Letter of Recommendation (2016 Update)
I get this question periodically so I decided it was time to finally update my LOR post. As I said in my first post I was extremely lucky with my LOR because I didn’t have to lift a finger. Because this will not be the case for 99% of my Active Duty readers, here is my perspective on how you can best write your LOR for your commander.
In a perfect world your supervisor would ask you for some sort of supporting documentation (EPRs, decorations, etc) and he or she would draft the LOR for you. For all of you NCOs, SNCOs, or officers out there, this is what I would expect of you if I were your supervisor. Once your supervisor does his or her part it would be sent to your commander, and your commander would add in the secret code language which would tell the board what they want to hear (and how they want to hear it). Since we don’t live in a perfect world the applicant has to often draft the LOR him/herself. The good news is that it isn’t as hard as you may think it is (once you get the hang of it). Since I did a bullet summary of the requirements from the BOT guide in my first post, here is the actual guidance from the 1 Dec 2015 BOT Guide with new attachments. I could have missed something but this guidance doesn’t look like it has changed from when I applied to now.
In general I think the strongest LOR will be from someone who knows how to speak to a bunch of O-6’s on the panel. Officers, especially senior officers have a secret language they use to speak to each other. If the person who endorses or authors your LOR knows this language, it will greatly help you with your goal of being accepted. The ideal author who would meet this criteria is an O-5 or above with command experience and solid experience leading people. Secondly (and as part of this secret language), keep the LOR brief. Say what needs to be said but don’t give too many details. Instead of saying the applicant has this or that characteristic, simply tell a story for how the applicant embodied this characteristic. Think of the characteristics which the board would be most concerned about (core values, compassion for people, true not surface level involvement in the community.)
A8.2. Letter of Recommendation (LOR) (SEE SAMPLE BELOW) – Letter must be within applicant’s chain-of-command, no higher than the senior rater (normally the wing commander). Letter cannot be more than 180 days old from board convening date. Only one LOR is allowed. The LOR should be addressed to the Air Force Officer Selection Board. A LOR adds emphasis to the “whole person” concept. The LOR tells board members more about the individual’s character and potential for commissioning. It is recommended that the unit commander not write the LOR, since he/she already performed the interview. The best person to write an LOR is one who has a working knowledge of the applicant; attesting to applicant’s character, morals, standards, and potential. Individuals writing an LOR should state their relationship to the applicant and use specific examples they have observed leadership, moral character, talents, accomplishments, etc. Don’t use a senior officer if he/she doesn’t personally know applicant (it will reflect in overall rating). Applicants are not allowed to obtain an additional endorsement on the letter of recommendation.Note: (Refer to AFI 36-2406, 1 Jul 2000, Attachment 1, Section “Terms”, Page 144, Senior Rater (Officer) or contact MPF to determine who the organization’s senior rater is when not assigned to a wing).
Again, I personally recommend you don’t completely abide by the part about “working knowledge of the applicant.” I think having a Wing/CC endorsement adds an amount of weight and credibility that cannot and should not be ignored. If you have the opportunity to get a Wing/CC endorsement on your LOR, DO IT. Just keep in mind the strongest LOR with wing endorsement will be one with a personal touch to it.
I only did a brief search, but I didn’t really find any LORs which I would consider “strong.” If anyone finds something which may meet this criteria, please send them to me and I will add them as examples below.
I found some LORs on airforcewriter and I will be honest, I think a lot of them are weak (at least for an OTS board). However, I think a few are better than the others so I will copy/paste them below and provide my input.
Click here for the source link for the below LORs.
Letter of Recommendation: James S. Sutterlin
17 North Chatsworth Ave. Apt. 6KL
Larchmont, NY 10538
Telephone and Fax 914 834 3902
May 8, 2015
To Whom it May Concern,
I am a retired Foreign Service Officer (Inspector General of the Foreign Service), a retired senior member of the United Nations Secretariat, and Distinguished Fellow and Instructor at Yale University. I am writing this memorandum to recommend Forrest Weaver for admission to the United States Air Force. Because of my need for various types of assistance since my retirement, I engaged the services of Mr. Weaver to help me, on the recommendation of one of his professors at the graduate school of the City University of New York in which he is now enrolled. Forrest Weaver has now been working for me for almost one year. His tasks are manifold, including maintenance of my financial records, payment of my obligations, summarizing for me incoming correspondence, including scholarly and literary works, and assisting me in the academic and literary writing that I undertake. To perform these functions Mr. Weaver requires a broad education and a keen intelligence.
