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Officer Promotion Board Preparation Tips

Getting ready for the promotion board? Don’t blow it off until the last minute. This is an exacting, time-consuming process. The Army is downsizing, and if you’ve cut your teeth in the post-9/11 era, you haven’t been through a drawdown yet. Boards are about to become a lot more competitive. If you’re up for promotion this year, keep these tips in mind:

  • Preparing for a promotion board is an exercise in attention to detail. Go into the process with that mindset. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a good thing, when it comes to this process.
  • Understand the process. One good first step: Watch this video introduction to the Army promotion board process, produced by Human Resources Command itself.
  • Your senior officers can help mentor you for the boards, but sometimes they get distracted by the mission at hand. Ultimately, the officer responsible for your preparation for the promotion board is you.
  • Review AR 640-30 before you take your photo. This regulation spells out who is responsible for what, and the process by which photos are approved and processed. If it’s been a while before you’ve gone before a board, the process has changed quite a bit.
  • Put on your uniform a month or two ahead of time. You may need to get it altered or get that bigger pair of trousers!
  • Take your DA Photo well in advance. If there’s a glitch with your photo, you want enough time to react to it.
  • Make time to go online soon after you take your DA Photo. You only have 72 hours from the time they take the photo to accept or reject it.
  • Make your photo recent. The board can see the date of the photo. A very old photo makes the board wonder if you’re having height and weight issues now.
  • Pull your file and read the decorations the Army thinks you are entitled to wear. That may be a different list than you think. Just because you’ve been formally pinned in front of your unit doesn’t mean the unit clerk got round to inputting the awards in the system. When in doubt, wear only the awards on the 2-1 file (or the modern digital equivalent).
  • Don’t have a college diploma yet? Get it! I’ve seen many fine reserve component officers turn in their bars after being passed over for captain because they don’t yet have a four-year degree. (Don’t laugh, active duty guys – this isn’t unusual among those who attend state OCS while enrolled in college. They satisfy the requirements for commissioning as a 2nd lieutenant, but may not have the degree yet – and get deployed.)
  • Double check the award order of merit list, and arrange your ribbons accordingly. This is critical… boards have been known to pull out magnifying glasses. This is especially true if they detect a problem early on in the review process. One officer told me it’s like pulling on a thread and seeing the whole sweater unravel.
  • Contact your unit S-1 at least 90 days ahead of the board and schedule an Officer Records Brief review.
  • Look carefully at your assignment history. It should be complete, but include any “pending” or “excess” assignments.
  • Inventory your OERs and identify any unrated periods. Hopefully you won’t have to chase any old commanders down. This can be a time consuming process and if they’ve left the Army, they may never get back to you.
  • Most packets don’t require a letter to the board. If you do choose to write a letter, though, focus on anything missing from your documents or photo and the reason. Explain any discrepancies, non-rated periods, or anything else that may create a question in board members’ minds.
  • Have your unit S-1 NCO or experienced unit clerk or staff officer review and proof your letter. Spelling and usage errors don’t reflect well on you. Formatting is important, as well. Format it like an official Army memorandum for record, which, of course, it is. Remember, the Army is shrinking – and future boards will be looking for excuses to thin the herd. Don’t give them one.
  • Be sure to review your file and approve it online prior to the board. Your file will have one of three statuses:

  1. Reviewed, which is good. It means you reviewed and approved.
  2. Reviewed with issues pending. This isn’t as good as Reviewed, but it’s not the end of the world. It just means you checked it and had issues you were working on at that time.
  3. Unreviewed. Don’t be that guy!

Good luck with your board and your career!

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