The Marine Corps expects and thus challenges its officers to diversify their experiences, enabling them to develop into Marine air-ground task force officers capable of achieving success in a variety of settings. Therefore, the Marine Corps makes its officer assignments based on the following prioritized criteria:1
• Needs of the Marine Corps.
• Military occupational specialty (MOS)/billet variety.
• Availability of the individual.
• Overseas control date (OCD).
• Individual preferences.
The purpose of this article is to inform and empower active duty officers to better influence their career paths. It is our hope that readers will “pass the word” through mentoring and discussions and that the article will generate some discussion during this year’s Manpower Management Officer Assignments (MMOA) “road show.”
Communicating With Your Monitor
The road show. Each year MMOA tours the globe to visit and interview available officers and to engage commanders and their G–1s (personnel) about manning and staffing expectations for the emerging fiscal year. The monitors embark on the annual road show from September through January. The road show is an opportunity for officers to shape their career paths by meeting face to face with their monitors. You don’t need to be a “mover” to make an appointment with your monitor. If you are in zone for promotion, you should schedule an interview with your future monitor during the road show. If you are not selected, then your current monitor will handle your future assignment. Are you a mover and unable to see your monitor because you’re deployed? After visiting your monitor’s web page and viewing the annual MMOA road show brief, e-mail your preferences to the monitor. The road show brief is posted on the MMOA website.2
Hints for communicating with the monitor.
Officers should prepare themselves prior to corresponding with their monitors. Proper preparation will allow your monitor to effectively and efficiently find the “intersection” to meet both the needs of the Marine Corps and your personal desires. First of all, visit your monitor’s web page. If your current tour began over 2 years ago, then you are probably a mover. Ask yourself, “What are my Marine Corps career and personal objectives?” Next, order your master brief sheet (MBS) and official military personnel file (OMPF) from Manpower Management Support Branch. Ensure that everything contained in this file is current and accurate. Sit down with a senior mentor and/or commanding officer and discuss your plans. Finally, schedule a career counseling session with MMOA–4. A career counselor will analyze your career path and recommend possible future assignments for your consideration. You may find this information helpful as you communicate with your monitor.
You can help shape your future by educating yourself about your options.
This will enable you to develop realistic expectations for your next assignment. Research your options by periodically visiting your monitor’s website to maintain awareness of available assignments.3 Keep in mind that your monitor will assign you to a command, not a specific billet. When e-mailing the monitor, type your name, rank, and MOS in the “subject” line of the e-mail. This makes it easier for your monitor to quickly look up your record and best support you.
Interviews with your monitor.
Each monitor will ask you basic questions. These will include current billet and command, your top three desired geographic regions, and your top three desired duty preferences (monitoring command codes). If you would like to volunteer for an overseas billet, the sooner you volunteer, the better your chances of being assigned in your desired overseas location. If you are deployed or unable to see the monitor in person, then correspond with your monitor via e-mail. When communicating by phone, first send an e-mail if at all possible. After your phone conversation, back up what was discussed with an e-mail. This ensures that both you and your monitor capture the same takeaways. The bottom line is that to receive the best support from your monitor, regardless of whether or not you correspond with your monitor in person, via e-mail, or by phone, it is imperative that you prepare yourself.
Types of tours and locations.
As a general rule, continental United States tours and overseas accompanied tours are 36 months in length, although resident PME selections, command selection, and promotion to the next rank may curtail the tour at 24 months.4 Unaccompanied overseas tours or local moves are typically for 24 months, although some permanent change of station/permanent change of assignment (PCS/PCA) moves are still 12 months. Need to update your OCD? Consider volunteering for a tour on Okinawa or to mainland Japan. There are also limited overseas officer assignment opportunities in locations such as Europe, Korea, and Bahrain. Although a tour to Hawaii does not count as an overseas tour, it is a grouping of tropical islands that will offer you and your family many unique opportunities. If you are serving in an Operating Forces (OpFor) east or west coast tour, consider another geographic area as a duty preference. Vast information about potential duty stations is only a few clicks away on the Internet.
