DOPMA stands for Defense Officer Personnel Management Act. It has been the guideline for officer personnel management since December 1980. It was designed to help modernize management practices and correct problems with officer management that emerged in the post-World War II era. Its notable achievements include:
- Creating uniform promotion rates.
- Standardizing career lengths across the services.
- Regulating the number of senior officers as a proportion of the force.
- Creating reasonable and predictable expectations regarding when an officer would be eligible for promotion.
DOPMA has been criticized for creating a system with high turnover rates, frequent moves, and shorter military careers. It is often referred to as “up or out” and is the reason why LCDRs can only stay 20 years, CDRs 28 years, and CAPTs for 30 years.
In addition, the Medical and Dental Corps are “DOPMA exempt” when it comes to our promotion zones. This is why it is easy to predict when Medical Corps officers are going to be in zone. Our promotion zones are not reliant on how many senior physicians left the service.
The Nurse and Medical Service Corps are not DOPMA exempt. Their promotion zones vary from year to year depending on how many senior nurses or MSCs get out of the service.
For example, a Commander MSC friend of mine was stuck waiting for promotion to O6 until one of the CAPTs in his community retired. That would not happen to a physician or dentist because we are DOPMA exempt.
DOPMA has been under fire recently and is getting some attention toward revising it, which you can read about here:
The standard advice has always gone something like this:
If you are above zone, you need to send a letter to the promotion board so that they know you are still trying to promote. Otherwise they won’t pick you.
Now that they no longer stamp officer records with “AZ” (above zone) and they look exactly the same as those records that are in zone, do you still need to write a letter to the board? Has the standard advice changed?
Reasons to Send a Letter to a Promotion Board
I addressed this in a post from a few years ago entitled “Should You Send a Letter to the Promotion Board?” I still agree with just about everything in that post, except for this:
“…you should always send a letter to demonstrate interest in getting promoted when you are above zone.”
In my opinion, you no longer need to send a letter just because you are above zone. If you have another reason to send a letter, then please do. If you are just sending one because you think you have to, I think that is no longer necessary.
The O6 promotion board convening orders state:
…in determining which officers are best and fully qualified for promotion, you are required to equally consider both above-zone and in-zone officers.
What if You’re Not Sure?
As you might imagine, I get asked a lot whether someone should send a letter to the promotion board. This is my standard response…
Pretend that you did not send a letter to the board, the board is over, and you were not selected for promotion. Are you going to be kicking yourself for not sending the letter? If the answer is yes or maybe, then send the letter. As long as you keep it short and sweet, there is no real downside.
Frankly, I think that when officers send letters to promotion boards they are often just making themselves feel better, and there is nothing wrong with that. You want to make sure that when the promotion board results come out, no matter what happened, you feel like you did everything you could to get promoted.
The Bottom Line
If you are above zone and want to send the letter just so there is no regret, feel free, but it is definitely not required to be considered for promotion.
Throwback Thursday Classic Post – How to Be Considered for Promotion if You’ve Been on Active Duty for Less Than 1 Year
The FY21 promotion board NAVADMIN was released in December. If you are in-zone or above-zone for an upcoming promotion board but you’ve been on active duty for less than 1 year, you should read #5 from the NAVADMIN, which says:
5. In-zone and above-zone eligible officers in the grades of lieutenant,
lieutenant commander, and commander, whose placement on the Active-Duty List
is within one year of the convening dates of these boards, are automatically
deferred unless they specifically request to be considered. The officer may
waive this deferment and request consideration for promotion, in writing,
emailed to NPC_Officer_SELBD_Elig_Waivers.email@example.com or mailed to:
Commander, Navy Personnel Command (PERS-802)
5720 Integrity Drive
Millington, TN 38055-0000
The request must be received by PERS-80 not later than 30 days prior to the
convening date of the board. All officers are reminded it is their
responsibility to ensure their personnel records are substantially accurate
What does this mean and why would it apply to you? Maybe you had prior service, you went to medical school, and now you’re a senior LT who is in-zone for LCDR right away. Maybe you did a civilian NADDS residency and you are in-zone right away for LCDR. There might be other situations that would put you in this position, like getting time-in-grade credit for a PhD.
If you believe you are in this position, here is what I’d do:
- Confirm you are in-zone or above-zone. How can you do this? The easiest way is to either read the Promo Prep or get the FY21 lineal list. Or you can use this document from PERS.
- If you wish to be considered for promotion to LCDR, CDR, or CAPT, so what it says above. Send the letter simply requesting this. It can probably be a very short letter. There is no need to be verbose.
