Detailed Career Planning for the Junior Officer
Every spring, thousands of newly minted Second Lieutenants enter the United States Army Officer Corps to begin their military careers. Depending on their commissioning source, some of these new Officers have their Basic Officer Leader Course (BOLC) start date, while others already know their first duty station. Most of these new leaders haven’t thought much about anything past completing BOLC and arriving at their first duty station, but it is important to understand what experiences may be in store for you over the next several years. One thing that you will learn quickly is that the path to navigate the ranks from Second Lieutenant to Senior Captain can vary greatly; an uncertainty that can cause anxiety and frustration for some. Even with the help of the mentors you’ve (hopefully) had the opportunity to talk to thus far in your career, your conversations were probably stuck at “conceptual planning” and not “detailed planning.” This article hopes to provide some insight to help you map out career milestones and goals through detailed planning, alleviating this stress and frustration.
According to ADP 5-0 Operations Process, conceptual planning involves understanding the operational environment and the problem, determining the operation’s end state, and visualizing an operational approach. If you were anything like me as a newly commissioned 2LT, this is what I saw conceptually as my company-grade career progression: Basic Officer Leader Course, functional schooling, platoon leader time, and then key developmental time as a Captain. In my experience, this is how many company-grade officers view the early stages of their time in uniform. Although these are certainly key positions you will most likely experience, I submit that junior officers need to move beyond simple conceptual planning to detailed planning when examining their early career path.
According to ADP 5-0 Operations Process, detailed planning involves the translation of the broad operational approach into a complete and practical plan. I believe that junior officers need to engage in detailed planning (and not just conceptual) when mapping out their careers; encompassing all aspects of their lives, not just broad career goals. Detailed planning should focus on military-specific career interests like duty positions, installations, and units junior leaders are interested in, but should also incorporate personal goals that impact, or are impacted by, career pursuits. Including personal goals such as earning an advanced degree, marriage and family plans, key dates for spouses and children, and your spouse’s career goals, you can identify how your seemingly disconnected goals will impact each other, identify key decision points, and engage in planning to help you achieve both your professional and personal goals, leading to greater fulfillment during your service to our Nation.
Suggested Steps for the Planning Process
The first step in engaging in detailed planning for your career is to gather the necessary tools and information. A few sources you should consider is your respective branch DA PAM 600-3 and promotion result analysis, Rally Point, visiting the Human Resources Command website, the CJO Career Planning Template (or others), the General Officer Management Office website, and the Active Duty Officer Assignment Interactive Module Version 2 (AIM 2) website. In addition to these resources, it is important to gather insights and perspectives from loved ones and mentors. Outside of military resources, consider utilizing the wisdom offered by the Harvard Business Review. These resources are extremely valuable and will help you map your career.
The second step in planning your career is to clarify your goals. What things do you want to achieve? Use the information and insights gained in the first step to inform your goals (the input from loved ones and mentors is an important element here). You also need to identify any pre-requisites or requirements needed for these various goals. For example, if your goal is to serve on the USMA Faculty, you will need to plan to take the GRE before CCC and look to step into a KD assignment quickly to align your professional timeline with your goal. Or perhaps you hope to start a family. Having a new baby the year you start graduate school or company command may not be optimal. Planning personal goals alongside your professional timeline helps to make things easier on you and your loved ones.
When mapping out a timeline, there are numerous templates you might use, or you can create your own. Regardless of the format you use, a graphical depiction of your goals, decision points, and associated timeline/dates will help you visualize your planning and improve the likelihood of achieving your stated goals! A quick note – once you’ve completed your timeline, I suggest you share your plan with loved ones and mentors – and update it as conditions change. As a junior officer, you have fewer options and variables to consider than field-grade officers, but detailed career planning can be hugely beneficial – both now and as you continue to progress.
The final step in career planning is to review and refine. All career plans need to be reviewed and refined at major gates and decision points. Every Officer will have their own unique career and you are empowered to determine where it leads. Remember that when it comes to your personal and professional timeline, detailed planning will help you make the most out of your career. Creating a forward-thinking career plan will help you not miss certain gates or prerequisites for your longer-term goals.
Junior Officer Detailed Planning Considerations
As you work on your junior officer career planning, the items that follow may be helpful.
Gate 1: Basic Officer Leadership Course (BOLC) and Functional Schooling
The first step in becoming a successful company-grade officer is to attend and graduate from your respective Basic Officer Leadership Course. This course is designed to instruct the competencies and skills needed to succeed as a Lieutenant in your branch. Your first evaluation as an Officer will come in the form of an Academic Evaluation Report (AER). This evaluation is an assessment of your performance at BOLC and begins to establish your manner of performance. After BOLC, you will also have the opportunity to use Tuition Assistance through ArmyIgnitED. Additionally, you may have functional schooling requirements to complete; for example, Armor Officers will attend additional training put on by the U.S. Army’s Armor School following BOLC. Before arriving at your first unit, you could find yourself attending Ranger School, Sapper School, Airborne School, etc. Not all branches have functional schooling requirements after BOLC; however, this is one of the best opportunities to attend one of these schools.
Gate 2: First Assignment (Platoon Leader, Executive Officer, or Assistant Staff Officer)
Platoon Leader. In your first duty station, you are to serve as a platoon leader or an equivalent position in your branch. Both your timeline and the timeline of the unit you are preparing to join will determine when you take over a platoon or get assigned to an important developmental role. Some officers may take a platoon immediately and others will serve on staff before assuming this position. The amount of time you serve in the position is driven by how your rater and senior rater manage the talent within their organization. Expect that you will change positions every 12-24 months as you gain experience and standing within the organization.
