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Debating Commissioning

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Sully

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This has begun to weigh on my mind recently.  I have been lucky and been given the opportunity to successfully complete every course I have ever wanted in the Infantry.  PPF, Free-Fall, Advanced Recce…..…the list goes on and on. I also have had the opportunity to participate within Recce Platoon for over 10 years, on Cbt Operations including Op Archer in 2006.  I really love working and teaching young Soldiers. My pay-off is when young Soldiers tell me that it was me who influenced/ inspired them to complete training or successfully execute operations overseas.  I am grateful for everything the Infantry has given me. I would like to focus on planning / shaping training events for Soldiers now. I have been doing this as a Pl 2 IC for some time now. At the end of the day the Officer has the final word. I have completed two OPME’s. I have tried to / applied to complete the remaining OPME’s but have not been picked up for the last three semesters because Officers have priority over the training. I am asking for advice/experience from Officers within the Combat Arms who have commissioned from the ranks.  Would you do it again? I am leaning to wait until I complete the DP3B (WO Crse) before starting the process. This way I only need to complete limited phase training. I have thirteen years of service completed. I am on the 20 year plan. I understand that my pension is based on the best 5 years of service. This is also a factor, but money is not everything in this world.  Someone convince me that commissioning is a good or bad idea. Thanks  :army:
 

MJP

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Sully said:
This has begun to weigh on my mind recently.  I have been lucky and been given the opportunity to successfully complete every course I have ever wanted in the Infantry.  PPF, Free-Fall, Advanced Recce…..…the list goes on and on. I also have had the opportunity to participate within Recce Platoon for over 10 years, on Cbt Operations including Op Archer in 2006.  I really love working and teaching young Soldiers. My pay-off is when young Soldiers tell me that it was me who influenced/ inspired them to complete training or successfully execute operations overseas.  I am grateful for everything the Infantry has given me. I would like to focus on planning / shaping training events for Soldiers now. I have been doing this as a Pl 2 IC for some time now. At the end of the day the Officer has the final word. I have completed two OPME’s. I have tried to / applied to complete the remaining OPME’s but have not been picked up for the last three semesters because Officers have priority over the training. I am asking for advice/experience from Officers within the Combat Arms who have commissioned from the ranks.  Would you do it again? I am leaning to wait until I complete the DP3B (WO Crse) before starting the process. This way I only need to complete limited phase training. I have thirteen years of service completed. I am on the 20 year plan. I understand that my pension is based on the best 5 years of service. This is also a factor, but money is not everything in this world.  Someone convince me that commissioning is a good or bad idea. Thanks  :army:

Go talk to James O' about his experience as a CFR in the Infantry.  He came up through the ranks at the same time we did so his experiences speak well of the pros and cons of commissioning. 
 
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Sully

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Thanks for the suggestion,  I have talked to James.
 
S

Sully

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Thanks for the replies, PM's, advice, and exp. I will take them all into consideration.
 

Pusser

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The biggest problem with commissioning from the ranks is that you will go from top of the heap to one of many.  Some of the best officers I've ever met were CFRs, but some of the worst were also CFRs.  The difference was that the good ones made the transition well and became officers.  The bad ones remained chiefs who dressed like officers.  I'm not saying that CFRs should forget and dismiss their pasts (far from it in fact), but if you're take that step, go all the way and BE an officer.  Stay out of the weeds and let your NCOs do their jobs without you in their shorts.  Don't hang out in the officers' mess telling war stories and looking down on your messmates because they "don't really understand" what it's like.  Certainly don't go sneaking back to the Sgts and WOs Mess at every opportunity (I don't say never, just not always).  If you can do all of this, then the officer corps has a place for you and will value your experience.

On another note, with only 13 years in, you should have plenty of time to commission and move up reasonably far.  I knew an admiral years ago who commissioned as a petty officer.

One final note (a pet peeve of mine), please don't talk about "taking your commission."  It's not yours to take.  Commissions are granted to those who earn them.  They are not given out to those who simply ask.
 

armybuck041

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I'll throw a nickle into the conversation...

I was a former Combat Engineer WO, and was commissioned to Lt at the age of 33. I field many questions on the topic similar to yours, so i'll contribute in an effort to help you and anyone else considering this. This is the view from my rose coloured glasses, so please, no one fire a missile at me if you don't agree. In other words, your mileage may vary.

