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Promotion Zone Math

Navy PA Team, this is from an email I sent out to my ASL group. It came up at a recent NAPA Symposium, so am cross-posting it here. Much of this info is from an old BUPERS brief I had laying around and from MyNavyHR. (Old Salties: you can probably skip this part.)


  • Opportunity: The in-zone possibility of being selected. For example, if the Navy looks at MSC LCDRs and estimates that they will lose five of them in the next fiscal year, those projected vacancies means that five LCDRs can be selected, and then a 50% opportunity would yield a zone size of 10.
    zones math 1

    (In the same scenario, a 60% opportunity would yield a zone size of 6.)
    • A small algebraic rearrangement will tell you that Zone Size is therefore determined by the opportunity. #Selects / Opportunity = Zone Size.
      zones math 3

      For example: 50 Selects / 50% Opportunity = 100 Zone Size.
      zones math 2

    • Therefore, higher opportunity results in a smaller zone and lower opportunity results in a larger zone.
  • Senior in-zone: The officer who was senior below-zone form previous year.
    • So the [insert zone size #]'th officer down the lineal list from the senior officer in-zone becomes the new junior in-zone.
  • Flow Point: Average years of commissioned service when an officer is promoted to the next grade.

A promotion opportunity of 90% does not mean that 90% of the officers in zone get promoted. It means that 90% of the officers eligible can be selected for promotion. In this case, it is those officers below, in, and above zone. For MSCs, and for PAs, below-zone promotion is rare so we can essentially focus on the in- and above- zone officers. 90% of the sum of those will be selected for promotion.


In FY 23, the promotion opportunities for MSCs were: 90% for LCDR, 60% for CDR, and ~50% for CAPT.
For PAs in FY23, for those who were In Zone:

  • 38% selected for LCDR
  • 50% selected for CDR
  • 100% selected for CAPT

However, if you add Above Zone + In Zone, for PAs in FY23:

  • 29% selected for LCDR
  • 50% selected for CDR
  • 33% selected for CAPT


There are laws and instructions that govern the lateral limits for both Opportunity and Flow Point. The Defense Officer Personnel Management Act (DOPMA), Title 10 §623, DODINST 1320.13, and SECNAVINST 1400 series.


From MyNavyHR:

Promotion Guidelines:
One purpose of DOPMA was to establish a uniform promotion system within the Department of Defense (DOD). To comply, DOD developed certain guidelines regarding promotion "flow points." This guidance, combined with Navy policy regarding promotion opportunity (percent opportunity for selection), form the basis for annual promotion plans. Actual selection opportunity and flow points may vary in the annual promotion plan.

Control Grades:
CWO5, Lieutenant Commander, Commander and Captain are "control grades" -- the number that the Navy can have in each of these grades is set by law and cannot be exceeded. As such, promotions into these grades are driven solely by requirements -- the fewer vacancies, the fewer promotions. Control grade limitations directly affect flow points, described below in detail.


Guidelines Recommended by DOPMA:

To Grade  Promotion Opportunity Flow Point  (Avg Yrs Comm Svc)
 O-6 40-60%  21-23
 O-5  60-80%  15-17
 O-4  70-90%  9-11


My interpretation: DOPMA's guidance *should* seek to ensure that some services don't promote people faster than others (e.g. if the Air Force promoted people faster).


The above planning for each fiscal year's promotion plan typically occurs in the last quarter of each calendar year. Around December, promotion zones for the upcoming fiscal year are typically announced in an ALNAV message. This is what sets who is coming in to zone.

You should make it a point to read those.
They can be easily found at MyNavyHR. For example, the FY23 LCDR Staff Corps promotion ALNAV can be found by browsing from MyNavyHR to Career management --> Boards --> Active Duty Officer --> O4 Staff.


Another important document can also be found there: the promotion board convening order. Those should be read annually as they lay out the competencies and achievements that the promotion board members are tasked with considering. For example: graduate education, cultural awareness, INDOPACOM expertise, Joint service, etc. They really are important to read (and encouraging) as they codify many of the ideals each of us strive toward as officers, and convey them to the promotion board as traits worthy of / encouraged for consideration in promotion decisions.




That said, as you review the attached promotion statistics and think through how you are planning out your own career, please take the time to:

  1. Perform. Lead. Excel. Document.
  2. Thoughtfully consider how your career path will set you up with FITREPs that will promote you. This likely means getting some competitive FITREPs where your cumulative trait average is higher than the Reporting Senior's Cumulative Average (RSCA). Thus, you're competing, so you need to figure out who else is in your summary group at the command and figure out how to perform better (and get noticed doing it). You might have to consider how long you need to stay in one billet to achieve this, and it can be complicated when there's a change of reporting senior. Thoughtfully consider.
  3. Review your record. Ensure it is ready to go before the promotion board. Try to do this at least 6 months before you go into zone. If you haven't taken a few hours to step through the instructions in CAPT Joel Schofer's Promotion Preparation Guide, do so.
  4. Ensure you write your FITREPs' Block 41's for the right audience. Who is that? Not your local ranking board, not even your CO. Write it for the lucky junior officer assigned to review and brief your record to the promotion board. That's your one and only audience for Block 41. That person has to extract usable and impactful info from all of the FITREPs in your current rank, and then sell to the board why they should pick YOU to promote. Give them something they can brief/sell. Numbers, especially impactful or comparative numbers, make it easier on them.
  5. Expand your influence wider than your clinic or even your command. Why? Because promotion beyond O3 isn't just a pat on the back and thanks for putting in the time. The Navy promotes people into leadership positions, determined by projected vacancies as per above, and so they're giving rank - as a tool - to the people who will use it to do the work of leading. Show the promotion board why they NEED to promote you: you're doing the work already and need the rank to enable it. So think about Corps level collaterals. MSC Strategic Goal Groups are an excellent opportunity. Think about Navy level collaterals, or Joint. And have impact there and be ready to document it.
  6. All of that brings us back to #1 above. Congratulations again to our PAs who were selected for promotion this year as they're performing every day, leading others, impacting / improving care for our Marines and Sailors, and excelling - all in ways that they can demonstrate to the board. Well done.

I hope that future #s of PAs selected are high(er) and that we continue to build our PA Community and our Medical Service Corps with the best clinicians < officers < leaders.
Proud to serve with all of you!


Ari Doucette

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