Army Assignment Branch Managers

Some officers serve half their career before speaking with their Assignment Officer at Human Resources Command. Commonly heard beliefs include: “If you get on Branch’s radar, they’ll send you to Korea”; “Just lay low and let your commanders speak on your behalf”; and “I plan to stay with troops as long as I can, so I don’t need HRC’s help.”

I’ve worked as an Assignment Officer for almost a year and I recommend against holding on to such beliefs. Further, I think most people hesitate to engage with their Assignment Officer because they really don’t know who is on the other end of the phone. Hopefully this post provides you some clarity about who is helping you navigate your career.

The U.S. Army Human Resources Command (HRC) has completed its Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) move to Fort Knox, Ky. Currently, HRC’s new home in the Lt. Gen. Timothy J. Maude Complex employs about 3,300 military, civilian and contract workers. The nearly 900,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility is the largest office building in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Photo by Robert Stevenson, Fort Knox Visual Information. Link to photo.

“My Assignment Officer isn’t even in my Branch.”

This misconception occurs mostly in the junior officer years but rest assured, your Assignment Officer is an experienced and very successful member of your Branch. And the civilians who work in the Branch offices have years of experience, sometimes decades, and were often active duty themselves, so they know the deal.

Lieutenants and Captains are all managed by post-company command Captains. The Major and Lieutenant Colonel populations are managed by senior Majors and promotable LTCs who will likely go on to command battalions following their HRC assignment. Finally, the Branch Chiefs are successful post-command LTCs, most of whom have prior HRC experience.

“You guys sit on the promotion boards.”

Not true. Assignment Officers have no role in promotion boards or selection panels for fellowships and such. We do receive professional development instruction on the board process and participate in mock boards, which gives us insight into how to better prepare the population’s files for consideration. (Example: we recently found out in a class that promotion board members cannot see whether a considered officer has verified his/her file in the MyBoard system. Of course it’s wise of you to look at your file before a board, but if you don’t verify it officially, the board won’t know.)

“My assignment officer is a buddy and can tell me if I made the promotion list.”

Not legally, he can’t. We only get access to the promotion lists a short time before they’re made public and sign confidentiality agreements not to release the information outside the building. In fact, asking your Assignment Officer to reveal protected information puts him in a bad ethical position, please don’t.

“Branch can really send you to any job in the Army, they just save the cool jobs for the people they know.”

Unfortunately, the Branches have control over very few of the jobs they receive for each rank. Just because there’s a job to serve as Executive Officer for the language school in Monterey, CA, nobody’s going there unless big Army validates it as a required position…and in today’s shrinking Army, that’s happening less and less. Check out the Army Career Tracker if you want to research assignment types and locations.

“As long as I get a By Name Request, my Assignment Officer will send me just about anywhere.”

BNRs have lost favor in recent years because that they wreak havoc on the ability to predict the number of available jobs for each Distribution Cycle. No longer can a Brigade Commander Colonel (or even a Brigadier General) sign a BNR memo and expect Branch to automatically fulfill it – we don’t have the authority to do so. Only if the BNR is received well in advance of the Distribution Cycle, the gaining unit is authorized the billet, and the assignment makes sense for the officer, will Branch have a case in honoring the request.

“If you work at Branch, you get a sweet assignment after you leave.”

Without knowledge on every follow-on assignment that Branch officers have taken, this statement is tough to believe. But further, consider this fact:  folks who work at Branch are very competitive for promotion and command, which means they’re also competitive for the cool jobs like fellowships in Garmisch, Germany and aide jobs for General Officers in Spain. It’s a fallacy to think that a duty position at HRC automatically equals a good assignment afterwards. I can tell you that Branch Chiefs take particular care to ensure the follow-on assignment process is fair and equitable.

“If one Assignment Officer doesn’t give you the answer you’re looking for, you can just call another one.”

I didn’t know this before coming to HRC, but each Branch’s Assignment Officers work in the same office. We share cubicle walls and talk to each other constantly. The experienced Assignment Officers share vignettes with the newer guys to teach them about the job. And when an officer calls someone other than his particular Assignment Officer trying to get what he wants, we all know about it. Not a good technique.

“My Assignment Officer could have cut my RFO weeks ago, but he’s just lazy.”

As with every other system in the Army, the Request for Orders process expands well beyond one person’s desk. Each RFO requires anywhere from 5 to 20 administrative actions and must be staffed through 3-12 other sections before releasing it. This process helps ensure that each assignment complies with federal law and Army personnel policies. Believe me, your Assignment Officer wants to release it as much as you want to get it.

Questions (leave comments below)

  • What other questions do you have about life at HRC?
  • What has been your experience with your Assignment Officer?
  • What is your approach with HRC? “Head in the sand” or “Transparent engagement”? What does your engagement method communicate to your Assignment Officer?

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Have you ever wondered how some people get the best military assignments, and you got stuck with one of your last choices?

Have you been advised to never put your most desirable choices near the top of your wish listbecause you are destined not to get your top choice? The reality is that someone will get their top choice, so how do they do it? How do you get that choice PCS assignment in interesting commands, exchange programs in Australia, the White House, or the most sought after units? Someone has to get them… is it luck? No, it’s about initiative. Here is a 5 step guide to finding (and hopefully getting) the best assignments

Note: This approach will work better in some branches and communities within the military, as different communities have different degrees of flexibility. It is also probably the most practical for those E-6 and above, but the concept is the same for everyone. 