There are 3 distinct ways to CFR (as a Combat Engineer anyway) IMHO:

As a Sgt, you will most likely be required to complete some portions of your Phase trg; 3 and 4 for sure. This has some "ups" and "downs". The downs are obvious. You will find yourself doing alot of training you may have already covered at some point, but as an older person. If you have a family, it will have the usual impacts. Having discussed this with a few I know that went this route, the "ups" are many. You will integrate and gain credibility with your new peers, and hopefully have some time between courses to get some PD finished. If you are really lucky, you may get to pick up some Second Language trg.

As a WO, you will be PLAR'd your Phases and most likely be employed in a Tier 1 position, ie Troop Commander. In my case, this was my entry plan. Loosely put, I was promoted to Lt while at an ERE posting, and shortly thereafter, was posted to Regt as a "new" Lt. Literally, WO one day, Lt the next. Zero crses or trg.

As an MWO, it can be even more tricky. You will most likely move into a Tier 2/2.5 Capt position (Sqn 2 I/C, Ops O, Adjt etc). The water can become much more murky if your intent is to work with the Troops as a Line Officer. Its much less clear if you will become a Staff Officer or a Line Officer when you start at the Tier 2 level. I have seen many go either direction, some by choice, some not.

There are quite a few things that I didn't thoroughly consider when I made the leap:

Age. Although its not policy, nor written anywhere, age becomes your enemy right off of the bat. As a 33 year old WO with 15 years in, the world is your oyster so to speak. As a 33 year old Lt, you notice that there exists unwritten mile-stones about where you should be in a particular age group. This was explained to me in certain detail after I switched over. Generally speaking, a 40 something year old OC is not what is envisioned. Age isn't the be all and end all, but you begin to feel it having an impact, whereas as an young NCO you find yourself wondering what to do with all the time you have left to CRA.

Integration. Another age related issue is in regards to integration with your new peers. In my case, i'm easily 10 years older than my new peers. Again, not a show stopper, but those mornings after the beer funnel with the rest of "subbies" tends to hurt a bit more. I know many NCOs who flat out refused to participate in Mess activities. As an officer, it is not really an option starting out. Another issue is, if you bypass Phase Trg, you need to make a reasonable effort to integrate with your new peers at the Unit. Its hard to describe that feeling you get when you arrive as a newly minted Lt, and when you look around the Unit and the only people you really don't know are your new peers. This is an area where CFR's can get stuck in the past. I'm not saying that you will need to write off old friends and go party with the Lt's, but if you can't let go to some extent, it will become difficult. 

Professional Development. OPME and AJOSQ are your little demons to deal with. Although they are not extremely difficult, they will consume a great deal of your spare time. I hear many NCO's complain about ILQ DL essays etc. ILQ DL suddenly becomes comical compared to the reading and writing you are required to do for the History, Leadership & Ethics OPME, and a good portion of AJOSQ. Although much of the "Big Hand, Small Map" stuff in AJOSQ feels like a review having lived it at the tactical end as an NCO, you really do need to understand many of the details behind the voodoo/magic in order to pass AJOSQ. Lastly, all of this needs to be completed on your time, and when you start it, there does not appear to be any light at the end of the tunnel. 

Performance/Potential. One of the biggest changes i've noticed is the way officers are evaluated. As an NCO, performance seemed more important in determining the potential of a given individual. If an NCO was missing some key trg to develop his potential, it was generally provided, unless he/she didn't possess the personal attributes. As an officer, yes performance is crucial, but potential, ie Second Language Profile and Post Secondary Education become key in determining potential as you hover at the Capt to Major hurdle.

Second Language Profile. If you do not have one, you find yourself (like I do) wishing you did. As an NCO, if you were selected for employment requiring it, generally it was granted, ie up and coming RSM etc. As an officer, a great deal of onus is put on you to develop a plan to get a Second Language profile.

Post Secondary Education. Although not a huge impediment at the get go, if you see yourself as a LCol some day, start working on it. Without it, you will certainly cease progression as a Maj. It becomes a big mental exercise trying to determine if getting a Degree "is in the cards". Having it will also not guarantee you making it LCol (refer to the age comment).

