Military: Up or out

From this thread:

That post specifically addressed non-promotion after an offense, but it made me wonder about people who don’t want to be promoted. I’ve heard of officers who are outstanding in their positions. If they are promoted, then they do not get to stay in that position. For example, a pilot may be promoted to a non-flying job even though he’s physically and mentally at the top of his game and doesn’t want a non-flying job. What happens if an officer is a perfect fit for a position, and he enjoys the position, but can’t stay in the position if he’s promoted? Is there a mechanism that would allow him to stay?

I was under the impression that you can get a pretty high rank and still be a pilot. Lt Colonel, maybe?

Flying was just an example. It could be any position in any military branch.

Why should there be? The military is an entire institution dedicated to creating brand-new officers (and enlisted men) who’re entirely well-suited to their roles. It isn’t necessary to keep people where they’re happy - and the idea is that, if you’re so great at your job, you should have developed the skills necessary to do the important work of supervising other people doing that job, or training people, or something like that. And if you can’t develop those skills, the best thing (from the military’s perspective) is that you clear out and make way for someone who can develop those skills.

In fact, that might be the key point - up until the end of your career, every job you hold in the military is meant to develop your skills, so that you can perform more challenging work when they need someone in that niche. If you can’t develop your skills any further, you aren’t performing all the duties of your current gig - so why should you get to stay in it?

The promotions aren’t automatic; it is possible to delay them. But it is not possible to delay them forever. At the same time, the “… or out” doesn’t happen instantly. So someone can delay his promotion “out of wings” (to continue your example) but only for so long. One can also choose which promotable skills to work on, in order to more-or-less direct his career to positions where he’ll get to do what he enjoys. You will not be able to stay forever in a “pilot in a carrier” job (although it can last for several grades, with or without changing ships), but you can pick training that sets you up for “flight instructor” rather than for JAG.

It’s also assumed that an officer happy with his position is automatically lacking in drive and ambition, which makes him a de facto bad officer. As far as the military is concerned, aggresiveness is something that needs to be cultivated.

In each service, officers are leaders. Pilots (not in command of squadrons or other personnel) and a few other select MOS’ aside, most officers are in charge of other military personnel in one capacity or another. They can be their commanders, their executive officers, their platoon leaders (for Army and Marines), or just their officer-in-charge at a particular duty or detail. Many officers start out, as Second Lieutenants or Ensigns, managing a relatively small group of enlisted personnel in some fashion, and then manage or command progressively larger groups as they advance in their career.

Despite its uneven reputation of learning from its mistakes, the military in general wants officers who want to learn as well as accept more responsibility than they currently have. To volunteer for additional training such as jump school if the opportunity arose and, for more senior field grade officers, to get a master’s degree or two. An officer can certainly sabotage their chances for promotion to ensure that it does not happen (as simply as not having an official photo of themselves in their officer’s record that goes to a promotion board), but an officer that does not want the increased responsibility that often comes with a promotion would be viewed with suspicion and wariness. Their superior officer would probably view the junior officer as afraid of taking on a bigger role and either they were not up to the task or they didn’t have the self-confidence to believe they were up to the task. If the junior officer was in a command position already, this suspicion would probably make it likely that they would not remain there for much longer. In other words, if the military powers that be view a particular officer as a deadend, they figure that officer is not really a leader and should not be in a position to command or set an example to enlisted personnel.

EDIT - Or what Alessan managed to condense in a much more efficient way.

In the military you do not go where you want, nor do you go where you best fit. You go where they need you to go.

“Up or out” has also applied to enlisted ranks in the past (can’t speak for the present). It’s usually applied to thin out the ranks to allow others to advance. Way back when, it was possible for someone to retire as an E-3, and I knew a lot of career E-5s and a ton of E-6 personnel who were not slackers, just quota-ed out of being advanced.

