Some Air Force, Space Force Officers Can Now Opt Out of Promotions. Here's Why

A promotion ceremony Ramstein Air Base.
A promotion ceremony attendee pins on a new captain’s rank at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, May 26, 2017. (U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Joshua Magbanua)

Some U.S. Air Force officers now can choose not to be considered for promotion in order to broaden their career development before competing for the next rank.

The service last week said captains, majors and lieutenant colonels in the Air Force and Space Force can request to opt out of their next promotion board cycle; boards are set to convene Oct. 16, according to a release. The Space Force falls under the Department of the Air Force and largely follows its rank structure.

"This is another step in our larger Department of the Air Force effort to create a more agile, responsive and transparent talent management system to empower performance and ensure we have a more lethal and ready force," Lt. Gen. Brian T. Kelly, deputy chief of staff of Manpower, Personnel and Services, said in the release. "To do that, we must modify how we manage, develop, assign and promote our members to meet 21st-century challenges."

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An Air Force spokeswoman explained that opting out gives officers more flexibility to pursue critical career development milestones.

For example, lieutenant colonels who have not achieved squadron command -- a key assignment for some career fields -- could delay their promotion and complete that assignment, giving them a competitive advantage when they come up for colonel again later. Other career advancement opportunities include furthering their education by completing an assignment at the Air Command and Staff College or another institution.

"Allowing our members the ability to opt out of promotion consideration aids the Department of the Air Force in building and retaining those we need, with the attributes we need, to compete, deter, and win in the high-end fight," Kelly said in the release. "Without this authority, we often risk losing incredibly talented Airmen with critical skills who chose or were even directed to pursue an atypical career path."

The service said opting out could reduce the risk of being passed over for promotion for those who are "in the zone," or being considered during the typical promotion timeline.

The announcement is the latest in a series of changes the Air Force has made to the officer promotion process as it tries to be fairer on how airmen move up in the ranks.

The service dropped its "below-the-zone," or early promotion, process last year in favor of merit-based selection.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

Related: Air Force Shakes Up Officer Promotion Categories

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