Being a Pl/Tp Comd. I can't vouch for the Infantry, but in the Engineer Corps as an NCO, there are not many other NCO's you won't have already worked or trained with at some point. This is a double edged sword for both you, and your new Tp/Pl leadership. When everything lines up, its like magic. When some things don't, it can be painful.  Having said that. What a great time. You will find yourself doing many of the things you desperately wanted to do as an NCO. I can't say enough about it..... But the reality will soon set in that your days are numbered.

I'll close with this thought. I CFR'd because I was a very young WO and spent much time wondering what the future would hold for me as an NCO. I had 22 years left on the clock. It makes you think. The more I looked around, the more being a WO and beyond seemed like social work, and that I was slowly being disconnected from the Troops. I saw becoming an officer as a whole new opportunity to reconnect and begin a new career of sorts. As a Lt Tp/Pl Comd, you will definitely get that chance, and what a reward it is. Sadly, it is short lived. Once you have completed your time, you will quickly be moved over to another position so the next guy can have his go at it. Your only other chance is as an OC. If you consider my points above, getting that chance to do it again as an OC is quite a bottle neck. Not impossible, but it will require a great deal of effort and may feel like your chasing the unreachable carrot. In other words, you may find yourself as a Capt asking the same questions you did as a WO, "What am I going to do until CRA?". No doubt my pension will most likely be a bit better, and the posting options are ten-fold that of an NCO. Life after Line Command doesn't seem too bad really.

So, would I do it over again in exactly the same manner? That is difficult to answer, and at this point I think its too early to tell. But, If I could turn back the clock, I would go the UTPNCM route without question.

So, having said all of that, before you take the plunge, ask yourself where you "realistically" see yourself being, then consider some of the points above.
 

daftandbarmy

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Whatever you do, don't think that you HAVE to commission into the infantry just because you're in the infantry right now.

I know that you love to 'get within grenade chuckin' distance' and blow things up, but you should have a good look around at other trades that might be interesting to you, or where you could bring your infantry experience to bear, for the 'next phase' of the process of extracting the Field Marshall's baton from your knapsack

Oh, and your knees won't hold out forever!  ;D
 

MJP

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armybuck041 said:
I'll throw a nickle into the conversation...

I was a former Combat Engineer WO, and was commissioned to Lt at the age of 33. I field many questions on the topic similar to yours, so i'll contribute in an effort to help you and anyone else considering this. This is the view from my rose coloured glasses, so please, no one fire a missile at me if you don't agree. In other words, your mileage may vary.

There are 3 distinct ways to CFR (as a Combat Engineer anyway) IMHO:

As a Sgt, you will most likely be required to complete some portions of your Phase trg; 3 and 4 for sure. This has some "ups" and "downs". The downs are obvious. You will find yourself doing alot of training you may have already covered at some point, but as an older person. If you have a family, it will have the usual impacts. Having discussed this with a few I know that went this route, the "ups" are many. You will integrate and gain credibility with your new peers, and hopefully have some time between courses to get some PD finished. If you are really lucky, you may get to pick up some Second Language trg.

As a WO, you will be PLAR'd your Phases and most likely be employed in a Tier 1 position, ie Troop Commander. In my case, this was my entry plan. Loosely put, I was promoted to Lt while at an ERE posting, and shortly thereafter, was posted to Regt as a "new" Lt. Literally, WO one day, Lt the next. Zero crses or trg.

As an MWO, it can be even more tricky. You will most likely move into a Tier 2/2.5 Capt position (Sqn 2 I/C, Ops O, Adjt etc). The water can become much more murky if your intent is to work with the Troops as a Line Officer. Its much less clear if you will become a Staff Officer or a Line Officer when you start at the Tier 2 level. I have seen many go either direction, some by choice, some not.

There are quite a few things that I didn't thoroughly consider when I made the leap:

Age. Although its not policy, nor written anywhere, age becomes your enemy right off of the bat. As a 33 year old WO with 15 years in, the world is your oyster so to speak. As a 33 year old Lt, you notice that there exists unwritten mile-stones about where you should be in a particular age group. This was explained to me in certain detail after I switched over. Generally speaking, a 40 something year old OC is not what is envisioned. Age isn't the be all and end all, but you begin to feel it having an impact, whereas as an young NCO you find yourself wondering what to do with all the time you have left to CRA.