Decision Point 1: Post Platoon Leader Path and First Permanent Change of Station (PCS)
After your first assignment is complete, you’ll experience your first career decision point. At this point, you’ll have the opportunity to remain in your unit to serve in another position, compete for a Junior Officer Broadening Assignment, or pursue a different branch. Based on your performance and potential as a platoon leader, your battalion will seek to fill their company executive officer positions, specialty platoon positions, and battalion staff positions with their pool of lieutenants. Additionally, this is your first opportunity to serve as an Aide de Camp. Selection into a Junior Officer Broadening Assignments (JOBAs) will be heavily based on your demonstrated performance and potential thus far. JOBAs allow you to elect to compete and PCS to a broadening position before your respective Captain’s Career Course (CCC). Options include serving in an Initial Entry Training Brigade, 75th Ranger Regiment, Airborne Ranger Training Brigade (ARTB), etc. At this point, you may also elect to compete to change your branch. These opportunities are extremely limited in your career and you should plan to complete all prerequisites before the selection panel. Options include U.S. Army Special Operations, and the Funded Legal Education Program.
Gate 3: Captain’s Career Course (CCC) and First Permanent Change of Station (PCS)
The next step in becoming a successful company-grade officer is to attend and graduate from your respective Captain’s Career Course (CCC). As your second-grade specific professional military education course (PME), this course is designed to instruct the competencies and skills needed to succeed as a Captain in your respective branch. You’ll also receive your second Academic Evaluation Report (AER) leaving CCC. Alternative venues include the Marine Expeditionary Warfare School and the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) version of the Maneuver Captains Career Course in Spanish. Additionally, this is the first opportunity to be selected for Project Warrior. Functional schools are offered to CCC graduates that will assist them in their next positions such as Ranger, Jumpmaster, Bradley Leaders’ Course, and Stryker Leaders’ Course. Unlike functional schooling as a Lieutenant, these functional school opportunities are limited.
Decision Point 2: Post CCC Assignment and Second PCS
Before completing CCC, you’ll have to determine where you want to complete your company command or key developmental position. At a minimum, you need to consider duty station location, type of formation, spouse career options, family needs, your proven performance record, and your own knowledge, skills, and behaviors (KSBs). These variables are extremely valuable as you consider where you want to complete your company command or key developmental position. Additionally, consider the following unwritten rules I’ve learned in my career: everyone’s career in the Army is different; what worked for your rater or senior rater might not be available to you; have a conversation with your former raters, senior raters, and career manager; take an assignment that you want over the ones you think someone wants you to take; be open to an assignment and location that will make you grow as a professional and person, you’ll most likely not serve in the same location or BCT formation you served in as a lieutenant, and you’ll most likely not go OCONUS to OCONUS back to back. CCC is also the first opportunity to participate in a program to earn your Master’s Degree. Many CCCs have partnerships with local schools that help students earn their Master’s Degree and have CCC credit transfer towards a degree. Also, limited CCC graduates can complete Pre-KD broadening serving as an OCT in a CTC, Company Commander of an Initial Entry Training Company, ARTB Company Commander, SFAB Company Executive Officer, etc. While attractive, selecting this option will delay your entry into company command or key developmental positions and could potentially hinder your timeline depending on your personal and professional goals; so weigh this option carefully.
Gate 4: Company Command or CPT Key Developmental Assignment
During this assignment, you will complete company command or its respective key developmental (KD) equivalent within your branch. Your KD assignment is the most influential and consequential job you will hold as a company-grade officer. Your performance and potential on your CPT KD OERs will determine your CPT broadening time, your potential for promotion to MAJ, and your potential for selection to Resident ILE. Much like arriving at your first duty station, you may find yourself immediately stepping into a KD position or waiting on higher staff before being assigned to this type of position. Branch-specific guidance varies from year to year, but the rule of thumb is 12-18 months in one command and up to 24 months in two commands.
Decision Point 3: Post-KD CPT Broadening and Third PCS
Many options exist for post-KD CPTs for their broadening assignments. All broadening assignments fall under the following categories: Institutional, Operational, and Generating. Institutional assignment assignments include the ones listed in the Broadening Opportunity Program (BOP), serving at the United States Military Academy, or earning a graduate degree through Advanced Civil Schooling. Operational assignments include serving in the Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFAB), or the 75th Ranger Regiment. Generating assignments include serving as Observer, Coach, Trainer (OCT) at a Combat Training Center, Basic Training Company Commander, or Recruiting Company Commander. During this decision point, you will also have the opportunity to consider changing branches through the Voluntary Transfer Incentive Program. Around the six-year mark of service, many Functional Areas will be available for you to compete for selection. An example Functional Area quick reference for Infantry Officers by the U.S. Army Infantry Branch is here to serve as a reference.
Detailed career planning for junior officers can be hugely beneficial to you, but it can also positively impact your subordinates and their development. Leaders who help their subordinates engage in detailed career planning see increases in motivation, goal attainment, and retention.
You are about to embark on one of the most professional and personally rewarding experiences of your life by serving as an Officer in the United States Army. You will have the awesome responsibility to lead, coach, train, and mentor our Soldiers and create winning teams. With that being said, consider that you should plan a career that will allow you to establish a work-life balance. You should actively plan for your personal goals, milestones, and those of your significant others.
CPT Miguel Moyeno is currently serving as a Maneuver Advisor Team Leader at the 4th Security Force Assistance Brigade, Fort Carson, Colorado. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 2012 and has served previously twice as a Platoon Leader, Company Executive Officer, and Company Commander. Miguel is also a CJO Leadership Fellow and member of the Eisenhower Leader Development Program Cohort 17. The views expressed in this article are his own and do not reflect those of the DoD, or the US Army.