Speed Trap: The USAF 24-Year Pole to General Officer

  • Lieutenant Colonel Travis D. Rex

The United States Air Force selects its General Officers earlier than any other armed service, with over 90 percent of all O-7s selected on or before 24 years in service--nearly two years earlier than all other service branches. This self-imposed early timeline to General Officer gives the USAF some advantages valued by senior Air Force leaders. However, this early promote dynamic also causes impacts in personnel management and development priorities throughout the entire officer promotion system, many of them deleterious to overall health of the Air Force. Drawbacks of the current paradigm include problems in strategic joint leadership competitiveness, organizational behavior, overall leader development, and retention. By relaxing the 24-year timeline, in addition to other recommended measures, the Air Force active component can make adjustments to the system to better develop both operational and strategic leaders while preserving and promoting an officer talent pool that will ensure current and future success.