Transferring between units is not a decision to make lightly, nor will the transfer happen overnight. Like most requests made in the military, it is not guaranteed to be approved. If you are considering a significant career change, such as transferring units, here are a few guidelines from a soldier who has already gone through it to help you through the process.
The first question is whether a request — be it an officer candidate school packet or a unit change — will be executed within the timeframe sought by the requestor. The short answer is no.
The rule to apply when approaching the timing issue of a significant request is simple: be proactive and be respectful.
A military unit’s mission does not bend simply because an individual within the unit decides that he or she wants to go a different path. A service member may justifiably feel that his or her request is the top priority in their life; however, that does not necessarily mean the same for the military unit.
Research is everything when it comes to a professional development move. A service member may think, ‘I want to be an officer’ or ‘I want to progress to the next rank.’ Those two thoughts are positive reflections of an individual’s desire to develop professionally, which is a character trait largely supported by all branches of the U.S. military to an astonishing degree.
Resources for virtually every major career move can be found easily online. For example, the Army provides the Army Career Tracker tool. Also, unofficial, digital forums like RallyPoint, LinkedIn or even Facebook can provide more candid feedback for a proposed request.
However, with so many professional resources available, a request not supported by research can be justifiably frustrating for those charged with the duty of evaluating its merits. For example, a service member may request a unit change, training school or a promotion and not know that he or she is unqualified prior to making the request. A change of unit may first require a certain amount of time accrued in the original unit. A training school may require a specific physical fitness level. Finally, a promotion may have additional requirements beyond time-in-grade.
Using an interstate transfer request as an example, at a minimum, these are the items an Army National Guard soldier can be expected to produce: enlistment contract; medical protection system report (MEDPROS); personal qualification report (administrative data); enlisted record brief; conditional release (from losing state); DA form 7187 (personnel action); letter of acceptance from gaining state and performance evaluations.
In branch neutral terms, a service member requesting to change their state will require their entire administrative file. It may sound easy, but there is only so much that can be expected of either party — the requesting soldier and the decision maker — during these types of requests. Therefore, it would behoove the service member making the request to be respectful.
If a service member goes into a request for a professional development change with a humble attitude, the process will progress smoother for everyone involved. Conversely, approaching a decision maker with a request unsupported by research will likely be interpreted as insincere or unprofessional.
The first step of any professional request is to arrive prepared, with a checklist. Next, know and understand that most significant requests, like a change of unit, branch or location, will be routed through the chain of command, which certainly does not happen overnight. Once the request has been fully researched and submitted through the chain of command, the proactivity does not stop.
Leaving a request alone and assuming all is well can sometimes leave a service member in an awkward position because the request may have gotten lost or been ignored. This does not give a service member license to lose his or her military bearing, but it does provide for a unique opportunity to practice being respectfully proactive. Obviously, walking directly up to decision maker on the higher end of the chain of command, may not be a good idea. However, politely asking an immediate supervisor whether the request has reached the decision maker is certainly within the purview of the service member.
Respectful proactivity will generally win the day for a service member wishing to change career paths. I started my military career in the United States Coast Guard Reserve as an enlisted boatswains mate. Years of maritime experience translated seamlessly into maritime military service in the USCGR. However, after completing my college degree, I sought a commission and made many mistakes along the away, one of which was announcing my plan without having completed any research towards it.
I was fortunate enough to have my request for conditional release approved and I subsequently joined Boston University’s Reserve Officer Training Corps. In 2013, I successfully commissioned as an infantry officer. While I enjoyed serving as an infantry platoon leader in Massachusetts, I felt the need to transfer to California to pursue my law degree and my then-wife. I made another handful of mistakes as I requested to transfer from the Massachusetts ANG to the California ANG, one of which was not being proactive. I later discovered the decision maker changed his career path coincidentally and, as a result, my request had been collecting dust on his desk for months.
If you take anything from this article as you prepare your request to either transfer, apply or promote, it should be this: no one is going to better manage your career and better advocate for your interests than yourself. Do not solely rely on an appointed representative to make your dream become a reality.