Army Officer Below the Zone Promotions

Most Army Officers want to get promoted as quickly as possible.  I don’t blame them.  Everyone wants to advance their military career and have new opportunities and challenges.  One of the best ways to do that is to have a basic understanding of below the zone promotions.

This is one of those topics that is seldom taught and rarely understood.  I personally think it would make a great OPD topic, but that is just my opinion.

What I’d like to do in the rest of this post is give you a 101 overview of the below the zone promotion process, and tell you what you need to know.  The information below in italics is directly from DA PAM 600-3, section 5-8.  Feel free to reference that document yourself for future reference.

The below the zone or secondary zone promotion capability is designed to allow the accelerated promotion of outstanding officers who have demonstrated performance and indicated potential clearly superior to those who otherwise would be promoted. Below the zone promotions apply only to promotion to the ranks of CW3, CW4, CW5, major, lieutenant colonel, and colonel. Officers will normally receive only one below the zone consideration per grade. By law, the number of officers recommended for promotion from below the zone may not exceed 10 percent of the total number recommended; except that the Secretary of Defense may authorize that percentage to be increased to no more than 15 percent. Army policy sets the ACC below the zone promotion capability at 5.0 to 7.5 percent. Note. AMEDD, Chaplain Corps, and JAGC are not part of the ACC.

So, what does all of this mean and what should you know about it?  Here are the key takeaway points that I get from it.

  • It’s reserved for the best of the best
  • It only pertains to CW3-CW5 and for promotions to MAJ-COL
  • You typically only receive one look per grade
  • Of everyone recommended for promotion, no more than 10% may be below the zone
  • The SEC DEF can increase that number from 10% to 15% at their discretion
  • In the ACC competitive category the promotion capability is 5 to 7.5 percent
  • Officers in AMEDD, Chaplain and JAG are not part of the ACC

Tips for Success

If you want to be considered for a below the zone promotion, here are a few tips for success:

  1. Excel and do your best in EVERY job that you have – This should be common sense, but since these promotions are for the best of the best, you need to be a superstar. Show up early, stay late, and outperform your peers.
  2. Complete your military education ahead of time – Don’t wait to the last minute to get the military schools that you need for the next rank. Be proactive with your military education.
  3. Take the tough jobs that no one else wants – Every branch and career field has certain “must have” jobs. Seek out those jobs.  Stay in operational units and leadership positions whenever possible.
  4. Know your minimum time in grade requirements – Know how much time you have to spend at each rank before you will be considered for promotion.
  5. Make sure your promotion packet is squared away before it goes to the board – When you are informed that your packet will go before the promotion board, make sure it is updated, accurate and squared away.
  6. Keep your DA Photo updated and current – This is simple and easy to do. Get a new photo every year, or any time your status changes.
  7. Map out your career ahead of time and know what jobs you want and need – Spend some time planning out your career ahead of time.
  8. Set some career goals – As Stephen Covey says “begin with the end in mind.” Set some career goals and then do your backwards planning.
  9. Talk to other officers who have been promoted below the zone – Get some tips and advice from other Below the Zone officers.  They are a great resource.
  10. Have realistic expectations – This one is important. Very few officers get promoted below the zone at every rank.  I’ve met some Generals who were NEVER promoted below the zone during their career.  Realize that experience goes a long way.  Sometimes getting promoted too quickly can really backfire on you, later in your career.

Final Thoughts

There you have it folks.  This is some basic information on getting promoted below the zone during your Army officer career.  If you have experience with this, or have been promoted below the zone yourself, I would love to hear from you.  Just leave a comment below to share your insights and tips.  Thanks.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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4 thoughts on “Army Officer Below the Zone Promotions”

  1. Yep, everyone wants to get promoted as soon as possible. Who could blame them? More money, more status. Clearly, if you want to even be considered for below the zone or secondary zone promotions, you have to be the best of the best. No room here for posers or politicos. That is the bottom line for this type of promotion. The cream rises to the top.

  2. Below the zone promotions seem to be kept hush hush. Personally, I was never aware of them until I read about them on your blog. It seems to me that if you follow the basic steps Chuck pointed out here, your odds of getting one of these promotions are much better. Sir, did you or anyone you know ever receive one of these promotions?

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