The Marine Corps recently took a very unusual step. In a new administrative message it announced that selected aviation captains who have been passed over twice for promotion to major will be allowed to extend their active service for 36 months. Actually “allowed” is a misnomer. In fact, they’re signed up for the extra time unless they opt out.
Few subjects related to military careers cause as much contention as the up-or-out system for promotion. Under this policy, a service member who is twice passed over for promotion is forced out of the military. Today, with few exceptions, service members are expected to keep climbing the ladder toward command or senior enlisted leadership positions. All of the services, in one form or the other, practice this. All of them are making a mistake.
Since 1947, the U.S. military has relied on a system called “up or out” in managing its personnel. While the severity with which it has been applied has swung, pendulum-like, as the nation has repeatedly built up and drawn down the military, the basic idea has remained the same: Get promoted to the next rank within a certain timeframe or be separated from the service.