Integration. Another age related issue is in regards to integration with your new peers. In my case, i'm easily 10 years older than my new peers. Again, not a show stopper, but those mornings after the beer funnel with the rest of "subbies" tends to hurt a bit more. I know many NCOs who flat out refused to participate in Mess activities. As an officer, it is not really an option starting out. Another issue is, if you bypass Phase Trg, you need to make a reasonable effort to integrate with your new peers at the Unit. Its hard to describe that feeling you get when you arrive as a newly minted Lt, and when you look around the Unit and the only people you really don't know are your new peers. This is an area where CFR's can get stuck in the past. I'm not saying that you will need to write off old friends and go party with the Lt's, but if you can't let go to some extent, it will become difficult. 

Professional Development. OPME and AJOSQ are your little demons to deal with. Although they are not extremely difficult, they will consume a great deal of your spare time. I hear many NCO's complain about ILQ DL essays etc. ILQ DL suddenly becomes comical compared to the reading and writing you are required to do for the History, Leadership & Ethics OPME, and a good portion of AJOSQ. Although much of the "Big Hand, Small Map" stuff in AJOSQ feels like a review having lived it at the tactical end as an NCO, you really do need to understand many of the details behind the voodoo/magic in order to pass AJOSQ. Lastly, all of this needs to be completed on your time, and when you start it, there does not appear to be any light at the end of the tunnel. 

Performance/Potential. One of the biggest changes i've noticed is the way officers are evaluated. As an NCO, performance seemed more important in determining the potential of a given individual. If an NCO was missing some key trg to develop his potential, it was generally provided, unless he/she didn't possess the personal attributes. As an officer, yes performance is crucial, but potential, ie Second Language Profile and Post Secondary Education become key in determining potential as you hover at the Capt to Major hurdle.

Second Language Profile. If you do not have one, you find yourself (like I do) wishing you did. As an NCO, if you were selected for employment requiring it, generally it was granted, ie up and coming RSM etc. As an officer, a great deal of onus is put on you to develop a plan to get a Second Language profile.

Post Secondary Education. Although not a huge impediment at the get go, if you see yourself as a LCol some day, start working on it. Without it, you will certainly cease progression as a Maj. It becomes a big mental exercise trying to determine if getting a Degree "is in the cards". Having it will also not guarantee you making it LCol (refer to the age comment).

Being a Pl/Tp Comd. I can't vouch for the Infantry, but in the Engineer Corps as an NCO, there are not many other NCO's you won't have already worked or trained with at some point. This is a double edged sword for both you, and your new Tp/Pl leadership. When everything lines up, its like magic. When some things don't, it can be painful.  Having said that. What a great time. You will find yourself doing many of the things you desperately wanted to do as an NCO. I can't say enough about it..... But the reality will soon set in that your days are numbered.

I'll close with this thought. I CFR'd because I was a very young WO and spent much time wondering what the future would hold for me as an NCO. I had 22 years left on the clock. It makes you think. The more I looked around, the more being a WO and beyond seemed like social work, and that I was slowly being disconnected from the Troops. I saw becoming an officer as a whole new opportunity to reconnect and begin a new career of sorts. As a Lt Tp/Pl Comd, you will definitely get that chance, and what a reward it is. Sadly, it is short lived. Once you have completed your time, you will quickly be moved over to another position so the next guy can have his go at it. Your only other chance is as an OC. If you consider my points above, getting that chance to do it again as an OC is quite a bottle neck. Not impossible, but it will require a great deal of effort and may feel like your chasing the unreachable carrot. In other words, you may find yourself as a Capt asking the same questions you did as a WO, "What am I going to do until CRA?". No doubt my pension will most likely be a bit better, and the posting options are ten-fold that of an NCO. Life after Line Command doesn't seem too bad really.

So, would I do it over again in exactly the same manner? That is difficult to answer, and at this point I think its too early to tell. But, If I could turn back the clock, I would go the UTPNCM route without question.

So, having said all of that, before you take the plunge, ask yourself where you "realistically" see yourself being, then consider some of the points above.

Probably one of the best posts I've read in a while on the matter.  Well said!!!!

daftandbarmy said:
Whatever you do, don't think that you HAVE to commission into the infantry just because you're in the infantry right now.

