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Factors to be considered for an Army Officer Promotion

Army officer promotion is a competitive, “sink-or-swim” process.  Seniority is something that is taken into consideration as it makes one eligible for promotion, but is not guaranteed, as past leadership potential and performance are the main considerations.  Army officer promotion of field officers is strongly meritocratic, however, the promotion of generals are often politicized and follows a different system.

Here are factors that are taken into consideration for army officer promotions:

  • Legal Basis
  • Seniority
  • Recommendation
  • Promotion Selection Board
  • “Up or Out”

Legal Basis

Title 10 of the U.S. Code contains the legal guidelines that describe how U.S. army officer promotion works.  Military and civil-military relations are dealt with expressly in this block of the federal law.  Army Regulations 600-8-29 is also another major source of rules regarding the process, but there are also other regulations, instructions, and directives that apply as well.


Serving a set period of time in their present rank is required before an army officer promotion takes place, under terms described in Department of Defense Instruction 1320.13 known as “time-in-grade”.  For example, a 2nd Lieutenant seeking for a promotion to 1st Lieutenant must serve 18 months of “time-in-grade” before becoming eligible.  The total time spent in the service is also taken into consideration.  Three years “time-in-grade” and a total of 16 years in the service must be spent by a Lieutenant Colonel in order to become eligible for promotion to full Colonel.


After becoming eligible by serving sufficient time, the commanding officer must also recommend for an army officer promotion to take place.  Although an officer can be promoted without the consent of a commanding officer, this is quite difficult to achieve and highly abnormal.

Promotion Selection Board

Passing the Promotion Selection Board is the main hurdle for an army officer promotion. This Army-wide panel consists of between 18 and 21 serving officers and chaired by a general.  There are two things that they focus their consideration to: the officer’s leadership potential and fitness reports.  The decision is partially subjective but is also demonstrated by how much responsibility the officer held in his current rank.  For example, three or four years spent supervising regional recruitment efforts or a public relation office is not worth the same consideration as leading a combat unit.  Also, a single average or a negative fitness report is enough to sink the chances of an army officer promotion. There are only a number of slots available to be filled at each rank every year, which is why the Board’s process is highly competitive. It is possible for an officer to be recommended by the Board, but not make the cut for an open slot.  These officers that are automatically forwarded to next year’s Board are referred to as “Above-the-Zone” officers.

Up or Out

Officers that are passed over twice for a promotion, including those who are recommended but are not able to secure an open slot, are required to either retire or leave the service.  The U.S. Military has referred to this as the “up or out” policy.

Obtaining an army officer promotion might seem difficult, but this is only because the U.S. Military wants to ensure that they select the best man for the job.

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