Will the COVID-19 Emergency Impact Your Promotion and Career Opportunities?

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Command Master Chief Brian McDonough (left) promotes Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Matthew Ndambuki to petty officer first class during a meritorious advancement program (MAP) promotion ceremony at U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT), July 12, 2018. (U.S. Navy photo/Bryan Neal Blair)
Command Master Chief Brian McDonough (left) promotes Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Matthew Ndambuki to petty officer first class during a meritorious advancement program (MAP) promotion ceremony at U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT), July 12, 2018. (U.S. Navy photo/Bryan Neal Blair)

The COVID-19 emergency has impacted military members in many ways -- from the stop-movement order that prevented military PCS moves, TDYs, training and some schools to the members of the Guard and Reserves who were activated or prevented from attending drills.

But the pandemic could have another trick up its sleeve. It may impact your career in ways that are only now coming to light.

Most branches of the military have suspended or delayed promotion boards until social distancing guidelines make them more feasible.

Canceled training opportunities could prevent some service members from being promotion eligible. And the economy is dealing with the biggest setback since the Great Depression, making finding jobs in the civilian sector more difficult.

All of these issues could impact promotions, career opportunities and retention. And the services have yet to announce how or if they plan to mitigate the impact.

Promotion Boards Delayed Due to Coronavirus Emergency

Social distancing guidelines and other military factors have forced the Air Force, Army, Marines and Navy to postpone promotion boards and promotion testing until further notice. The Coast Guard has opted to use virtual means for completing promotion boards.

These promotion board delays shouldn't impact time-in-grade promotions that generally apply only to junior enlisted members and junior officers. But these delays may have an impact on career members of the military, generally those in paygrades of E-5 and up and O-4 and up.

The long-term impact of these delays is yet to be determined. At best, they will push back promotions for only a few months. However, delays may have a more long-term impact for some individuals.

Air Force:

Army:

  • The Army has suspended promotion selection boards and NCO evaluation board operations until May 11, which was the original date of the stop-movement order. Further updates have not been announced.

Coast Guard:

  • Promotion boards will be completed virtually. 2021 promotion board timelines are under consideration. More info.

Marine Corps:

Navy:

  • Almost 160,000 sailors have been impacted by promotion delays.
  • All active-duty and Reserve advancement selection boards scheduled to meet on or after March 24th have been postponed.
  • E-4 Advancement Exams have been canceled. Instead, the Navy will change the method in which it determines promotions by more heavily weighting job performance.

Delayed Training or Schools May Impact Career Opportunities

The stop-movement has halted some schools required for upgrade training or career advancement. These schools should resume when the stop-movement order ends. However, this could impact the careers of those who had to delay or miss their opportunity to participate in their required training. This becomes more important for training that is required for promotion eligibility.

Work with your supervisors if you have been impacted by a missed training opportunity. It is important to get your training scheduled as soon as possible after training resumes to avoid potential career impacts.

A Difficult Economy Means More Military Members Will Remain in Uniform

While the promotion board delays impact only certain service members, the COVID-19 emergency could affect promotions and retention in other ways.

Current economic conditions may cause many career military members to stay in the military instead of either retiring or separating. This will reduce opportunities for younger military members to receive promotions.

In order to maintain readiness, some military branches are making it easier for service members to extend their enlistments or service obligations, cancel retirement orders, or apply for waivers to serve beyond their high-year tenure dates.

Increased retention rates are generally a good thing for the military as a whole. However, the military also relies on separations and retirements to promote the next generation of leaders. As this economy drags on, we may see retention rates soar. This could, in effect, reduce the number of promotion opportunities available for the next few years. When this happens, the military runs the risk of losing mid-career service members who get squeezed out due to a lack of promotion opportunities.

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