Accompanied versus unaccompanied? Whenever possible, you should bring your family with you to your next assignment. Unit deployments, as well as Service and individual augmentation deployments, are difficult enough on families; the more time you can spend with them, the better. If you have a family member who is enrolled in the exceptional family member program (EFMP), consult your local EFMP office to see if adequate services are available at your desired next duty station. EFMP requires officers to update their case files every 24 months. This update is tied to approval of your PCS/PCA orders. If you have a family member assigned to this program, it is your responsibility to keep EFMP records current. Children’s educational opportunities are also important criteria, so you should visit future potential commands’ schools liaison officer websites for details.
Your Career Objectives
You can increase your chance of promotion by remaining competitive among your peers. Officers can focus on four basic areas to increase their competitiveness for promotion. Promotion boards determine most qualified Marines based on numerous criteria, and the boards conduct an extensive review of your career progression. The four areas that typically receive the most scrutiny are “The Four Ps.”
Although not all encompassing, these attributes help paint the “whole Marine” picture for selection boards and demonstrate both achievements and commitment to succeed in future assignments. Since resident and nonresident professional military education (PME) carry equal weight on promotion boards, and selection to attend resident PME is the result of a competitive board process, it is important to enroll in and complete nonresident PME at your earliest opportunity.5
In addition to The Four Ps, career path diversification is another key to long-term success if you intend to rise through the ranks. When possible, attempt to serve in one OpFor tour at every rank. Most importantly, you should bloom where you’re planted, but seek fertile soil.
Following each OpFor tour, all officers should serve a tour in the Supporting Establishment.6 7 Supporting Establishment tours include inspector-instructor duty, formal schools instructors, military officer instructor duty, recruit training depot, recruiting duty, and non-MOS-specific Headquarters Marine Corps (HQMC) or joint tours. Recruiting districts and stations offer primary MOS (PMOS) staff billets as well as B billets requiring prior recruiting experience. Many external (non-Marine Corps) staffing requirements exist in the National Capital Region, which includes the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia; furthermore, each combatant command is staffed with a Service Component headquarters.
Successful performance in any challenging billet, whether in the OpFor or Supporting Establishment, is often career enhancing and can increase your competitiveness for a selection board. B billets provide good opportunities for career progression outside your PMOS, such as MOS 8006 (any unrestricted officer) or MOS 8007 (any unrestricted ground officer) assignments. B billets are not limited to the Supporting Establishment. For example, civil affairs officer (MOS 0530) billets are OpFor assignments.
Officers are selected for recruiting station commanding officer (RSCO) duty through a competitive board process each year. A key to being competitive for selection to these billets is demonstrated leadership and performance in previous assignments. A convening MarAdmin, usually published during July, will announce the RSCO board, which is held each August.
The Marine Corps continues to strengthen interoperability with other branches of the U.S. Armed Forces and our international partners by contributing officers to serve in joint duty assignment list (JDAL) billets. All JDAL assignments are for field grade officers. MMOA–6 is the Joint Officer Matters (JOM) Section. This section serves as the liaison between joint commands and officer assignment monitors. MMOA–6 validates joint requirements and coordinates with your monitors to fill joint requisitions from joint commands. Officers interested in serving a joint tour may volunteer to do so through their monitors.
The joint qualified officer (JQO) designation is achieved through completion of joint PME I and II and earning full joint credit by either completing a standard JDA tour (service in a JDAL billet) or the accumulation of 36 points via total earned joint experience, called experience JDA. MMOA–6 screens all officers who have completed these requirements and forwards their information to the Under Secretary of Defense, Personnel and Readiness, via the Joint Staff for approval. Once approved, the officer will be designated a JQO and will receive the additional MOS of 9702. See the JOM website for more information on the joint assignment process.
Getting to the fight.
Although not required for any selection boards, Marines who have not deployed are an exception. If you have attempted to deploy but have been unable to for various reasons, a board will take this into consideration, and not having deployed certainly does not make you ineligible for selection. If you desire to volunteer to deploy as an individual augment or on a training team in support of the global war on terrorism, do not submit a request to your monitor. Rather, submit a formal request through your chain of command to Manpower Management Force Augmentation per MarAdmin 057/07 (Process for Volunteering for Individual Augment Billet, HQMC, Washington, DC, January 2007).
