Air Force Eliminates School Selection at O-4 Promotion Boards

The text below is from an email sent by the Chief of Staff to his wing commanders and key leaders earlier today. In it, he makes a major policy announcement: that the service is ending the venerable process of using the annual Major promotion board results to determine which of its officers will attend in-residence developmental education.

The change is significant. For generations, officers have approached this board knowing they’d have a very high chance of being promoted but very tough odds of getting selected for school, attendance at which is the first chance for the service’s best and brightest officers to start separating from the pack and accelerating toward unit leadership.

The Air Force has decided that the upside of distinguishing its fast-trackers at the 8-10 year point is not justifying the substantial risks and downsides, which include demotivating superb-performing officers whose records don’t sing as loudly at a central board as those of peers with more quantifiable or easily grasped achievements. The change gives field commanders more direct control over who will attend, which theoretically rests the decision in the best place (though critics will say it trades objectivity for potential favoritism and bias).

Perhaps the most eye-opening aspect of the decision is that it signals how little confidence the service has that 8 years is enough time to glimpse the leadership potential of its officers. This is the root cause of the longstanding conflict over when school selection should be made, and has yet to be addressed. But in the absence of a root cause fix, the change pushed by Goldfein reduces its impact, arguably giving the Air Force a better chance of getting the right officers the professional education needed for them to develop into strong commanders.

Much more to be said later in a more fulsome analysis. For now, enjoy Gen. Goldfein’s message to the field.


During the Wing Commanders Call in January, I emphasized to you the importance of pushing decision authority down to the right level across the Air Force.  I also emphasized my complete trust and confidence in each of you to run your wings and take care of your people so they can take care of your mission.

You’ll recall we had a healthy discussion about the negative impacts of publishing in-residence school select status during promotion board releases.  As you relayed to me, for the few that made the cut, it was a great day.  For the rest of our outstanding officers, it turned what should have been a celebration of getting promoted into a negative experience by not getting selected for in-residence PME.

As a result of this discussion, we have eliminated developmental education select status from all future promotion boards beginning with the rollout of the Major’s board results this month.  While in a perfect world we would have announced this change well prior to the board release to set expectations, SECAF and I made the decision at CORONA last week and I don’t want to wait any longer to implement.

I need your help to explain the “why” behind the decision and our way ahead. Here are talking points to help you:

This change aligns with SECAF and CSAF focus on readiness and lethality by allowing commanders to nominate their best officers who deliver sustained performance.

This change pushes decision authority for who is nominated to go to school in-residence and when it makes the most sense for their career and family situation exactly where it belongs … with commanders who know them best.

Officers will compete on equal ground for opportunities with more on-ramps for officers who demonstrate leadership, potential, and superior performance over the span of their career vs at a single snapshot in time.

We will NOT break faith with officers currently on a select list.  They will be grandfathered and will attend in-residence PME during the appropriate window.  While we are working the details, expect that YOU will have a stronger voice in the process.  Re-read #2 above.

The number of in-residence opportunities will not change.  This merely changes the process by which we select our best based on your assessment of their sustained performance and their potential to lead in the complex global security environment we operate in.

This change impacts in-residence, developmental education nominations beginning in calendar year 2018 for academic year 2019 and beyond.

Procedures for nominating your officers for in-residence education will be published no later than February 2018.

While I am absolutely confident this is the right decision, I am equally confident a good portion of our officer corps will be skeptical.  Given all the turmoil and instability of the past several years, trust in senior leadership on these issues is not high.

In every challenge an opportunity.  Please get out front of this and engage with your subordinate commanders and officers.  Emphasize that this change came directly from their inputs from the field … and your recommendations to me during the Wing Commanders conference.  Bottom line … we must own this together.

As always, thank you for your leadership. Proud to serve with you … trust you completely … don’t wait for me.

Fight’s on!

David L. Goldfein, Gen, USAF
21st Chief of Staff

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