Forrest Weaver meets all of the requirements listed above. His educational background covers both scientific and humanistic criteria. He is quick in grasping the sense of what is needed, whether it be in the maintenance of a bank account or the correction of a literary composition. He is always willing to learn if new knowledge is needed in completing his work. He has the initiative and the independence of mind to suggest corrections or improvements in works in progress when this may be in order. In summary, I have come to value his assistance highly as a young man of great promise in whatever career he may choose.
Mr. Weaver has spoken to me about various career options that he has considered and has told me of his decision to apply for admission to the United States Air Force. He told me that he has given this extensive thought, taking into account, among other things, that there is some history in his family of service in the Air Force. I believe that he will make a loyal, skillful and nimble Air Force officer. He has shown, in my opinion, all the necessary attributes (I’m familiar with the scores of the tests he has taken). I can recommend Forrest Weaver, without reservation, for acceptance and service in the United States Air Force.
James S. Sutterlin
United States Foreign Service Officer (Retired)
Senior Assistant and Speechwriter for the United Nations Secretary General
Distinguished Fellow and Instructor, Yale University
Adjunct Professor of Political Science, Long Island University
21 Jul 2009
MEMO FOR United States Air Force Academy Admissions Office
FROM: 6th CS/SCM
SUBJECT: Letter of recommendation for SSgt Anthony Sims
To whom it may concern,
Staff Sergeant Anthony Sims has my highest recommendation for acceptance into the United States Air Force Academy. As a Master Sergeant with over 22 years in the United States Air Force and a vested interest in the future of our military, it is with the utmost care and sincerity that I recommend prospective leaders. Sergeant Sims’ character and personnel records exceed my standard for the level of performance and behavior that I expect from our best young Airmen.
As Sergeant Sims’ immediate supervisor, I have spent a great deal of time with him and can honestly say that he is positive, earnest, and professional at all times. He is an upright Non-commissioned Officer of high character, as evidenced by his total devotion to duty and his efforts to further his education. Not satisfied with merely doing his job, on his own initiative, he has continued to advance his education. He continuously seeks self improvement and accepts greater responsibility with humility. Sergeant Sims is the type of Airman that needs little or no supervision to get the job done. He is the epitome of the Air Force NCO and possesses enormous potential to be a great leader as an Air Force Officer. He maintains a rigorous physical training program that keeps him in top condition. His personnel record confirms what I have observed and you will see that this young man has continuously demonstrated that he has what it takes to be a sterling addition to the United States Air Force Officer Corps.
Sergeant Sims is not only a disciplined professional. He is a team player and gets along well with his team mates. His cheerfulness and consideration for others have made him an indispensable part of our unit. His fellow Airmen are drawn to him by his personality and sincere concern for others. I hope you will give this young man the opportunity to continue to excel both at the United States Air Force Academy and as a future Air Force Officer.
MSgt Wayne P. Pinckney, USAF
NCOIC, Civil Engineering, AC DIV
P1: I also think this LOR in general is very bland and weak. I like that the first paragraph is short and sweet, but it needs to have more powerful language. Example 1 had credibility but no stratification, this example leaves credibility at “over 22 years.” How many people did he lead over the 22 years? In what leadership positions did this MSgt serve?
P2: There is a personal touch to this paragraph, but the language is telling the board he is good at being an NCO. It is not really addressing the potential for officership for the applicant. Instead of saying “he has high character,” provide an example for how you learned this about the candidate. It would be a much more powerful statement. Instead of saying he has potential, tell the board an example showing this potential. I think this paragraph is best used by providing a few examples of how the applicant is the epitome of the whole person concept.
P3: This is a weak closing paragraph. Instead of rehashing the character of the applicant, talk about how it is in the best interest of the Air Force if the applicant became an officer. Explain how the applicant’s core values make him a true example that others want to follow. Explain how this LOR is the best one you have ever seen in all of your many years of leadership.