We often hear that we're our best career advocates, but to read some of these threads, one would think many of us are victims to the all-powerful Big Brother of HRC. The truth likely is that many of us don't know how to plan for our careers, or haven't put in the time to do it. While I can't help with the latter, this post will get you started for career planning. It's oriented toward Army officers, but similar resources and techniques apply for NCOs and likely other services.
Here’s my advice:
1) Be a member of S1 Net. Knowing the regs better than the admin folks has been the saving grace for me personally and for more than one of my Soldiers on a number of occasions. Staying current with those regs is easier with S1 Net. You can get weekly updates on MILPER messages, ALARACTs, and other key notices by signing up via MILSUITE.
2) Know your career progression. DA Pamphlet 6003, Commissioned Officer Professional Development and Career Management explains the entire process of developing oneself as an officer generally and in one's branch or functional area. Read the first seven (7) chapters in their entirety, including the parts about aviation, warrant officers, the Reserve and Guard, whether or not they apply to you. This explains schools, when and how the service expects to promote, and under what conditions.
Chapters 8-41 are specific to branches and functional areas. Read the chapter that applies to you, as well as any branch detailed area or interesting functional areas. There's a figure at the end of every section which lays out your branch's career progression: what PME, civilian education, training, assignments, and self-development one should have at each rank or time period for that branch. This is critical, as it helps set up your expectations and can help shape your personal, family, and career planning.
3) Know your personal circumstances and goals. Where are you in life? Where do you want to be 5 or 10 years? Are you married or in a serious relationship? Do you have children? What age and school? How old are your parents? How is their health? Who depends on you? In the event something significant happened in your "immediate family" (parents, stepfamily, grandparents, siblings, nieces/nephews, etc.), who would take on primary caregiver roles? Would you be one of the key decision makers or caregivers? How likely is a life-changing event (sibling with cancer, elderly parents/in-laws, etc.)?
How do you feel about traditional military career requirements? Is the command "end-all/be-all" for you, or are you someone who is a stellar staff officer, and would be okay without necessarily being in command repeatedly? Are you only seeking out command because you feel it's the only way to continue "up" in our system? (Ps. It's not.) There might be functional areas that are better suited for you personally, and which would benefit your skills if this is the case.
4) Know where your jobs are located. At junior levels, there are often positions at various posts, but as one becomes a field grade officer, these positions slim significantly. In my career field, the majority of O5 and O6 positions are located in the National Capital Region. I searched FMSWeb by position and grade. One can also look this up in the AGR system using AGRMIS, or ask one's branch manager. Sometimes branch newsletters publish information on where percentages of positions are located.
5) Lay out your timeline. Using the excel spreadsheet attached, build your timeline, overlaying your family, career, and life milestones. This activity helps identify when I want to apply for Battalion Command (I have a choice), to provide continuity for our son's high school education. I also recognized when retirement opportunities were present and identified associated risks. Although there's only 7 years of service difference between receiving an Active or Reserve retirement due to multiple deployments, I must reach O6 to stay for extra three months beyond my O5 Mandatory
Retirement date to be eligible for an Active Duty retirement. All of this data helped us shape the following situational awareness: I will still be in the Army after our son graduates high school. Most O5/O6 jobs for my career field are in the NCR, my husband's career has a number of advancement opportunities in the NCR, and we don't really want to pay for the kind of housing that great schools would cost in that area, but it wouldn't be a bad idea if we had Virginia residency for our son to attend one of the state's colleges, either! As a result, I campaigned for non-NCR positions early in my O5 timeline, with intent on pursuing Battalion Command and Senior Service College while our son is in high school and then moving to the NCR for senior O5/junior O6 assignments. Likely, I will have to geobach SSC for high school continuity, but then we can move into smaller, more cost efficient housing and not need to consider school quality and play dates the way we used to! It also sets us up for transitioning to a post-Army world for me, and one where my husband is able to continuously invest in his career without needing to pack up every few years.
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