Prior to favorably endorsing an officer’s request to move outside of the 36-month time-on-station mark, commands should consider the fact that MMOA will probably lack inventory to replace that officer until the following summer. Therefore, by approving an early move request, or a request for an officer to begin terminal leave, the command is accepting a potential staffing gap and must prepare to adjust internal staffing until a replacement arrives.
Official requests for extensions must be submitted on administrative action forms or via naval message. Individual officer stabilizations are requested by naval message as outlined in MarAdmin 399/08 (Marine Officer Stabilization Guidance in Support of OIF/OEF [Operation IRAQI FREEDOM/Operation ENDURING FREEDOM] 09.1 and 09.2, HQMC, Washington, DC, July 2008). If you anticipate your unit being extended and you have been issued orders, notify your monitor so that MMOA can adjust your orders and notify the gaining command. If you are assigned to a deployed command, then your command will contact MMOA, which will coordinate with your gaining command as required. If you are requesting an extension past 36 months in the OpFor, do not be surprised if your extension is disapproved, since there are a limited number of billets and many of your peers need to establish their MOS credibility in the OpFor as well.
Resident Schools and Programs
PME requirements are discussed in detail in Marine Corps Order P1553.4B (MCO P1553.4B). A panel is held each year to select captains for attendance at career-level schools. Boards are held for majors to attend intermediate-level schools and for lieutenant colonels to attend top-level schools. Convening MarAdmins are published at least 2 months prior to each board. MMOA–3, the Plans and Programs Section of MMOA, coordinates PME school selection boards and panels. Many distance education opportunities exist as an alternative to resident schools.8 9 Marine Corps Bulletin 5420 (Membership Requirements for Selection Boards Convening During Fiscal Year 2009 (FY09), HQMC, Washington, DC, May 2008) contains dates for all resident schools and programs. In addition to the annual MMOA road show and your monitor’s website, you should routinely scan MarAdmins for convening announcements to ensure your awareness of all opportunities.
Career timing is important when an officer desires to participate in these programs while also remaining competitive for promotion to the next higher rank. Expect to be out of your PMOS and plan accordingly so that you are still able to serve at least one OpFor tour during each rank. Graduate education program applicants should expect to complete coursework, followed by a payback tour and Service obligation. The Graduate Education/Special Education Monitor in the MMOA–5 Section can answer your questions pertaining to any of the student education programs. If you are considering submitting an application to one of the many special programs, you should try to straddle two ranks with the education and sequential payback assignment. This will leave you an opportunity to serve in the OpFor at each of those ranks.
Boards, Career Counseling, and FitReps
Both promotion and command screening boards carefully scrutinize every aspect of each eligible officer’s record to determine most and fully qualified Marines. Prior to your consideration for a board, it is your responsibility to ensure that your MBS and OMPF are complete. You need to resolve any fitness report (FitRep) date gaps (30 days or more), including your most recent FitRep prior to the convening of a board. PMOS credibility at each rank is important. You can achieve this credibility through competitive performance in PMOS assignments. First class physical fitness tests (PFTs) are important, photos should be current (taken within the last 12 months), and you should be within Marine Corps height and weight standards. Awards should be displayed in your OMPF in the following sequence: Form 1650, summary of action, and certificate. MBS must match OMPF (missing certificates and awards will be a problem). Correspondence with the board (standard naval letter format if no online form is specified) is especially important if you wish to provide additional information about yourself that you feel will assist the board with command screening, recruiting, and resident school boards. Attempt to use established communications media provided, on the MMOA web site, if available; e.g., command screening questionnaire.
MMOA–4 is the Career Counseling Section, which is a separate and distinct section from the monitors (Note: MMOA–1 is ground officer monitors and MMOA–2 is aviation officers). Upon request via the MMOA–4 Internet portal, as mentioned previously, a career counselor will review your record and advise you in a phone interview. This interview is a much more thorough review than you will receive from your monitor. Take advantage of this opportunity but be sure to schedule your interview in advance of a board’s convening date. Six months prior to the board gives you plenty of time to correct discrepancies brought to light in the interview. If you wait until the board meets then you’re too late. MMOA–4 has a very small staff, which will result in lengthy delays between requests and interviews. If you failed selection, you should contact MMOA–4 to seek advice as to how to improve your competitiveness for the next board.