1. Find out what assignments are becoming available

The biggest hurdle to landing the best PCS assignment is often just knowing where they are. Your branch manager/monitor/detailer is unlikely to call you and tell you that a new position is available in London, for example, or in your speciality’s most prestigious unit - so you can’t just wait for options to come to you - you have to seek them out. 

To find the best assignments, tap into your network. RallyPoint is the best way to discover those opportunities, but you can also reach out to your mentors, former leaders, and friends who are just a few years ahead of you. Beginning about a year before your re-assignment date, ask others about interesting opportunities, and have them ask their friends for you as well. By using RallyPoint, your 50 contacts can turn into 2500 contacts asking on your behalf, if all your friends/mentors ask their friends/mentors. Using the RallyPoint Military Assignments Career Corner, you will also be shown all PCS openings of other RallyPoint members around your next rotation date. Sooner or later you’ll find a few assignments opening up around the time of your PCS date that you find interesting or compelling for your career. Congratulations, you’ve just overcome the hardest step!

2. Reach out to the person holding the assignment to learn more about the role

Now that you know of a few assignments that you find interesting, you’ll want to learn a lot more about them, and learn from the people in those assignments. How did they get the assignment? Likely they went through many of the steps described in this article, and you can learn a lot from them. 

Remember not to just ask questions like “how do I get this job?” - that makes your call/emails seem pushy and inappropriate. Instead, ask broader questions like “How do you like the position?” “How do you like the unit”? and “What recommendations do you have for somebody like me who is interested in these kinds of roles?” Asking open ended questions turns the conversation into a mentor-mentee relationship, and something that military personnel should always be willing to do is be a mentor - so make it easy for them - and listen.

If you cannot directly reach somebody in the role you are interested in, find the closest person possible… perhaps somebody else in the same unit or an adjacent unit, and learn from them. Use RallyPoint to search for your units of interest (including adjacent units), and find the right people to connect with.

3. Find out what best qualifies someone for the role you are interested inNow that you’ve learned about some interesting roles, and  spoken with either the person holding that role or somebody else in that unit, you need to be honest with yourself to see if you qualify for that role. Does it require a special skill or school that you need? Perhaps you still have time to attend that school/training so you can be competitive for the assignment. Perhaps it requires something that is not realistic, like a certain foreign language skill that you can’t learn overnight. Review military profiles on RallyPoint to get a better sense for the kinds of background and qualifications people in that unit of interest have.

When you find out what best qualifies somebody for that PCS assignment, be honest with yourself if you can be competitive for it. If you cannot, then gracefully continue to explore other options. If you can, then you’re in luck and can continue to step 4.

4. Get a warm introduction to the unit you are interested in joiningThe best PCS assignments are not assigned by random lottery - they tend to be heavily influenced by the gaining unit leadership and the efforts of the person or people interested in that assignment. In other words, the assignment process is competitive, and it’s often determined well before you ever have your conversation with your career manager. If you have ever wondered how some of those choice PCS assignments are filled, now you know. 

What you want is a warm introduction to the decision makers in that unit, to see if you can be considered for the position. What is a warm introduction? Well, let's first describe a cold introduction…. have you ever received a call from a telemarketer who called you out of nowhere with something to sell? If you have, your first reaction was likely to want to hang up and to become upset that somebody just wasted your time - no matter what the other side was trying to sell. That is a cold introduction. Now imagine your friend calls you and says “hey, I just bought this product and it’s great! I liked it so much that I asked that they send you a free sample as well.” Then if that same product rep later calls you, you would be much more willing to listen to what they are pushing because of the endorsement by your friend. This is a warm introduction. People are much more likely to listen to individuals they don’t know if they come recommended by somebody they do know, or if they have mutual people or experiences in common.

Perhaps your old mentor or friend is now serving in the unit you are interested in, or perhaps in an adjacent unit and he/she can still get an introduction for you. It doesn’t really matter how you get the warm introduction, as long as you do  - while respecting and keeping your own chain of command informed as appropriate.

Once you get that introduction, you will want to make yourself known to the decision maker… whether that is a staff section leader, a senior NCO, or the XO/CO himself. Don’t just “ask” for the position - instead, show them your maturity and professionalism by relating to them the research you have done about the position, the qualifications you understand the position requires, and the qualifications you posses that you believe would make you competitive for the role. Express your interest, remain respectful, and accept feedback. If the role is not spoken for yet, and you present yourself professionally, it is very much possible the other side will suggest that you might be a good fit.

5. Keep your chain of command informed and discuss the assignment with your assignments officer

Ultimately it must be your branch/monitor/detailer who assigns you the PCS orders, and as we all know, the needs of the military come first. That said, the best positions need to filled as well, and steps 1-4 described above is often how this happens. 

Take initiative to contact your career manager early and remain respectful; keep them informed of the conversations you’ve had, the interest you have, and hopefully the mutual interest from the other other unit. Perhaps they also made a “By Name” request for you - meaning the gaining unit called your career manager already and asked for you by name - that is a very compelling driver of action in your favor. In all this, it’s important that your career manager understands that you place the needs of the military first as well, and that you feel you have found a position you are strongly qualified for, and that receiving this assignment would benefit everyone, not just you and your family, but also the gaining unit due to your qualifications and fit.

If you get the position of your dreams, remember your lessons and make sure to mentor those that come after you - so that they too can best align their skill sets and interests with the roles they are assigned. If you don’t get it the first time, you would have still gained an expanded network, a better understanding of the system, and a greater knowledge of different roles and opportunities - which you can certainly leverage for your next assignment. The broader your network, the more reach and influence you can have on your own career over time.

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