Note: Before reading this, you may want to take a quick overview of military rank structure. It's not vital, but if you know little about it, it might be a good idea.

In the modern military, there has become a serious issue with the promotion of its soldiers. Namely, many highly competent, highly qualified individuals are often passed over for promotion for a number of reasons. There also exists a correlating problem: if you pass over your most competent, who gets promoted? The under- or unqualified. It has also been pointed out to me in a number of conversations, "yeah, that sounds just like my job in the civilian world". In other words, listen, learn, and don't do what the idiots do.

To begin at the beginning (to shamelessly rip off Dickens), we need to understand the reasons that our qualified people are passed over in lieu of the less competent and qualified. Generally, you can divide them into affirmative action, issues of availability, our promotion point system, and frustration.

Now, I'm nowhere near learned enough in the politics of affirmative action to wade through this without offending someone, but the issue should be addressed. If you aren't familiar with the idea, it states in theory that everyone should have an equal and fair opportunity to succeed regardless of race, gender, hairstyle, religion, favorite brand of tofu, whatever. Unless you're gay. Then we don't want you, apparently. Ahem. Anyway, the problem isn't in the theory of AA; it's in the practice. As it has been explained to me by a number of high-ranking individuals, military promotions work on a quota system. In this system, you basically break down people by group (sex and race) and then promote the people at the top of each group. Is this fair? It seems to me that "fairness" would be lumping all the groups together and then promoting the people at the top of it, without even looking at any demographic information. As it is, say you have two groups: group A has twenty people in it, and group B has two, and you can only promote two people from each group. What are the odds that at least one of the eighteen people in group A who are passed over are equally or more qualified than the people in B? That is the inherent fallacy in the quota promotion system.

Now, before I go any further, I should explain the military "promotion point" system. It's like XP for the Armed Forces. There's a maximum of 800 points, broken down into a number of groups, including military education, civilian education, correspondence courses, awards, PT score and weapons qualification score. I don't have the exact numbers, but the lion's share of the total belongs to education.

So, to get promoted, you should be educated, right? Sounds like a great idea. The problem with this is that many of the "highly deployable" units are away for significant portions of each year, making formal education difficult if not nigh impossible. You should note that many of the military's most motivated and competent soldiers belong to these units. This brings us to issues of availability. These, unlike the AA and "frustration" groups, are more specific to the military system. By this I mean that many military members tend to be out of the country for extended periods of time, or are put "on alert" for deployment often enough that they cannot plan ahead for, say, an entire semester. The same applies to military schools, who often will only accept you if you can guarantee that you'll be available for the length of the course. Correspondence courses are still available to anyone, but they comprise a relatively small portion of the whole. As well, many units are reluctant to let their hardest workers leave for extended periods to pursue education, sending instead poorer performers that they "can afford to lose" for weeks or months at a time.

This leaves us with the issue of frustration, which runs roughly parallel to the Dilbert Principle. As put forward by Scott Adams, it states that the hardest workers are not promoted for many of the reasons stated above. However, you have to promote somebody, right? So, you end up with the less competent in charge of the more competent. Due to the frustrations inherent in a system like this, many of the best performers will leave your company/ the military, and creates a vicious cycle where poorer and poorer quality management is in charge of increasingly frustrated employees, who will leave the organization, leaving only poor employees to be promoted, who in turn mismanage their talented staff, etc, etc.

So, do I sound bitter yet?

Now, you can argue that the military, regardless of quality of management, still works. I agree; the system is far from broken. I am simply arguing that some parts of it are seriously flawed, and in need of repair. Also, many of the problems to which I am referring are more specific to the NCO and enlisted side of the house, although many still apply to commissioned officers as well. It is beyond the scope of my intent to supply solutions, but feel free to node your own ideas here.

Edit: It was brought to my attention that hiring/ promoting by quota is illegal, and has been for some time. This is correct. However, there exists in the military a very strong Equal Opportunity (EO) program, some say too strong. Basically, if you have a string of promotions that is all, say, female Eskimos, then the male Uzbekistanians will likely lodge an EO complaint. And, since the military by law must investigate every EO complaint, the officers who run the promotions will have a record of being investigated for alleged EO complaints, even if they are found to be free of fault. Having a record of EO complaints against you dramatically affects your chances of further promotion and appointment to desirable positions, so even though no official quota system exists, one does de facto exist. See my above statement "...As has been explained to me by a number of high-ranking individuals..." It is real, the people who run the promotions know it is real, and just because something is illegal doesn't mean that it doesn't happen. Sorry.