The 2020 Line of the Air Force (LAF) lieutenant colonel board, which convened May 4-20, is also the first board to transition away from below-the-promotion-zone promotion opportunity while assigning line numbers based on order of merit versus time in grade.
“We need and our dedicated Airmen and Space Professionals deserve a talent management system that is responsive, agile, transparent and focused on the competence and character of an individual’s performance,” said Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, Air Force deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services.
“We’ve worked really hard over the past few years on improving how we manage our Airmen and Space Professionals to ensure we provide opportunities to maximize and recognize talent while also being responsive to the requirements placed on us within the National Defense Strategy. This particular board gives us our first-look at how those changes influence officer promotion results,” Kelly said. “While this is only one data point with upcoming Colonel and Major promotion boards on the horizon, the outcomes appear to have followed our expectations. That said, it is only one data point and we remain confident we did not likely get everything 100% right this first time around. As we conduct subsequent boards, we’ll continue to study, evaluate and make any necessary tweaks along the way.”
Developmental categories and promotion opportunities
More than 2,600 officers from approximately 40 Air Force specialty codes (AFSC’s) were considered for promotion using the six new LAF categories: Air Operations and Special Warfare, Combat Support, Force Modernization, Information Warfare, Nuclear and Missile Operations, and Space Operations.
Officials selected 1,045 majors who were in-the-promotion-zone (IPZ) for an overall selection rate of 76.1%, and 169 majors who were above-the-promotion-zone (APZ) for a selection rate of 13%. Both selection rates are higher when compared to the previous two years. In 2018 and 2019, IPZ rates were 71.4% and 72%, respectively; the APZ rates were 6.7% and 6.2%, respectively.
“As anticipated, this first board had record-high IPZ and APZ rates primarily associated with removing BPZ opportunity,” Kelly said. “This was intentional and was a conscious decision to help provide additional time for officers to gain valuable insight and experience that in some cases was lost when we accelerated people.”
The new developmental category structure focused on creating opportunities to tailor officer development and career milestones for the various categories, but also offered the flexibility to adjust promotion opportunity percentages by category to help match requirements. A promotion opportunity is determined by the percentage of IPZ candidates available to be promoted in order to meet Air Force requirements while staying within prescribed legal limits in each officer grade. Previously, a single promotion opportunity was applied to more than 40 AFSC’s under the LAF category, but the new system allows the Secretary of the Air Force to apply six unique promotion opportunities across the six developmental categories. This assists in more closely meeting current and future Air Force requirements.
For example, and based on inventory requirements, the May Air Operations and Special Warfare board, LAF-A, had a promotion opportunity of 90%. Applying a 90% opportunity to the 616 LAF-A majors who were IPZ, yields a total of 555 promotion selects. While 555 was the total available, the LAF-A board also considered officers who were APZ with the board determining the order of merit of the 555 highest scoring records regardless of zone. Any APZ promotion select comes out of the same 555 total and decrements the amount from the IPZ population. Of the 608 officers considered APZ in the LAF-A category, 76 were selected (selection rate of 12.5%), while the remaining 479 promotion selects came from the IPZ population (selection rate of 77.8%).
Additional developmental category promotion breakdowns are below:
- Combat Support, LAF-C, had a promotion opportunity of 85% with a selection rate of 79.9% IPZ and 7.5% APZ.
- Force Modernization, LAF-F, had a promotion opportunity of 85% with a selection rate of 69% IPZ and 14.6% APZ.
- Information Warfare, LAF-I, had a promotion opportunity of 90% with a selection rate of 74.1% IPZ and 15.8% APZ.
- Nuclear and Missile Operations, LAF-N, had a promotion opportunity of 85% with a selection rate of 76.3% IPZ and 11.4% APZ.
- Space Operations, LAF-S, had a promotion opportunity of 90% with a selection rate of 75.4% IPZ and 17.2% APZ.
In addition to using developmental categories, this board also saw the first use of merit-based reordering. This means individual merit drove the pin-on sequence instead of seniority-based factors, including time in grade. Individuals with the highest scoring records of performance will pin-on first once these lists are approved and start their sequence.
“It remains important to focus on competence and character and have a system that incentivizes performance, but also takes into account different developmental timelines for people,” Kelly said. “Top performers still have an opportunity to promote ahead of their peers, and merit-based reordering puts the pin-on timing directly in their hands.”
Under merit-based reordering, performance will be the driving factor in determining when officers pin-on new rank. Those whose record of performance place them near the top of a promotion board’s order of merit, regardless of zone, will promote ahead of some of their peers.
Panel members and career development briefs
With the introduction of six developmental categories came a need to ensure members of the promotion board panels included representation from within the specific developmental category. Panel member representation consists of a majority of panel members from within that developmental category, while the rest of the panel members come from an outside category to provide both corporate and functional balance. For example, within the LAF-A panel there were 13 total members; eight with AFSCs from within LAF-A, and the other 5 from other LAF categories. Additionally, panel members are armed with career development briefs, which familiarize them with important milestones and challenges in each career field.
“This tailored approach ensures panel members consider officers in each category against similar career milestones and expectations,” said Maj. Gen. Christopher E. Craige, Air Force’s Personnel Center commander. “They focused on each officer’s performance and potential to serve in the next higher grade to promote officers with the expertise to lead Airmen and Space Professionals today and for a future high-end fight.”
Career development briefs are generated by functional community leaders, coordinated with each Major Command, and approved by the Secretary of the Air Force on an annual basis. These briefs include typical career progression milestones, developmental guidance and other unique considerations for officers within each core AFSC and/or functional community, and are posted publicly on myPers.
“We need to deliberately develop officers at the right pace to provide key opportunities for development, and this most recent lieutenant colonel board was a significant step forward,” Kelly said. “Our goal through these efforts is to provide the agility to unleash the capabilities of our people to be ready for tomorrow’s fight.”