- Finally, contact PERS-802: Selection Board Eligibility Branch because I know people who did only #2 (sent a letter) and were not considered. Here’s what their website says:
If you have questions concerning promotion boards, eligibility for promotion boards, please contact the MyNavy Career Center at (833) 330-MNCC or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- PERS-802, Branch Head: (901) 874-4537
- Officer Active and Reserve Eligibility Section, Lead: (901) 874-3324
- Enlisted Active and Reserve Eligibility Section, Lead: (901) 874-3217
- Also, here is a great article on this topic from the August 2018 Medical Corps Newsletter:
The spreadsheet with the FY21 promotion board zones can’t be posted publicly, but you can find it here as long as you have your CAC card (make sure you pick your e-mail certificate):
It is posted under “Career Management.”
P.S. If you are Medical Corps, you actually don’t need the lineal list to find out when you are in zone. Because the Medical Corps is DOPMA exempt, you can just use the table on page 4 of the Promo Prep to figure out when you are in zone for promotion.
I receive questions all the time about what happens when you are passed over for promotion and are now “above-zone”. If you find yourself in this position, here is what you need to do:
- Realize that it is not the end of the world. Based on the FY20 CDR promotion board statistics, 47% of in zone officers were passed over, 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 on 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. At a minimum, you should 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) or a Residency Director (or whatever you want to do), tell them that you need to be promoted to CDR 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, other trusted senior advisor, or by me. 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. 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):
- Medical Executive Committee (MEC) member
- SMO on an amphibious platform
- Regimental Surgeon
- Member of a hospital committee or chair of a smaller committee
- Department Head in a small MTF
- Medical Director/Senior Medical Officer in a medium/large MTF
- 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.
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.
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 4th look and have heard of people who succeeded on their 9th try!
If you are one of the lucky people who made CDR, I have some things for you to consider:
- The next 2-3 years of fitreps may mean very little to your overall career. First, you are soon going to be in the most competitive group in the Medical Corps, Commanders scratching and clawing to make Captain. If you are at a medium to large command, no matter what you do as a junior Commander, you are likely to get a P (promotable) on your fitreps. That is just how it works for most commands.
- This first bullet means that now is the PERFECT time to do something “alternative” (off the usual career path for a physician) or take a position that you know will get you 1/1 fitreps or be part of a very small competitive group. Go to the War College. Take a senior operational job where you’ll get a 1/1 fitrep. Become a Detailer. Apply for fellowship because the NOB fitreps won’t hurt you as a junior Commander or Commander Select. Now is the time to do these type of things. You don’t want to wait until you are a few years below zone for Captain. When you reach this stage you’ll need competitive EP fitreps.
- After you are selected for your next rank is also a great time to move/PCS. Have you ever been OCONUS? If not, now would be a great time to go. You can PCS somewhere for 2-3 years and then PCS to the command where you are going to set up shop and try to make Captain. At OCONUS commands there is more turnover of staff, so major leadership jobs like MEC President, Department Head, and director positions open up more frequently, setting you up to get a senior position when you return to CONUS.
- You may think I’m crazy, but it is time to start thinking about how you are going to make Captain. As I mentioned in the first bullet, getting a job that will make you a Captain is tough and competitive. Now is the time to do the things that will make you an excellent candidate for one of those jobs. Want to be a residency director? Maybe you should get a degree in adult or medical education. Want to be a director? Maybe you should get a management degree like a Masters in Medical Management or an MBA. Want to be a senior operational leader? Now is the time to do Joint Professional Military Education I and/or II.
- Here is a list of the jobs that I think will make you a Captain. Read the list…figure out which of these jobs you are going to use to make Captain…and get busy preparing yourself to get them:
- Residency Director
- Department Head in a large MTF
- Chief Medical Officer
- Major committee chair
- Medical Executive Committee President
- BUMED staff
- Specialty Leader
- Deployment requiring an O-5
- Senior operational leader
- Division/Group/Wing Surgeon
- CATF Surgeon
- Amphib or CVN Senior Medical Officer
Optimally you’ll have the time when you are an O5 to do multiple jobs on the preceding list. For example, as an O5 I had been a Detailer, a Specialty Leader, Department Head, Associate Director, and CO of a deployed unit. My next step was to become a director at a major MTF, and while I was a senior LCDR and CDR I obtained a Naval Postgraduate School MBA as well as achieved certification as a Certified Physician Executive to try and make myself a competitive candidate for a director position. Ultimately, I became the Director for Healthcare Business at NMC Portsmouth.
Congratulations on making Commander…take a deep breath…and start thinking about some of the things I mentioned in this post. Before you know it you’ll be in zone for Captain.
LCDRs who were expecting to promote on 1 OCT 2019 did not see their names on the 1 OCT 2019 promotion NAVADMIN. Instead they saw:
PERMANENT PROMOTION TO LIEUTENANT COMMANDER
FY-20 Lieutenant Commander Line and Staff Corps Promotion Selection Boards
results are pending Senate Confirmation as of the preparation date of this
Once the Senate confirms the selections, the names will show up on a forthcoming NAVADMIN and the pays and promotions will be back dated. There isn’t anything people can do except wait.