Your record, your career

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jim Rodriguez
  • 1st Special Operations Group, deputy commander
Very few of you will ever personally see a board of any sort in your career. Yet your records meet countless boards over the course of a career that determine such important things as promotion, command, assignments, in-residence professional military education and new training. Assuming that's true, why do so many of us let years go by without fully knowing or understanding what goes into our records?

Twice in my career, once as an executive officer and once as a commander, I had the opportunity to view a tremendous amount of both officer and enlisted records. I came to the unhappy conclusion that many of us have records with extensive errors and omissions. The consequences are that many times quality people aren't selected or recognized for their past and current achievements and qualifications.

All of us must understand how important our records are to our careers and how to fix problems within them. It really isn't as cosmic as you may think and understanding it all isn't beyond even the most junior ranking among us. In fact, the younger you are when you get yourself savvy, the better off you'll be.

First, know when your records are examined and by whom. Second, know what's in your record and how to read it. Every report, decoration and data field has significance and we should know what should be in our record as well as understand the information in it. Third, and perhaps most daunting, is how to fix an inaccuracy once you find it.

The Air Force is a huge machine that doesn't have the luxury of knowing all the details surrounding each of our circumstances. All of us are experiencing different working conditions and different supervisors and commanders but the Air Force is fully committed to giving each of us a level playing field. Part of that effort is removing the "personality" piece as we examine individuals for various competitive selection processes such as promotion boards or assignments. Additionally, many of these competitive selection boards don't happen locally, or have time constraints that don't allow face-to-face interaction.

So when does your record speak on your behalf? There are many informal times when your chain of command may just be doing some fact- finding or comparing different members' experiences. Formally, however, there are many events in one's career, but none more significant than each of the promotion boards we'll face. This is especially relevant to officers and senior enlisted. Promotion, above all else, is how the Air Force endorses our accomplishments, worth and potential. Other events include applying for officer training school or service academy acceptance, cross-training into different Air Force specialties or competing for senior airman below-the-zone.

Just as important as when your records speak for you, is who is reading your record. The answer to that is typically, people who don't know you personally. People who haven't worked with, or have first-hand knowledge of you, are making career changing decisions based solely on your records. In fact, the Air Force often purposely designs selection boards so officers and enlisted who don't know you are the ones deciding your fate. This helps to remove perceptions of favoritism and establishes fairness across the service. Additionally, boards are often made-up of members who come from across the Air Force from different career fields

Are you beginning to see why your records must be as accurate and complete as possible? Don't unnecessarily put yourself at a disadvantage by having mistakes or omission of your accomplishments documented in your records. 

What's in your records and where do you go to check them? Thankfully the Air Force has moved a great deal of your information to an electronic format, making it accessible to you through the Web. The Air Force Personnel Center Home Page, is a gateway to almost everything you could ever want or need to check with respect to your records. One menu tree will show you your duty title history and associated AFSCs, another displays your decorations. Your "e-record" has a signed copy of every performance report and medal citations. As a starting point, you should look at your single unit retrieval form and your e-records. If these two documents are accurate, chances are the rest of the data is up to date and ready for prime time. As I mentioned earlier, everything in your record is important, and you should strive to check and understand every bit of it. For example, on a SURF there's a field entitled short tour return date number, and lately it has become very important. I'll give you a hint; it helps determine how vulnerable someone is for serving an unaccompanied remote tour.

Also on the Air Force Personnel Center Web site are tutorials and explanations about your records. There's even a section where you can request a hard copy of your record. Spending some time on the site will often yield the answers to your questions.

Seek out knowledgeable individuals in your own unit or work center who can go through your records with you, explaining things along the way. There are also expert individuals at your military personnel section who are able to assist you. Executive officers and squadron secretaries are also fountains of information as they deal with these issues all the time. Senior enlisted members and officers should be actively seeking out the younger and less experienced among us and educating them.

This isn't difficult stuff to understand, but just like at flight school, when we needed someone to sit down with us to explain what all the numbers and abbreviations meant on an airfield approach plate, we need the same thing with respect to our records. Your complete knowledge of what should be in your records, coupled with an understanding of how to check and understand your records, is the desired combination for personal success.

The last, yet most ignored step, is correcting deficiencies and omissions in your records. This is often made much more difficult by virtue of individuals waiting years to address a problem or trying to correct something in a very short span of time. The Air Force is a large organization and it takes time for information to funnel through the channels. So if you are going to fix a problem, you need proof and you need time.

The best time to address a problem is before the document becomes a part of your record. Recently, the Air Force instituted new performance reports that include ratee's acknowledgement. This is an opportunity for individuals to check the content and accuracy of a report. Actively work with supervisors, when it comes time to change things like duty titles and Air Force Specialty Code prefixes. If there is an inaccuracy, bring it to the attention of your supervisor who should go to the commander's support staff to accomplish the needed paperwork. None of these processes happen overnight and the longer the error has been a part of your record, the harder and longer it is to correct it.

If you're going to fix a problem, you have to be prepared with source documents and nothing is better than signed performance reports or approved medal citations. If one of your past AFSCs is incorrect on your duty history, and you have an EPR that accurately reflects what it should be, then you are in a very good position to get it fixed. However, if your duty title is incorrect from three years ago, and you have nothing to dispute it, then you can fully expect a challenge when you try to get it changed.

If you do the above steps, you can rest assured that when your records go to a board they will speak for you as well as if you were there to do it yourself.