How to Map Out and Plan Your Military Career

This post is about mapping out your military career. 

If you want to have a successful and fulfilling military career, please realize that it won’t happen by accident.  To succeed, you need written goals and a game-plan.  You need to put some thought into what you REALLY want to accomplish in your military career. As you come up with ideas, you need to write them down on paper and give them a deadline.

The difference between a dream and a goal is that a dream is in your mind and a goal is written down on paper and given a deadline.

Now, I’m not saying you need to know exactly what you want your military career to be like in ten or twenty years from now.  But, you should have a basic idea about what rank you want to retire with, what jobs you want, duty stations you want, what schools you want, deployments, etc.

Without some type of goal, you won’t be able to develop a plan.  And you won’t accomplish much, either.

Without a written plan, you are really nothing more than a drifter.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of drifters in the Army, just floating through their careers; waiting to be given assignments, promotions and schools.

Once again, I’m not knocking these folks.  But these aren’t the folks who develop their potential and do great things. If you want to accomplish something big in your military career, you need goals and a game-plan, so you can get after it!

The Army has schools for just about every course imaginable.  You can learn how to drive a tank, become a sniper, blow up stuff, fly helicopters, and thousands of other things, but you don’t get ONE hour of instruction on how to set goals and map out your military career.

I hope to fix that.

What I want to do in the rest of this post is teach you HOW to map out your military career, so you can become an ACHIEVER and have a rewarding and satisfying military career.

Step # 1: Decide What You Want

The first step in the process of mapping out your military career is to decide what you want.  You need to spend two or three hours at your kitchen table and really think about your career.  Write down everything you want to do while you are in the Army.  Write down how many years you want to serve, what rank you want to achieve when you finish your career, what duty positions you want, what schools you want, how much you want your pension to be, and whatever else you can think of.  Just do a brain dump and get everything down on paper.  When you are done, take all of these goals and try to come up with a “mission statement” for your military career.

Here is an example mission statement: “I want to retire as a Lieutenant Colonel with 24 years of service.  I want to graduate the Army War College.  In my last assignment, I want to be an Infantry Battalion Commander.  When I retire, I want to have accumulated 3000 retirement points, so I have a pension of $5k per month when I am 60. ”

Do you see how specific that is?  That’s what you want to do for yourself.  The more specific you can get the better.

Why Most People Have Average Military CareersStep # 2: Identify What You Need to Do to Get There

Now that you have an idea as to what you want to accomplish in your military career, you need to make a list of the “critical tasks” you must do to get there.  This would be schools, assignments, promotions, etc.  Write down everything you can think of in reverse order.  Here is an example:

  • Retire as LTC with 24 years of service
  • Finish Battalion Command
  • Get Selected for Battalion Command
  • Graduate Army War College
  • Enroll in Army War Collge
  • Serve as Brigade XO
  • Get Promoted to LTC
  • Graduate ILE
  • Spend time as Battalion S3 and Battalion XO
  • Get Promoted to Major
  • Finished Company Command

With this example, I started at the end point, and just made a list of “critical tasks” and objectives in reverse order.  Does that make sense?

Step 3: Map Out Your Plan

Once you have your mission statement for your career, and your list of critical tasks, you want to draft up an action plan on what you need to do to get there.  On your action plan, you take your starting point (where you are at right now) and your end point. You make a column on your piece of paper for each year you have left in your military career and you identify what you must do in each one of those years to reach your final goals.  This will be your road map.

For example, if you have 10 years left until you retire, you would have a piece of paper with 10 columns on it.  The last column would be your final year in service.  In that column you write down your end of career goals.  From there, you do your backwards planning for the prior 10 years identifying what needs to be done to get you where you want to be.  Basically, you would take the critical tasks you identified in step two and plug them in where they belong.

Step # 4: Evaluate Your Progress

The next step in mapping out your military career is to evaluate your progress.  Every month, spend one hour and analyze the prior month.  What went right?  What went wrong?  Did you do your critical activities for the month?  If not, what do you need to do the following month to make up for it?  Repeat this process each year on the last day or the first day of the year.  Review your progress for the year and set goals for the upcoming year.

Step # 5 Make Adjustments as Needed

Let’s face it; we all get off track sometimes.  And goals can change.  When necessary, make adjustments to your career goals as needed.  Your goals aren’t set in stone.  Minimum once a year, look at your one  year, five year and career military goals and evaluate them.  Are they still relevant?  If not, make the required changes and modify your action plan as needed.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, don’t place your military career in someone else’s hands.  Map out your own career.  Decide what you want, set some written goals, develop an action plan and get to work!  For someone who is self-motivated, competent and hard working, the sky really is the limit in the military.  Just remember that no one cares about your career as much as you do.

Leave a comment below to tell me what you think.

*** This is part of a mini-series.  Read the original post.

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9 thoughts on “How to Map Out and Plan Your Military Career”

  1. I think that mapping out your career and planning for the future are two of the most important things for anyone to do. By having a plan, you can both track your progress (and, unfortunately for some, regress) and see where you stand in relation to your plan and adjust accordingly. Having a plan is a necessity, and by identifying what you need to do to accomplish that plan is equally important.

  2. It never occurred to me that you had a choice in mapping out an Army career but I guess that is ridiculous thinking! My boys are getting ready to take the ASVAB. As their mother I know what they’re good at, where they thrive and where they need work. I do my best to be objective (they aren’t without their faults!) Letting them know that they have some semblance of control might ease whatever reservations they have and thrive in a military career. Thank you for posting this! It is very helpful.

  3. Chuck, this article is great. It should be used as OPD/NCODP everywhere. Soldiers should be taught this at basic training, a lot of us have no clue as to what we want to do with our careers when we join. I know for me, my plans took shape the more time I spent in.

    1. Even when you don’t know what you want with your career, you still need goals. You can always change them later on down the road. It’s better to have a goal and change it than not have a goal at all. Most young people don’t know what they want, and that’s one of the reasons most people have average careers. Ultimately, you have to decide what you want, come up with a game plan for it, and press forward with it.

      1. I agree, Chuck! And even if we change our goals, we usually learn something important in the process. This is an important part of self development and will make us better leaders in the end.

      2. Great post Chuck. With everything in life, we need to set goals. I believe you touched on it, but to reiterate, we need to also have objectives. The objectives are the little steps we need to make to reach our goals. A good example would be: I want to be able to run ten miles at the end of this year. The first objective may be 1 mile at the end of the week. Two miles at the end of next month. Three the next month, so on and so forth. As you said, we can make adjustments at any time, but by putting the goals and objectives in writing, we will try harder to reach them.

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