If you are particularly interested in this post, I’m sorry. You or someone you care about probably failed to promote. In reality, nowadays it is normal and expected to fail to promote to O5 and O6, so you have company. Here are my suggestions for those that fail to promote.
Try to Figure Out Why You Didn’t Promote
First, try to figure out why you didn’t promote. Because the promotion board members are not allowed to speak about your board, you’ll never actually find out why you failed to promote, but you can usually take a pretty educated guess if you talk to the right people.
If any of these things happened to you, they are likely a main reason you didn’t promote:
- Any PFA/BCA failures.
- Legal issues, such as a DUI or any other legal trouble.
- Failure to become board certified.
There are other things that could happen to you that make it difficult but not impossible to promote. They include:
- You have not been operational or deployed at all, or you have done so much less than your peers.
- Having non-observed (NOB) fitreps before the board, such as those in full-time outservice training.
- Spending too much time in the fleet as a GMO, Flight Surgeon, or UMO. This is mostly because it causes you to come into zone for O5 while you are still in GME, and is more of a problem if your residency is long.
- Never getting a competitive early promote (EP) fitrep. Many officers who fail to select have never had a competitive EP fitrep in their current rank. This can be because they were stationed places without competitive groups and they get 1/1 fitreps, or it can be because they were in a competitive group and did not break out and get an EP. To me this is the #1 ingredient to promote…competitive EP fitreps. If you don’t have them, you are really up against it unless you are in a senior operational position that carries a lot of weight.
- Receiving potentially adverse fitreps. This most commonly happens when you are at an operational command and your reporting senior is not someone who is used to ranking Medical Corps officers, although it could happen for other reasons (like your reporting senior felt you deserved this type of fitrep). The most common situation would be if there is a competitive group of 2 officers but both are given must promote (MP) fitreps instead of 1 getting an EP and the other the MP. When both get an MP, it reflects poorly on both officers unless the reason for this is CLEARLY explained in the fitrep narrative, which it often is not. The other thing that happens is that a reporting senior gives you a 1/1 MP instead of a 1/1 EP. If you are ever getting a 1/1 fitrep, make sure you get an EP. You should consider getting a 1/1 MP an adverse fitrep. If there is no way around this, often because the reporting senior has a policy that they don’t give newly promoted officers an EP, make sure that this policy is clear in the fitrep narrative.
- Having a declining fitrep. Mostly this happens when you go from getting an EP to an MP on your fitrep under the same reporting senior. If it is because you changed competitive groups, like you went from being a resident to a staff physician, that is understandable and not a negative. If you didn’t change competitive groups, though, make sure the reason you declined is explained.
- Making it obvious to the promotion board that you didn’t update your record. The most obvious ways a promotion board will know you didn’t update your record is if your Officer Summary Record (OSR) is missing degrees that you obviously have (like your MD or DO) or if many of the sections of your OSR are either completely blank or required updating by the board recorders. Remember that although promotion board recorders will correct your record for you, anything they do and any corrections they make are annotated to the board. While a few corrections are OK, you don’t want a blank record that the recorders had to fill in. It demonstrates that you didn’t update your record.
Who Actually Promotes?
So who actually promotes to O5 and O6? In general, the officer who promotes has:
- Achieved board certification.
- Spent time in both a military treatment facility and in the operational or headquarters setting.
- A demonstrated history of excellence as an officer. In other words, whenever they are in a competitive group, they successfully break out and get an EP fitrep. Being average is just not good enough anymore.
- No PFA failures, legal problems, declining fitreps, or potentially adverse fitreps.
- Updated their record, and if they previously failed to select they reviewed their record with their Detailer and actively worked to improve it.
What Do You Do If You Failed to Promote?
Realize that it is not the end of the world. Based on the recent promotion board statistics (which you can get in the Promo Prep), most officers were passed over for O5 or O6, but a large number of the officers selected were from the above zone group.
If you do nothing, you will continue to get looked at by promotion boards until you retire, resign, or are forced out of the Navy. There is no limit to the number of chances you get to promote and your record will be evaluated for promotion every year. That said…
You need to try to promote. Consider sending a letter to the promotion board. What do you say in this letter? First, briefly state that you want to be promoted and to continue your career in the Navy. Second, explain what a promotion would allow you to do that you can’t do at your current rank. Answer the question, “Why should they promote you?”
