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As a Commissioned Officer, Can I “Lose” My Promotion?

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In the United States Armed Forces, a commissioned officer is selected and approved for promotion months, sometimes more than a year, before he or she actually “pins on” or promotes to the next higher grade. Between selection and promotion, allegations of misconduct or even substantiated misconduct from years past can put the promotion in jeopardy. The Department of Defense and various services use different terms with respect to this broad topic, which we will collectively call an “Officer Promotion Action.”

Different Officer Promotion Actions

Officer promotion actions can take many forms, such as:

  • Promotion Withhold: An action by the Secretary of a military department, or designee, to prevent an officer from promoting pending further inquiry, usually based on misconduct that allegedly occurred prior to the officer’s selection for promotion.
  • Promotion Delay: An action initiated by an officer’s command to delay the officer’s promotion pending further inquiry, usually based on misconduct that allegedly occurred after the officer’s selection for promotion. In most cases, the Secretary of the military department must resolve the delay.
  • Promotion Removal: An action initiated by an officer’s command recommending the permanent removal of an officer’s name from the promotion list, usually based on misconduct that allegedly occurred after the officer’s selection for promotion. In all cases, the Secretary of the military department must act on the recommendation.
  • Promotion Review Board: A board convened in the Department of the Army to consider Officer Promotion Actions.
  • Promotion Propriety Action: The process used by the Department of the Air Force to consider Officer Promotion Actions.

Officer Promotion Actions can be based on serious allegations of misconduct, such as sexual assault. They can also be based on nearly forgotten, small infractions from years past, such as a failed physical fitness assessment or minor derelictions of duty. If notified of an Officer Promotion Action, the officer will have a chance to provide a statement and supporting materials for consideration before final action is taken. In any situation involving Officer Promotion Action, the officer should take it seriously and think about how a legal professional could help protect the promotion.

Officer Promotion Action is Usually Secondary to Other Disciplinary Action

It is not common for an Officer Promotion Action to be the sole administrative or punitive action (collectively, adverse action) associated with alleged misconduct. However, especially if the officer is due to promote very soon, it may be the first adverse action associated with alleged misconduct. In these cases, an officer's response to an Officer Promotion Action can have implications related to future adverse actions ranging anywhere from court-martial charges to administrative separation to the grade in which he or she will be allowed to retire. Or, for documented prior misconduct, it may be the last of a series of adverse actions based on the same alleged misconduct. Therefore, it is extremely important that an officer consider how his or her response to the Officer Promotion Action may impact future adverse action based on alleged misconduct, or how it may compare to past statements made about the alleged misconduct.

Officer Promotion Action Usually Requires Secretarial Action

The Secretaries of the various military departments are rarely involved in courts-martial, nonjudicial punishment, or virtually any other types of very serious adverse actions. However, at one point or another, the Secretaries must personally resolve almost all Officer Promotion Actions. In other words, the action, and therefore the officer, will be heavily scrutinized by all levels of command and ultimately by the most senior, Presidentially-appointed civilian leaders at the Pentagon. Sometimes, this can be leveraged to the officer’s benefit, but in all cases, its implications must be carefully considered when evaluating how to best respond to an Officer Promotion Action.

Commissioned Officers Can “Lose” a Promotion

An officer’s promotion is not a reward for past service, but rather an advancement to a position of greater responsibility based on the officer’s future potential. When a commander or Secretary has doubts regarding the officer’s potential to serve in the higher grade, an Officer Promotion Action may be warranted and authorized. Every time such an action is initiated, it is possible for the officer who was selected for promotion to “lose” that promotion because the Secretary involved determines, fairly or not, that the officer’s potential does not warrant promotion to the higher grade. Therefore, great care should be exercised when responding to notification of any type of Officer Promotion Action.

Trusted Help from a Civilian Attorney

At The Law Office of Patrick J. McLain, PLLC, we are led by Attorney Patrick McLain, who is a retired Marine Corps military judge and former federal prosecutor. He has vast experience in military criminal law and military disciplinary processes, earned throughout 40 years in the field. Attorney Brad Sauer spent a year and a half at the Pentagon while on active duty advising the Secretary of the Air Force and other senior leaders on Officer Promotion Actions. If you are facing one and don’t know what to do about it, start by trusting our insight and tenacity. We can help you demonstrate you are worthy of promotion to the higher grade, no matter the challenges you might face due to an Officer Promotion Action.

Get more information by talking to our team today. Call (888) 606-3385 or submit an online contact form at any time.

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