During the Second Punic War, the Romans, under the leadership of Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus, were pitted against the great general, Hannibal, and his Carthaginian army. Rather than risk his army in a direct frontal assault against the legendary skill of Hannibal, Fabius, decided to wage a war of attrition. Fabius understood that as long as Hannibal’s army was in the field, he had the advantage of time and access to resources. Hannibal was not so fortunate. Fabius would go on to be victorious and the rest, they say, is history.
As an O4, I could at least make 20. In that sense, I had time, but not much. Like all strategy, it’s a balance between risk and reward. For myself, I did my best to balance work, family and the Reserves. Not everyone is so fortunate. Although I joke that I outlasted the promotion board, there was solid performance in good billets behind it. (Even Fabius made the calculated offensive strike). I did take longer to promote because I was a SWO in many HR type billets. My ride towards O5 was anything, but conventional. So, for those who feel they are up against a glass ceiling, take heart as your time may well come.
What have I learned? Well, as a warfare qualified officer, warfare qualified billets are best to propel your career. If they are non-warfare type billets, do your best to ensure they are either CO/XO or OIC type-billets. Demonstrate leadership in challenging positions when possible and be sure to highlight your leadership experiences on a letter to the board. Yes, write a letter to the board.
For most of us, the board will be made up of a bunch of fellow officers that do not know us and we don’t know them. One of them will be handed your electronic record and asked, in 30 seconds or less, to explain why you deserve the next highest rank. Without a letter, they do not know you. They do not have any reason to support your advancement other than what they see on paper. For many of us, especially those outside of a fleet concentration area, there may not be a whole lot of sexy warfare qualified type jobs in which we can excel. Consequently, you need to use your letter to highlight what you have done that can be considered valuable to the Navy, to the Reserves and your warfare community. I did not write one for years and when I finally did, I had success.
Finally, be involved in your local Reserve community. Become valuable to your NOSC, to your unit and to your peers. Understand that good work is hard to hide and that will certainly help your chances. Additionally, as you become more involved, you will find that your time in the Reserves is more rewarding. (I can always peruse the end of the internet on my own time!)
I cannot guarantee that any of these things will cause you to promote, but, you will have a more interesting time in the Reserves. Who knows, the stories built upon being actively involved may make all the time and effort worth it. Remember, there were many active elements of Fabian’s strategy.