The promotion opportunities for lieutenant colonels hoping to become colonels will fall to the lowest levels in at least 24 years in 2013 as the Air Force tries to avoid creating logjams throughout the officer ranks.
In an interview, Col. Dawn Keasley, chief of the Air Force’s military force policy division, said the promotion opportunity for O-6 will fall to 48 percent during November’s Colonel Line of the Air Force Central Selection Board. Since 1989, the earliest year for which records were available, the promotion opportunity for O-6 has been either 50 or 55 percent. It was 55 percent in 2012, when 921 lieutenant colonels were in the promotion zone. This year, 767 lieutenant colonels are scheduled to be in the promotion zone.
The Air Force also is reducing the definitely promote, or DP, allocation rate from 25 percent of the in-the-promotion-zone eligibles to 15 percent. Keasley said this will mean senior raters will have fewer DPs to allocate, and the central selection board will select a higher percentage of officers with “promote” recommendations. Keasley said this will mean the pool of colonel selects will be of slightly higher quality than it has been in the past. The promotion quotas for below-the-promotion-zone selections will remain unchanged at 15 percent.
Jerry Diaz, chief of the Air Force’s force management analysis division, said the Air Force made the change because it does not want to promote more lieutenant colonels than it can absorb. The number of colonels is limited by Air Force end strength, and the service has been shrinking in recent years. What’s more, retention across the Air Force has been unusually high lately, including in the colonel ranks. This all means fewer opportunities for aspiring colonels. And Diaz said the reduced promotion opportunity percentage will result in fewer lieutenant colonels selected.
The Air Force discovered after last year’s colonel’s board that it had too many colonel selects, which meant they had to wait longer to pin on their new rank. The average wait time between when a lieutenant colonel was selected for promotion and when he is pinned on is now between 12 months and 18 months, and the Air Force feared that if it did not rein in promotion opportunities, that time could swell to nearly two years. The Air Force wants to keep O-6 wait times to a year at most, and ensure that colonels are pinned on about 22 years into their careers.
If too many lieutenant colonels are selected for promotion, it creates problems that could be felt throughout the officer ranks for years, Diaz said.
“If we were to promote more than the system can absorb, folks are waiting in line a long time until they pin on,” Diaz said. “It has ramifications [beyond that particular board]. The board behind them, the next year group of lieutenant colonels, they end up having to wait. The board behind them ends up having to wait. It all backs up.”
The logjam would also affect majors who are selected to become lieutenant colonels, Diaz said.
“A major that’s been selected for lieutenant colonel cannot pin on until there’s a lieutenant colonel vacancy, and those vacancies don’t occur until either a lieutenant colonel decides to retire or he gets promoted to colonel,” Diaz said. “So if we have a backup at the colonel rank, it’s going to back up all the way down.”
Keasley also said that selecting too many new colonels could increase the chances the Air Force would have to use Selective Early Retirement Boards, or SERBs, to pare down their ranks after fiscal 2014, when the latest SERBs will be held.
Until now, the Air Force has changed its promotion opportunity percentages for selecting majors, lieutenant colonels and colonels in five-percentage-point increments. But making changes in those increments was too broad, Keasley said. From now on, percentages for all three promotion boards will be changed in one-percentage-point-increments. Diaz said that will allow the Air Force to be more precise as it sets its promotion opportunity rates.
The Air Force said it is still reviewing promotion opportunities for majors and lieutenant colonels, although there will be no majors board in 2013.
The O-6 board will be held the first two weeks in November. Major boards are usually held in December, and lieutenant colonel boards are usually held in March.