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The Army will use several legal and administrative measures to deal with officers who are passed over for promotion as select rates tighten during the coming drawdown.
Projections indicate that 3,000 to 5,000 officers will leave service through some sort of involuntary separation program.
With 551,000 soldiers, the active component is scheduled for a drawdown that will take the force to 490,000 by the end of 2017, a reduction of 61,000 soldiers.
Personnel officials estimate that about 20 percent of the reduction will be achieved through involuntary separations, according to Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff.
However, Odierno said that figure likely will be adjusted as the Army moves into the drawdown.
"For example, we really exceeded our goals for natural attrition this year," the chief said.
"Our original goal was to end this year with 557,000 to 560,000 soldiers. We ended the fiscal year [on Sept. 30] with 551,000 soldiers," he said. "That was all using natural attrition and other techniques that allowed us to reduce the size of the Army."
Odierno said the promotion system will not be used as a drawdown tool, but selection for advancements to the ranks of captain through colonel will be reduced.
"Because we were growing the Army in the [previous decade], our promotion rates increased significantly from 2004 to 2008 in all ranks," he said. "What we are going to do is bring those down to historical norms."
A review of historical data indicates that selection opportunity within the Army Competitive Category from 2001 through 2010 averaged 64 percent for colonel, 100 percent for lieutenant colonel, 108 percent for major and more than 100 percent for captain.
Selection opportunity before the wars in Southwest Asia ran close to 90 percent for captain, 80 percent for major, 70 percent for lieutenant colonel and 50 percent for colonel.
Selection opportunity is a term used in the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act to set guidelines for promotion progression for the armed forces.
It is calculated by dividing the number of primary-zone candidates by the total number of primary-zone, above-zone and below-zone officers selected by a board.
Odierno noted that during the period of force expansion, the primary-zone select rate for advancement to captain ran close to 99.9 percent.
"Well, that is going to go down to about 92 percent because that is what historically we have done," he said. "Major promotion rates have been really high, and that will be reduced a little."
"What we are going to do is promote to inventory" requirements, Odierno said. "That will allow us to get back into what we consider to be about the right historical norm.
"I want competitiveness in our promotion system," he said. "I want it to be where we promote the best. That is what we are focused on."
Under Army policy and federal law, officers consecutively passed over for promotion to captain, major or lieutenant colonel are subject to involuntarily separation.
However, federal law also authorizes the services to employ a management tool, called selective continuation, to retain passed-over captains and majors who are otherwise fully qualified for service.
Selective continuation, or SelCon, is not authorized for lieutenants passed over for promotion to captain.
Recent messages announcing zones of consideration for boards that meet in fiscal 2013 indicate that SelCon reviews will be held in conjunction with lieutenant colonel boards and certain major boards for the special branches.
SelCon will not be offered to captains who received a second nonselection from the fiscal 2013 Army Competitive Category major board that met this fall.
Early retirement program
Officers not offered SelCon may be eligible for the Temporary Early Retirement Authority, a provision of law popularly called the 15-year retirement plan.
TERA allows select categories of soldiers with at least 15 years of active service to retire early and receive the same benefits as those who retire with 20 or more years of service, except that their retirement pay is reduced accordingly.
As recently directed by Army Secretary John McHugh, TERA can be offered to qualified officers and warrant officers who face involuntary separation because they are consecutively passed over for promotion.
TERA also can be offered to noncommissioned officers who are being involuntarily separated under the Qualitative Service Program.
There also is a provision of federal law that bars the involuntary separation of soldiers who have reached 18 years of service and who otherwise are in compliance with Army retention standards.
These soldiers will be allowed to stay on active duty until reaching regular retirement eligibility at 20 years of service.
Passed-over officers who do not qualify for SelCon, TERA or the 18-year retirement lock-in rule may be eligible for separation pay, provided they have at least six years of service.
Because of the six-year requirement, most passed-over first lieutenants will not qualify for separation pay.
Most passed-over captains will qualify for separation pay if not selected for SelCon.
Involuntary separation pay is calculated by multiplying 10 percent of an officer's annual basic pay by years of active service.
Under the 2012 military pay rates, a first lieutenant with six years of service would receive $32,469 in involuntary separation pay, while a captain with 11 years of service would draw $75,343.