In my own job (as I’ve mentioned, I’ve never been in the military) I’m happy where I am. When and if the time comes, I’d be willing to take over my boss’s position. Beyond that, there’s the VP slot. (The president has been with the company for – I think – 44 years and is thinking of retiring eventually, and I assume the VP will move into his slot.) I’ve no desire to be a VP, so Supervisor is as far as I’d like to go. I am expanding my knowledge and skills, but for my own entertainment and not for this or another job. I’m happy where I am.

Chefguy mentions the career sergeants/chiefs. ISTM that they are valuable resources that shouldn’t be discarded just to make room for someone else. I understand that the military needs to have room to move people up, just as airlines need to retire older pilots to make room for the younger ones. Only, it seems that ‘not promoted twice in a row and you’re out’ is a little too rigid.

For most services, there are two sort of separate tracks–the command track, which requires a certain subset of pre-qualifications, and, basically, Other (to coin my own term). Many officers decide at some point that they do not want the command path. This path is not guaranteed, and the requirements can take quite a toll on the home life, if there is one, and if it’s an important factor in that officer’s life. So one can wind up sacrificing much attempting the Command path and wind up with the Other.

The Other track doesn’t mean you won’t get promoted. Promotion to O-3 is virtually automatic in all the services. Getting to O-4 takes a bit more, but if you’re a solid officer with a solid record it shouldn’t be a problem. Promotion to O-5 is much tougher (especially in the Navy, IME), and folks not on or striving for the Command track suffer a much greater attrition rate at this point.

So, if you’re not particularly wanting the Command gig, there are options, and getting promoted is still on the table, but it’s much more difficult between O-4 and O-5.

ETA: What DrFidelius says is a bit of an anachronism. Services tend to work to get the officer where a) the officer wants to be, and b) where it thinks the officer should be for career goals. Option c) is where the service absolutely needs the member, which may or may not be good for the member’s career. IME, the services strive for a and b, then go to c if something major pops up unexpectedly, or the officer is not seen as competitive in any respect.

(I *am *an anachronism.)

My dad joined the Navy after a stint in the Army as… Seaman 1st? Something higher than if he hadn’t been in the Army, but not very high on the food chain. After 20 years in the Navy he retired as an O-3.

I knew E-5s who were reluctant leaders. They were content to hide in the ranks or to be crew leaders, but quailed at the thought of having to run a squad or to take on other responsibilities. It was usually a case of nobody taking the time to mentor them into stronger leadership positions, or else they were men whose self-esteem had been badly damaged by poor supervisors in the past. I worked with several people like this, who went on to do well in the service. Not everyone who makes it to E-5/E-6 is a valuable resource. The military certainly has its share of incompetent assholes, just like in the civilian world. They manage to attain positions of petty power, then make life miserable for everyone around them.

True, that.

O3 is an officer. the army equivalent is Captain. In the navy I believe its a leiutenant.

This is true. He was a ‘mustang’.

But look at police departments, which is not too unrelated to the military. If a cadet joins the police department and then decides he wants to spend his entire career on street patrol, the department will let him. There’s no policy saying he has to take a promotion to sergeant within five years or he’ll have to resign.

I’ve just looked at a photo of my dad’s youngest brother. He appears to have been a CPO. I don’t know when the photo was taken, or how long he served afterward, or if he was ever promoted above E-7. He has four gold hash marks toward the end of his sleeve.

My uncle told me that he really, really wanted to fly. His CO told him he could send him to OCS, he would become an officer, and then he could be a Naval Aviator. But my uncle told me that he liked his rank and didn’t want to ‘put up with all of the bullshit that officer have to’. He said he considered joining the Army, but didn’t particularly want to be sent to Vietnam considering the mortality rate of new Huey pilots. Smart, my uncle. Not very brave, but… :stuck_out_tongue:

That makes sense for line officers, but what about say officers in the health services like medical, nursing, or dental officers? Hell doctors *start out *at O-3 (Captain/Lieutenant) which is a pretty high rank to begin with.