How are Chaplains Promoted?

Title 10, Section 3581 of the U.S. Code says this about Army chaplains: “A chaplain has rank without command.”

Chaplains are appointed in the same grades of rank as other Army officers. Most chaplains enter active duty as first lieutenants and are then quickly promoted to the grade of captain. Other chaplains serve in field grade ranks of major through colonel. The Regular Army chaplaincy has only two flag officers: the Chief of Chaplains and his deputy. The Guard and Reserve also have flag officers representing them in the Chief of Chaplains office.

How are active component Army chaplains promoted from one grade to another?

Chaplains, like all Army officers, fall under the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act (DOPMA). Their careers are managed separately from other Army officers, but they follow the same rules and procedures that apply to all commissioned officers.

Budgeted End Strength

The Congress tells the Army how many officers it can have. There is a “Budgeted End Strength” for each grade of chaplain. Currently (Feb 07), the active duty Army is authorized 734 captains, 414 majors, 207 lieutenant colonels and 91 colonels. Each level of the pyramid, then, is roughly half the size of the preceding level. These numbers do not include chaplains in the reserve components (Army National Guard and Army Reserve).

Grade and Rank

Within each grade, every chaplain is assigned a date of rank, usually the date on which promotion occurred (although there are sometimes exceptions for administrative reasons). One’s rank, then, consists of both one’s grade of rank and one’s date of rank. I am senior to chaplains of my grade with later dates of rank and junior to those with earlier dates of rank.

(Army chaplains, by the way, are addressed by the courtesy title “chaplain,” and not by their grade of rank.)


One part of the promotion system is the Officer Evaluation Report (OER). All officers receive an evaluation at least annually. The officer will also receive an evaluation when his rating supervisor changes or when he changes jobs. There are usually three people who contribute to the evaluation: a rater, an intermediate rater and a senior rater. For most chaplains, the unit executive officer or chief of staff is normally the rater. A supervisory chaplain is usually the intermediate rater, and the unit commander is normally the senior rater. When there is more than one chaplain assigned to a unit, the senior chaplain usually takes the role of rater for the other chaplains on the staff. Chaplains MUST have at least one chaplain in their rating chains.

Zones of Consideration

The next component of the active duty promotion system is the “zone of consideration.” Every active duty promotion board looks at three groups of officers: those in the primary zone, those “above the zone” (that is, those who have been previously considered in a primary zone), and those “below the zone” (that is, those who will be considered in next year’s primary zone).

Understanding zones of consideration requires a lot of math involving Budgeted End Strength, projected losses (from promotion, retirement, etc), DOPMA-mandated consideration rates and the date-of-rank order of officers within each grade.

Say, for example, the active Army is authorized 200 lieutenant colonels, and the career manager calculates that 10 of them will be promoted to colonel, 10 of them will reach mandatory retirement and (based on averages) and 10 of them will leave active duty for some other reason. Those losses create openings for 30 new lieutenant colonels in the coming year to be selected from the ranks of existing majors.

The DOPMA opportunity rate for lieutenant colonel is 70%. To select 30 new lieutenant colonels, the primary zone of consideration will consist of the 43 most senior majors who have not previously been considered. (43 x 70% = 30.1).

Once the career manager knows how many officers will comprise the primary zone, creating the zone of consideration is as simple as starting with the most senior major who has yet to be considered and then counting off the most senior 43 majors by date of rank. These officers comprise the primary zone of consideration. All majors previously considered will be also considered “above the zone.” Those who are projected to be in next year’s primary zone will be considered “below the zone.”

Promotion Boards

Generally, there is one promotion board each fiscal year for each grade of rank. Chaplains are consisdered seperately from other officers. That is, chaplains are not competing for promotion against infantry officers or armor officers. The Army’s Adjutant General manages all promotion boards, even those for chaplains. The promotion board – a mix of chaplains and other officers – reviews the record of each chaplain under consideration. The record consists of evaluation reports, a summary of assignments and awards and an official photograph. The board members assign each record a score based on the strength of the file. The combined relative scores create an order of merit list from most qualified to least qualified. In our hypothetical scenario, the 30 “best qualified” majors are then selected for promotion.

There is a little more to it than that. There is a process for reaching consensus when scores vary widely from board member to board member. There is also a process for looking at those on the dividing line between selection and non-selection to make sure the board has been fair.

All primary zone and “above the zone” officers are considered together. “Below the zone” officers are considered separately. All officers selected “above the zone” or “below the zone” count toward the total required and reduce the number selected from the primary zone.


Once an officer is selected, he/she does not assume the new rank immediately. First, the Chief of Chaplains reviews the promotion list before it is ever released to the public. Next, the Senate has to approve the selected officers for promotion. Finally, the selected officer must wait until an actual opening occurs within the next higher grade. Remember, selection is based on projected losses. Promotion must wait until the projected loss occurs It can take a year or more for a selected officer to receive promotion to the next grade of rank.