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MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — Manpower officials are tweaking officer promotions to mitigate negative effects of the ongoing active-duty drawdown, including longer waits to pin on rank. In fact, some Marines tapped for promotion in fiscal year 2012 are still waiting.
"The hard reality is promotions have and will continue to slow, but current measures are a buffer that will prevent them from grinding to a halt and help clear selection lists to ensure timely promotions," said Maj. Chuck Koch, the officer promotion planner here at Manpower and Reserve Affairs.
There is no sugar coating it. The drawdown that aims to cull 20,000 Marines from the ranks by 2017 has stepped up competition, and things will be tough for the next few years. But for those who remain in uniform, the new mechanisms that manpower planners are using to free up the promotion system should be welcome news. They will eventually provide competitive officers — from captains through lieutenant colonels — with the opportunity to climb the ranks faster, Koch said.
One has only to look at the results of the fiscal 2014 major selection board, announced in All Navy Message 073/12 on Dec. 10, to see the new controls in action. The overall number of captains selected by the board — 281 — represented a 60 percent decline from the 679 captains selected the year before. That dip is mostly due to manpower officials tightening the window inside which Marines are considered in-zone for promotion by raising time-in-grade requirements. Having a smaller pool of in-zone Marines helped them avoid severely slashing the selection opportunity rate — the percentage of eligible in-zone Marines who are selected. Selection opportunity dropped slightly from 79.9 to 74.9 percent.
If officials had not slashed the size of the in-zone pool — from 849 at the 2013 board to 375 at the 2014 board — they would have had to drop the percentage of eligible Marines selected far below 74.9 percent, Koch said.
That rate is expected to hold steady over the next few years. So, for those who manage to stay in uniform through the drawdown, their chances for selection and a quick promotion will remain fairly strong.
The goal is to have all Marines selected for promotion in a given year pin on rank that same year.
Because the Marine Corps only promotes to vacancy, manpower planners perform a careful balancing act each year as they aim to select enough Marines to fill empty billets without selecting so many that they create a backlog in which Marines spend more than a year waiting for someone at a higher rank to get promoted or leave the service so they can get pinned.
To do that, planners tweak the in-zone window and selection opportunity each year as part of an annual review, using complex formulas that take into account how many Marines they will need at a given rank to replace those leaving the service or moving up. It is as much art as science because it is impossible to predict exactly how many Marines will resign their commissions, retire or take advantage of an early-out program each year.
Fortunately, the 2014 board is likely to be the worst of it. Over the next few years the selection opportunity rate for captains vying for major should hover at about 75 percent. Better yet, the number of captains selected for major will jump as officials execute plans to widen the in-zone window beginning next year as current promotion backlogs begin to clear.
Next year the number of captains considered in-zone for major should jump from 375 to nearly 600, Koch said. Although the numbers could change, he was adamant that, drawdown aside, more captains can expect to pick up major at the next board.
Koch also said that the same patterns should repeat across the officer ranks, meaning career advancement is expected to pick up for those trying to make lieutenant colonel or colonel.
That is good news even for first lieutenants. Those vying for captain contend with their own unique selection process that incorporates career designation boards. The CD boards have become increasingly competitive over the years, with those slated for fiscal 2013 expected to offer only about 60 percent of first lieutenants an invitation to stay in uniform. But with captains moving up more quickly, those lieutenants who do make the cut will pick up major faster. And further along in their careers they will face decent promotion prospects as manpower planners work to speed promotions at all ranks and bring them in line with Defense Department regulations.