(Reprinted with the original author’s permission and adjusted to speak to a broader FAO community)
Evaluations are due for most of you this summer as I transition out of my current position and the Army. As one of the senior raters for our FAOs on the continent, I often field OER questions, and inevitably it usually comes down to, “why didn’t I receive a Highly Qualified/ACOM.” My response is often a question back to the rated officer…what did you do to highlight your rated service as “Highly Qualified”? For some FAOs this is not easily done while conducting In Region Training (IRT), but some IRT officers do receive a Highly Qualified report.
Understanding that Senior Raters are limited to 49% of their rated population receiving a Highly Qualified rating and further understanding that nearly all senior raters maintain a “buffer” in their profile for unexpected reports…a SERB, an HRC mandated report for Army-wide retention, a newly arrived officer who needs a report shortly after arriving , etc. You are in a limited pool of competitive officers and must stand out to receive an “ACOM”-Most Qualified.
What does “Most Qualified” really mean?
Strong Potential for below the zone promotion and Command (doesn’t apply to us obviously but I view that as strong potential for SDO/DATT). “Highly Qualified” equates to strong potential for promotion WITH peers. Technically, a “Qualified” rating should not be a career ender as it denotes, “Capable of success at the next level…Promote if able”. I believe you can survive one “Qualified” OER if you receive it as senior Captain/Major…maybe in an IRT environment…you can’t survive two, and you would seriously be at risk if you received one as a mid-level Major in an FAO position.
I’m proud to say that we have talented FAOs all over the continent and in our headquarters staffs, but if you do the math, not everyone will receive a “Most Qualified” report. Again, I am limited to 49% of the population, and I have a built-in buffer for those circumstances I highlighted so somewhere between 30 and 40%. You should be doing an assessment of your peers in the organization and asking yourself where you stand.
What sets you apart?
Are you publishing relevant think pieces or FAO pol-mil articles for professional journals? Are you always working to improve your language skills…are you a 2+/3 in your control language? Are your briefing products and oral delivery on target? Are you enrolled in continuing education or learning a second language? Is your military bearing where it needs to be? If you think losing weight or getting even more fit while in a staff position is hard, wait until you get to the continent and combine a lack of fitness facilities with a heavy representational/social schedule.
Look at my picture in the hallway, and you’ll see what two years on the continent does to your waistline and my round face. While I’m not a fan of using PT scores to gauge competence or potential, when you’re in a small pool of competitive officers, everything you do to set you apart from your peers helps, and also may keep you healthier.
What is your “personal brand”?
How do you represent the profession of arms?
You’ve heard me talk about it, I’ve shared the Forbes article discussing personal brands. Are you a professional military Officer? Do you instill confidence in others by the way you act, speak, carry yourself? Do you post cute FB pictures with your favorite puppy/kitten/woobie/mythical animal-unicorn? Showing the human dimension of your character is essential but overdoing it is, in my opinion, a distraction and let’s face it, while OERs should reflect objective criteria about you as an officer, they are and will always have an element of subjective analysis.
Your Senior Rater will use more than your Support Form to gauge your potential for advancement. Are you involved in the broader community (Garrison / Embassy) and office activities? Boy/Girl Scouts, Church, USO, American Legion, VFW, Red Cross, Elementary/High School, Boosters, etc. Do you participate in Hails and Farewells, team building events, the occasional “mandatory fun”? I’m not saying that you should train for a marathon; learn Arabic; write multiple articles for Joint Forces Quarterly; come in to the office daily at 0530 for grueling PT; be 15 lbs UNDER the Army’s height/weight standard; max the PT test on the extended scale; work every weekend at the school or VFW and be a lay minister on Sunday; but take a hard look at yourself. Be self-aware and take a look at your peers and what they’re doing. Doing all of the above is unrealistic unless your name is Stan McChrystal or Dave Petraeus and then eventually you’ll crack.
Several of you are juggling work with new families, young children and other stressors that may affect your ability to “shine” during any rated period but those things shouldn’t define who you are in a 2 or 3 year assignment period. A lot is asked of our Majors…you’ve heard the term “Iron Major.”
Adding scrambled eggs to the visor of your overseas cap (golden oak leaf embellishments known as fretting) signals that you are a vested member of the institution. You get to live in a different housing area, you pay more for lodging (not good), you receive different privileges under the Geneva convention as well as Fort Leavenworth…not wishing POW or military incarceration on any of you but even our enemies and our penitentiary specialists recognize that you are “different” as a Field Grade Officer.
Arthur Wellesley, the First Duke of Wellington, cut his teeth during campaigns in India and Iberia but he’s most famous as the man who defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo two hundred years ago. Guess who wrote those battle plans? Yep, his iron Majors. I recently read a book by my former mentor and Friend COL (Ret) Greg Fontenot. When the 1st ID deployed to Iraq for Desert Storm, guess who the CG sent forward 60 days before the Division deployed to produce the offensive plans? You guessed it, a single Major in the G3.
Are you capable now of being that Major?
As an SDO-DATT, I asked my A/ARMA, a Major, to brief the SECSTATE and be a note taker in the office call with the President. I then asked him to brief the SECSTATE’s military aide, a Navy Admiral (3 Star) on all things in our country, to include the very complicated pol-mil situation that existed with over 20 disparate rebel groups operating in the country. Are you capable now of being that Major? And could you carry a conversation with the President of that country in a language other than English if you were in the room, my A/ARMA did. The Army allows senior raters to provide an assessment of an Officer’s potential as compared to that of his/her peers. Help me help you by doing things that show that you should be promoted ahead of peers and are truly deserving of a rating that, realistically, puts you in the top 30% of your peer group.
Continue to make good decisions, treat your colleagues with dignity and respect and do the right thing. Our Army, once again, is being asked to grow. A mix of Most Qualified and Highly Qualified will get you promoted. Continue to work hard in the office and at home, and you’ll be successful. Sometimes the Army doesn’t recognize our full potential the first time around but usually does the second time. Don’t sweat it. If it’s not in the cards and you retire as a Major at 20 years that is more than honorable and gives you an excellent head start to a second career.