For example, if you want to be a Department Head at a large military treatment facility (MTF), a senior operational leader, or a Residency Director (or whatever you want to do), tell them that you need to be promoted to be competitive for these jobs. The Navy wants to promote leaders. Make it clear to them that you are a motivated future leader.
Try and get letters of support to attach to your letter. These letters should be from the most senior officers who can personally attest to your value to the Navy. In other words, it is probably better to get a letter from an O6 who knows you well than a 3 star who doesn’t. If you are not sure who to ask for letters, ask those more senior to you or your Detailer for advice. Your Specialty Leader is always someone to consider if he/she knows you well and can speak to your contributions to the specialty and Navy.
Have your record reviewed by your Detailer, Specialty Leader, or other trusted senior advisor. Because of promotion board confidentiality, you will never know the reason(s) you did not promote, but most of the time experienced reviewers can come up with an educated guess. They’ll often find things that you were not even aware of, like potentially adverse fitreps, or information missing from your record. My promo prep document will help you as well.
Do everything you can to get “early promote” or “EP” fitreps. This is largely accomplished by continually striving for positions of increased leadership. You need to get a job that has historically led to a promotion while keeping in mind that the new MC career path emphasizes that all need to be operational.
As a LCDR who got passed over for CDR, try to get one of these jobs and excel at it (this list is not exhaustive and these positions are not the only path to CDR, but they are a good start):
- Assistant Program Director
- Division/Department Head
- Fleet Surgical Team (FST) Specialty Staff
- Global Health Engagement (GHE) Staff Officer
- Group/Senior Flight Surgeon (FS)
- Medical Battalion Specialty Staff
- Medical Executive Committee (MEC) Member
- Regimental Surgeon
- Senior Undersea Medical Officer (UMO)
- Ship or Group Senior Medical Officer (SMO)
- SMO/Medical Director
If you are a CDR who got passed over for CAPT, try to get one of these jobs and excel at it:
- Assistant Specialty Leader or Specialty Leader
- Chief Medical Officer (CMO)
- Director/Large Department Head at a NMRTC/MTF
- Division/Group/Wing Surgeon
- FST Officer-in-Charge (OIC) / CATF Surgeon
- GHE, Headquarters, or Navy Personnel Command (PERS) Staff
- Group UMO
- LHA/LHD/CVN SMO
- MEC Chair
- Program Director
- Senior GHE Billet
Meet with your chain-of-command. After you’ve been passed over is not the time to be passive. You need to sit down with your leadership and get an honest assessment from them of how you’re doing and what they would recommend continuing to advance your career. You may not like what you hear, but it is better to find out early if they don’t think you’re doing a good job or that you are unlikely to break out on your fitreps. That way you can try and put yourself in a better situation by changing commands.
Things You Should Not Do
In addition to the above list of things you should do, there are a few things you should not do:
- Do not lie in your letter to the board. In other words, don’t tell them you want to do Executive Medicine if you don’t really want to. Your record reads like a book, and if it tells a story that is contrary to what your letter says, this is unlikely to help you and may hurt you.
- Do not send long correspondence. Promotion boards have to read everything sent to them, and a long letter may not be appreciated. Keep it brief and to the point.
- Do not ask your current CO to write you a letter to the board if they’ve done an observed fitrep on you. His or her opinion about you should be reflected on that fitrep, so they don’t need to write you a letter. If they’ve never given you an observed fitrep or there is some new information not reflected on prior fitreps, they could either write you a letter or give you a special fitrep. Ultimately it is up to them whether they do either of these or none.
- Do not discuss anything adverse unless you want the board to notice and discuss it. This issue comes up frequently and people will ask me for advice, but ultimately it is up to the individual officer. The one thing I can guarantee is that if you send a letter to the board and discuss something adverse, they will notice it because they will read your letter! If you think there is a chance the adverse matter will get overlooked, it is probably better not to mention it and keep your fingers crossed.
Never Stop Trying
Those are my tips for those who find themselves above zone. Most importantly, if you want to promote, NEVER STOP TRYING. You can usually stay in as a LCDR for 20 years, and I personally know of people who got promoted their 9th look!