[August 22, 2020] The importance of proper paperwork cannot be overlooked. Many years ago, as a staff officer, I wondered why the promotion rates for Administrative Army officers exceeded the rate of Infantry officers. Infantry was the place of leaders, more likely to experience combat and to demonstrate one’s bonafides in the U.S. Army. Why then did Admin officers have higher promotion rates?
The problem was worse than it initially appeared to me. I discovered with a little research that an Administrative officer was nearly three times more likely to get promoted from Captain to Major than an Infantry officer. Of course, this made no sense to me or to anyone I spoke to about it. Had I discovered an unknown military secret? Or was there something else at work.
In review the files of about 50 cases where Infantry officers were not promoted, here is what I discovered. First, in half of the cases, the Infantry officers had not submitted the required packet requesting promotion; no packet meant no chance of promotion. Second, in the remaining half, the Infantry officers’ packets were incomplete, filled out in pen or pencil (typed was required), had no regulation photograph, or were late.
Our fellow Infantrymen were not following basic Army policy on requesting promotion. I took my findings to my commander, who said that I should help “get the word out.” We did an Infantry-wide information campaign that encouraged these officers to properly submit the necessary paperwork to improve their chances of promotion.
After the first year where this was implemented, Infantry officer promotion rates nearly doubled, but still below other non-combat jobs. After two years, they were even, and later our Infantry officers had advanced beyond their non-combat officer promotion rates.
Nobody will ever know how many officers fail to advance to the next grade that deserved it. Consider these comments:
- Paperwork is indispensable in our modern Army (or in any organization). Submitting the right paperwork at the right time and filled out correctly is vital for the individual soldier and the Army.
- Paperwork is a wonderful way to show the service record of the soldier, but it takes keeping it up with accurate and timely information.
- Paperwork is not infallible. Some officers have paperwork that makes them appear a lousy choice for promotion. This is why an officer must be diligent in keeping up their personnel files and update them from time to time.
- Decisions made based on paperwork are not infallible, but there is no substitute for a piece of paper in the record.
- Finally, when completing paperwork, remember that while it’s only a lifeless piece of paper, the actions stemming from it concerns living people.