Selection Board season is in full swing.  As the results from each board are made public, the “analysis” of the “signal the board is sending” begins in earnest.  Unfortunately, this “analysis” is often replete with rumors, innuendo, and (mis)perceptions.  Today, we will address these (mis)perceptions head-on, as those who have participated in past selection boards as both members and recorders.

(Mis)Perceptions

— Unrestricted Line (URL) Officers pick our selectees.  — True and False.

When framed around the role of the Reporting Senior, this statement is most certainly true. Performance during our most significant operational experiences is assessed by the pen of an Unrestricted Line (URL) Officer.  The way he/she documents the value we deliver most certainly has a significant impact on how a promotion board assesses our overall body of work and therefore the decision as to whether or not we are among the best of the fully qualified.

When considering the inner-workings of the Tank, however, this statement is most certainly false. Yes, there are more URLs than Community Leaders in the tank, but the power of the vote lies in the words of the briefers.  The briefer has but a few seconds to focus the vote and drive each member to a confidence level. A simple opening statement of, “This officer was among the 13% of her peers who successfully screened for Command…” is often enough to get the group to consensus and the next record scrolled. The rest of the Tank is keying off the words of the community leader briefing the record. For those seconds, the briefer is the leader and the rest of the Tank merely following their lead.  The focus of each voter is to promote the best of the fully qualified based on the values of the community, as communicated by the precept and amplified by the briefer. And yes, many of these voters wrote some of the FITREPs being summarized in front of their very eyes.

— The “Community Considerations” section in the Convening Order is ambiguous. — True

Looking at the FY-16 Active Duty Captain Line Officer Board Convening Order, it is difficult to discern the difference between Fully Qualified and Best Qualified.  Indeed, both paragraphs include the terms fully qualified and best qualified.  This distinction is important, as per the opening paragraphs of the Convening Order, the board, “must recommend for promotion the best qualified officers.”  We state that, “The best qualified IW officers will additionally have been screened for and/or completed a Command tour as a Commander…”  Yet, that same sentence continues, adding, “…and will have achieved advanced education.”  This appears to put Command on par with advanced education.
Advanced education should be covered in the Fully Qualified section, or at the O6 level, not at all (it’s really intended to be a key discriminator at the O4 Selection Board).  At the same time, the Best Qualified guidance could go a step further by stating something along the lines of, ” a successful command tour should be the single most important discriminator for determining the best qualified Cryptologic Warfare Officers.” Later this month we will offer recommended language that includes tailored criteria for each promotion gate.

— Reporting Seniors defer decisions to the selection board. — True

The basis for selection, our FITREPs are not typically an accurate assessment of the candidate. Instead, reporting seniors seem to feel compelled to take care of their Sailor to ensure they have a chance for selection.  This makes it difficult for the briefer, and the entire board, to separate the best and fully qualified from the otherwise qualified, as they struggle to pick the best candidate from a sea of “best” candidates. While many are fully qualified, we must ensure our FITREPs truly convey those who are best qualified, while also making it clear that some are not ready for selection.  As long we continue to portray everyone as the best, we will continue to scratch our heads at the results.  When we sign FITREPs we are not advocating for “My Sailor” we are writing a personal letter to the board that must articulate whether or not the individual is truly among the best.

— We don’t value command. — False

FY17 Promotion Convening Order: “The best qualified IW officers will additionally have been screened for and/or completed a Command tour as a commander…”

Selection for Cryptologic Warfare Command remains the most competitive selection process in our career path.  Typically, less than 10% of those eligible screen for command. There is value in scarcity and Command opportunities are among the most scarce.  The community values Command and though the most recent results might give some reason to question the level of value placed on the greatest honor awarded to a Naval Officer, we will look back upon this year as but an anomaly. Since we have established the Command Screen Board process, every officer successfully completing Commander Command has been selected for promotion to Captain on his/her 1st or 2nd look.  Next year, that statement will once again ring true.

Analysis and Conclusions

It is only natural to look at the results of each selection board, make assumptions, and do “analysis” as to the board’s selections.  We will continue to look at those results and wonder what message the board is sending to the community.  Without actually participating in a particular selection board, however, we will never know for sure why candidate A was selected and candidate B was not, and we should not second guess the board results.  Those of us who have personally witnessed or directly participated in board proceedings can confidently state that the process is beyond reproach. The outcomes may give some reason to scratch our head, but it’s not the outcomes that should concern us. It’s the inputs.  It’s not the past that should garner our attention. It’s the future.

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What will we do as reporting seniors, potential board members, and/or community leaders to ensure that next year those watching will know, clearly and unambiguously, that we value Command?

In your opinion, does the community value Command?

More importantly, do you value Command?

v/r
Sean and Chuck