I know that you love to 'get within grenade chuckin' distance' and blow things up, but you should have a good look around at other trades that might be interesting to you, or where you could bring your infantry experience to bear, for the 'next phase' of the process of extracting the Field Marshall's baton from your knapsack

Oh, and your knees won't hold out forever!  ;D

Very true and I don't remember how much Uni you have under your belt Sully, but if your thinking of going UTPNCM drop me a line.
 

Wolfmann

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All good advice, so my only contribution is two questions:

Why do I 'really' want a commission? <---- honestly reflect on that question.

Do I have expertise and/or education? <---- what could you or do you offer that being an officer would enhance.

There is no wrong answer, but if you are hoping to become a staff officer so you can make a difference, then staying where you are as a Senior NCO (eventually) will do more to make relevant change. If you don't identify with your peer group, then making a change may be right. If you're looking for a pay raise, and enhanced privileges, ask yourself why and perhaps you should be looking elsewhere other than the CF for employment. If you are bored, or looking for advancement, again, perhaps looking elsewhere than the CF maybe an option. 

For the second question, if you don't hold a degree, or are willing to obtain one, then your promotion prospect could be limited to the junior rungs of senior leadership. Not everyone is going to become a General or Admiral, so your expectations of how far you want to go with your qualifications need to be realistic. The CF isn't steeped in the same organizational protectionism that graduates of West Point or Naval Academy in the states are, but those that cultivated relationship together, tend to stick together. You may find yourself alone, with your friends (former Senior NCO's) unable to do anything - HOWEVER, those former Senior NCO's you have a relationship will be essentially important if you want to get anything done (nice paradox, isn't it).  To move up in rank, past Lt(N)/Captain or LCdr/Maj, you don't necessarily need a graduate degree, but you need the relevant qualifications or education (nee...courses both military and civilian) and even from there as you get more rings on your shoulder, it becomes very much political. You must be willing to play the game by a long establish, traditional set of rules. To become a General or Admiral, some form of post-graduate qualification is almost a requirement - unless you were REALLY good at your job previously.

CFR's don't always realize that you are leaving a specialty to go into general service. YES you have trade qualifications, but really, at the level you are a manager first, and a leader second, and a specialist last. I've known several CFR's and eventually pity promotions come, but those that really make a difference leave a legacy and something to offer the CF beyond what they could as a Senior NCO. And they have a clear understanding of what that is, even though they may not be able to define the specific path.

Good luck...!
 

CombatDoc

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I've never been NCM, so I can't comment specifically on the transition to officer.  However, if you are thinking of commissioning, one skill that will prove crucial to your success as an officer is your ability to write.  You need to be able to write well, and be able to write often, with deadline pressures.  This typically has to do with email traffic, but also means writing orders, PERs, briefing notes, etc.  This point was brought home to me when a CWO told me "I'd never commission because I couldn't handle having to write as much as you guys do". 

Having said this, I've also met many officers who do not write well, but writing is an essential communication skill as a "manager of violence".
 

TangoTwoBravo

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Wolfmann said:
All good advice, so my only contribution is two questions:

Why do I 'really' want a commission? <---- honestly reflect on that question.

Do I have expertise and/or education? <---- what could you or do you offer that being an officer would enhance.

There is no wrong answer, but if you are hoping to become a staff officer so you can make a difference, then staying where you are as a Senior NCO (eventually) will do more to make relevant change. If you don't identify with your peer group, then making a change may be right. If you're looking for a pay raise, and enhanced privileges, ask yourself why and perhaps you should be looking elsewhere other than the CF for employment. If you are bored, or looking for advancement, again, perhaps looking elsewhere than the CF maybe an option. 

For the second question, if you don't hold a degree, or are willing to obtain one, then your promotion prospect could be limited to the junior rungs of senior leadership. Not everyone is going to become a General or Admiral, so your expectations of how far you want to go with your qualifications need to be realistic. The CF isn't steeped in the same organizational protectionism that graduates of West Point or Naval Academy in the states are, but those that cultivated relationship together, tend to stick together. You may find yourself alone, with your friends (former Senior NCO's) unable to do anything - HOWEVER, those former Senior NCO's you have a relationship will be essentially important if you want to get anything done (nice paradox, isn't it).  To move up in rank, past Lt(N)/Captain or LCdr/Maj, you don't necessarily need a graduate degree, but you need the relevant qualifications or education (nee...courses both military and civilian) and even from there as you get more rings on your shoulder, it becomes very much political. You must be willing to play the game by a long establish, traditional set of rules. To become a General or Admiral, some form of post-graduate qualification is almost a requirement - unless you were REALLY good at your job previously.