Your FitRep is the most important indicator of your performance and potential. Each FitRep is assigned a relative value (RV) based on others written by your reporting senior (RS).10 RV marks are an important measure of your relative performance. When writing FitReps, the RS should refer to his RS profile in order to fairly assess the Marine reported on (MRO). Likewise, prior to assigning an assessment mark, the reviewing officer (RO) should also preview his comparative assessment profile to see the number of reports and assessment marks by rank. An RS must write a minimum of three reports in order to establish an RV for each rank. Boards look at trends in MRO performance, and they routinely categorize performance into thirds. Figure 2 shows numerical RVs as shown on an MBS and how they are interpreted.
When evaluating an MRO, the RS and RO should always capture an MRO’s performance relative to that of other MROs. If an RS or RO happens to have evaluated nothing but “stellar performers” in his profile, and an MRO is evaluated as the lowest performing of them, then the narrative of the report needs to describe this in order to fairly assess the MRO, whose RV is 80.0, but who is not necessarily a substandard performer. It is essential to ensure that the RV (if you are the RS) or assessment mark (if you are the RO) corresponds with the narrative. In other words, if “the math and English” do not match, then the report will likely confuse a selection board.
The MRO should aim to achieve an RV of above 90 on his FitReps, as this indicates above average performance. For example, as an MRO, if the RV of your FitRep is 91, then you have performed better than that RS’ average FitRep for equivalently ranked officers. Based on previous board results, a major with “90-plus” RV scores from a tour in the OpFor at each rank, in his PMOS, will be competitive for lieutenant colonel. Strong performance is particularly important when the MRO is serving in a key billet in his primary MOS in the OpFor.
As Marines we tend to focus on our assigned mission and taking care of our Marines. As a Marine officer you are expected take charge, so take charge of your career. If you have not done so lately, take the time to reflect upon your career thus far, formulate your own career goals, and pursue them. Consider it an investment in your future as well as meeting the needs of the Marine Corps, and be sure to maximize all resources available to help you make sound career path decisions and to make the most out of your Marine Corps career. When in doubt, read the relevant orders and directives, and if you have questions, contact your monitor. Your next assignment is just over the horizon.
1. MCO P1300.8R, Marine Corps Assignment Policy, HQMC, Washington, DC, October 1994.
2. MMOA website at http://www.manpower.usmc.mil.
4. MCO P1300.8R.
5. MCO 1553.4B, Professional Military Education (PME), HQMC, Washington, DC, January 2008.
6. Dobson, LtCol Kelly G., “Demystifying the Promotion Board Process,” Marine Corps Gazette, April 2008, pp. 17–21.
7. MMOA website.
8. Kerrigan, Col Michael K. and James I. Van Zummeran, “Transforming Officer Distance Professional Military Education,” Marine Corps Gazette, February 2006, pp. 23–25.
9. MCO 1553.4B.
10. MCO P1610.7F, Performance Evaluation System, HQMC, Washington, DC, May 2006.
Author’s Note: The following officers contributed to this article. The lead author was Maj John P. Flynn, Combat Service Suppport Majors Monitor, MMOA–1. Contributing authors were Col Samuel C. Nelson III, Aviation Colonels Monitor; Col Patrick L. Redmon, Ground Colonels Monitor; LtCol Ian D. Courtney, Section Head, Career Counseling Section, MMOA–4; LtCol Todd S. Desgrosseilliers, Section Head, Ground Officer Assignments, MMOA–1; Maj Lance J. Langfeldt, Joint Officer Matters Officer, MMOA–5; Maj Michael T. Miller, Ground Combat Arms Majors Monitor, MMOA–1; Maj Matthew H. Phares, Career Counselor, MMOA–4; Maj Perry D. Waters, Center Desk, Ground Company Grade Officer Assignments Section, MMOA–1; and Capt Daniel Rosenberg, Company Grade Monitor, MMOA–1.