As an officer there is more to promotion than just rank. Regardless of who you are there is an unwritten and sometimes unknown hierarchy that you will fall into within your peer group. This is more clearly defined in OTS or tech school because everyone knows there will be a DG at the end of the course, but how does this look in the operational Air Force? If you are one of eight vehicle operators, are you the best one or middle of the pack? Out of all of the Lieutenants in your squadron, does the commander know your name? I should remind you all that I am a 13S so I am sure this looks very different in my career field vs. others.
In my career field or in my unit there are general things people who are considered successful have done, and some people may say that a successful person would need to do this or that. Some examples could be if someone said you have to be a space operator, then mission planner, then flight commander, the mission commander, or perhaps someone said you have to be an exec or instructor at some point in your career before you can get the best job. Graduating from weapons school is another common thing which people associate with success. I will do a later post specifically on weapons school.
The Key to Success
So how do you navigate through your career with this subtle pressure or within this unknown hierarchy of success? The key to success is this: none of it matters. You need to know how it works, but you don’t need to play games to get to where you think you need to be. The more you worry about what you did and whether or not you are on the right path, the farther you get from focusing on your people and your mission. It may seem counter-intuitive, but focusing solely on how you can better accomplish your mission and fulfilling the needs of your people will give you the right perspective or visibility, and success will in turn find you, not the other way around.
Look at it this way. You are one of 20 vehicle operators at your unit and you are worried because it is hard to stand out. Instead of trying work yourself into a higher position or becoming best friends with the flight commander of mission planning, become the best vehicle operator you can be. Learn every aspect of your job and learn from your mistakes. Instead of just following the TO, learn why each step in the TO exists, then start thinking about how it could be improved. Ask the hard questions like ‘why do we do this’ and seek the regulatory requirements which drove the action.
Understanding How it Works
One of the random things which didn’t make very much sense to me both prior to commissioning and during the process was how the officer promotion system works. I have been around the enlisted system for years so understanding acronyms like ‘WAPS’ is second nature to me, but the officer side is more cryptic. There are a few different reasons for this. First and foremost, officers don’t like to talk about promotions. One of the worst things you can be tagged as if you are an officer is being a ‘careerist.’ The perception is that a careerist officer only does things to benefit his or her own career, commonly at the expense of others. While this may or may not be true, once you are tagged with this perception it can be hard to disassociate yourself with it. And as you will probably hear time and time again, perception is everything. Secondly, due to the competitive nature of the officer corps it seems like officers are generally expected to figure out a lot of this stuff on their own. This is one of the sometimes brutal facts about the officer corps. In order to succeed you will need to know how to find the sources to the information you will need, and use them to your benefit. The last thing you want is to find a board was pushed forward and a decoration wasn’t included in your board package because you were lazy and didn’t update it.
|Image source: http://airforcelive.dodlive.mil/files/2014/11/Capture.jpg|
- Second Lieutenant – This is the rank you will receive upon commissioning. The year you commission will be your ‘year group.’
- First Lieutenant – Two years after you pin on 2d Lt, you will pin on 1st Lt. There may be some variations for this but this is the general rule.
- Captain – Two years after you pin on 1st Lt, you will pin on Capt. Get used to being a Capt, you will be one for a while.
- Major – This is where things start to get interesting. I think technically you are boarded for Capt but it is essentially automatic for everyone. Major is the first rank which is actually boarded. The promotion rate varies, but I think in recent years it has been around 65%. From what I gather as long as you are good at your job you will likely make Major. It sounds like the ones who don’t make Major are the ones who are terrible officers who aren’t even really good at their job, let alone leading or inspiring Airmen.
- On the non-rated side officers are currently scheduled to be boarded for Major nine years after their year commissioned. For example, since I am a 2015 I will be boarded for Major “IPZ” in 2024. The actual pin on date if selected will be later, in 2025. I’ll explain IPZ at the end.
- Lieutenant Colonel – Since I am a 2015, the current schedule states I will be boarded for Lt Col in 2027 (2 BPZ), 2028 (1 BPZ), and 2029 (IPZ). Squadron command positions are also boarded (separately I think) and it happens to align with after you would pin on Lt Col. For a 2015 it would be 2030 – 2033 (1st – 4th look).
- Colonel – As a 2015 I will be boarded for Col in 2033 (2 BPZ), 2034 (1 BPZ) and 2035 (IPZ).
- 2d Lt – 2015
- 1st Lt – 2017
- Capt – 2019
- Maj – 2024 (pin on later)
- Lt Col – 2027 (pin on later)
- Col – 2033 (pin on later)
- IPZ – In-the-promotion zone. The general idea is that this is the generic on-time year because of course you wouldn’t promote late, just on time.
- BPZ – Below-the-promotion zone. This means that you are being boarded to promote below the promotion zone, whether it be 2 BPZ or 1 BPZ.
- APZ – Above-the-promotion zone. This isn’t in the current timing list but it would mean that you are past or above the promotion zone.