CFR's don't always realize that you are leaving a specialty to go into general service. YES you have trade qualifications, but really, at the level you are a manager first, and a leader second, and a specialist last. I've known several CFR's and eventually pity promotions come, but those that really make a difference leave a legacy and something to offer the CF beyond what they could as a Senior NCO. And they have a clear understanding of what that is, even though they may not be able to define the specific path.

Good luck...!

Wolfmann,

What experience or insights are you basing your advice on? You seem to know the pathway to Admiral, which I find interesting. Assuming that you do, indeed, know how to get to Admiral I'm not sure what your point is. Do you have to get to that rank to be successful?

The original poster is still young enough to have a great career as an officer with field unit leadership appointments. I know several Combat Arms individuals who switched from NCO to officer in their early 30s and they are doing very well. They are certainly fully integrated with their peers in the mess and regiment/battalion.
 

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Tango2Bravo said:
Wolfmann,

What experience or insights are you basing your advice on? You seem to know the pathway to Admiral, which I find interesting. Assuming that you do, indeed, know how to get to Admiral I'm not sure what your point is. Do you have to get to that rank to be successful?

The original poster is still young enough to have a great career as an officer with field unit leadership appointments. I know several Combat Arms individuals who switched from NCO to officer in their early 30s and they are doing very well. They are certainly fully integrated with their peers in the mess and regiment/battalion.

I didn't mean to imply he HAD to move to the flag rank to measure his success. My point is he must define his own success, but understand that he should think about his decision and apply them to goals.

My comments or what may be implied, come from years of dealing with organizational politics in both civilian and CF life. They're really not that far removed from one another, just different cultures. I'm not saying I have the answers, no one really does, but there are some very specific things that need to happen to advance. Some of them fair, others not so. I just have seen officers CFR because they were ultimately unsatisfied with their careers and believe being an officer, without really truly understanding what being an Officer is about, will change that. That they can make a meaningful difference without understanding what that difference is, what is required, and how to go about it with maturity and leadership.

Opportunity is always around the bend, its what you do with that opportunity that separates you. And I firmly believe that it is an Officer's job to be a leader first and part of being a leader is making those around you better, seizing opportunities when presented, and trying to make a difference in the face of organizational challenges. Unfortunately, I've seen officers/managers/executives who floated by in their careers as deadweight, inspiring others with the wrong motivations. 

Its not an easy decision, and I believe anyone that makes the decision to be an officer must seriously understand the responsibility and implications that are removed in being a NCM.
 

Wolfmann

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Journeyman said:
Pity promotions?  ::)

It may sound harsh, but not all officers ( let alone CFR's) seek the qualifications, duties, or education that will advance them to the level they wish to be, or had motivation to be at once they become an officer and realize they are middle of the pack. I am certainly not painting all officers or CFR officers with that brush...there are some absolutely awesome officers that CFR'ed. But there are some that have stagnated, are fundamentally unhappy about that, but aren't willing to do what needs to be done to move forward in their careers. So they will be fundamentally remain unhappy until they retire.

CFR's are in a unique position in that they have a reference of being an NCM and an Officer, and I firmly believe that if you decide on no longer being an NCM you should understand what the implications, responsibilities, and requirements of a commissioned officer are...you should have a plan, even if it's a simple one with a broad goal.
 

Journeyman

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I'm not disagreeing with the overall gist of your points (noting Tango2Bravo's query of your qualifications/basis for your pronouncements)......

But I cannot picture an example, from my personal knowledge, of what could be referred to as a "pity promotion."*

That some CFR officers "have stagnated, are fundamentally unhappy about that, but aren't willing to do what needs to be done to move forward in their careers"....have not been rewarded with promotions from my experience.


* A possible exception would be a recent promotion of an officer to BGen, with significant back-pay, upon his retirement, but that is a separate issue, not to muddy the CFR discussion.

 
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