advice from the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of the applicable service, and the Service Chief of Staff/Commandant).
Like the other commissioned officer ranks, Congress limits the number of General Officers that can serve on active duty.
To be promoted to O-7, an officer must first complete a full tour in a Joint-Duty-Assignment (this is an assignment to a unit that is comprised of members from two or more of the services). This requirement can be waived, in some instances (10 USC, Sec 619a).
The mandatory retirement age for all general officers is 62 (this can be deferred to age 64 in some cases). Under the law (10 USC, Sec 635), an officer who has been promoted to O-7, but is not on the recommended list to O-8, must retire five years after promotion to O-7, or 30 years of active duty service, whichever is later.
An O-8 must retire five years after being promoted to O-8, or 35 years of service, whichever is greater (10 USC, Sec 636).
The Secretary of the Service Concerned (ie, Secretary of the Army, Secretary of the Navy, Secretary of the Air Force) or the President of the United States, can defer the above mandatory retirements, up until the time that the officer reaches the age of 62 (10 USC, Sec 637).