by Kimberly Mallard-Brown
You’ve been in the trenches, going from one exercise or deployment to the next, and it’s nearly time to start thinking about your next assignment. One of your friends asks if you’ve considered applying for a broadening assignment. With your training cycle you’ve never given it any thought. You’ve focused solely on your Soldiers and learning your craft. Programs such as the Congressional Fellowship and the Joint Chiefs of Staff Internship are highly selective. There’s no way you could be chosen, right?
Wrong! The Army is expanding the number of broadening opportunities for key developed officers, warrant officers, and noncommissioned officers. Now, NCOs can attend law school through the Funded Legal Education Program (FLEP) and qualified lieutenants can pursue studies at Carnegie Mellon with the Army Futures Command Artificial Intelligence Scholar Program. These programs, and others like them, are available to those with strong past performance and the potential to further contribute to the Army.
How do I get started?
- Research, research, research. The first thing you need to do is find out what programs or positions are available to you. Broadening Opportunity Program (BOP) catalogs are usually released during the summer with the following fiscal year’s programs. Requirements can change from year to year. HRC and AIM 2.0 also list unique assignments.
You don’t want to miss out on an opportunity because you weren’t aware it was an option. It doesn’t hurt to do research a year or so before you plan to apply for a program. With that being said, be present! Though you may know where you hope to land after your current assignment, continue to excel in the role you’re in.
- Seek out Past Experience. Look for individuals that are in or have completed the program(s) you are interested in. Ask why they applied. What did they like the most? Were there any things they didn’t expect? What was their day-to-day life like?
Your leaders may be able to introduce you to Soldiers they know that have completed these assignments. HRC often posts the names of individuals that were selected as well. Don’t hesitate to reach out to previous selectees. Most are happy to answer your questions. Keep in mind everyone’s experience will be different. It doesn’t hurt to get a few opinions.
If your program is new and you can’t find another Soldier with a similar experience, research what the program or agency does to determine if it’s in line with your interests.
I’ve decided which program(s) I’m interested in, what now?
- Talk to HRC! This may seem taboo, but it isn’t. Speak with your career manager to discuss your timeline and to learn how competitive you are. They aren’t there to crush your dreams. They can tell you the characteristics of those who’ve applied successfully. If you hear something other than what you expected, be grateful you received the feedback.
While you should touch base with HRC to let them know of your interest, you should not go overboard. Don’t call or email your branch every day.
- Prepare your packet. Your evaluations and letters of recommendation (if required) are the most important parts of your application—period. Panels want to see you are consistently a strong performer and seniors are willing to vouch for you. Think of these letters as a way to vet applicants. If you can get quality letters of recommendation that don’t just say “him/her did good,” then you’ve hit the mark. You don’t need letters from a General Officer, but hold off on a letter from your middle school basketball coach.
Choose people that knew you during different points within your career. They can discuss their relationship with you while deployed, working on staff, during command or key development time, etc. Select individuals that can speak to your bona fides. This is an opportunity for them to say what your evaluation may leave out. Avoid redundancy. You can draft letters for each person as a courtesy; some won’t use them, and others will appreciate a place to begin. Provide enough lead time when requesting an endorsement and share your deadline to assist them. Always follow up with a thank you!
- Ask for assistance. Find a couple of mentors or friends that are great at editing. You need people that will candidly and objectively provide the feedback you need—especially for writing samples. You want to be selected, so leave your feelings at the door. Some programs are strategic-level assignments. You must craft your application as though you’re ready for that level of thinking.
Some programs require writing samples. They should be concise, crafted well, and answer the question(s). As a college admissions officer, I’d often tell candidates that essays are a chance for the panel to hear your voice. This is often the only time they will.
Lastly, if there is a maximum word count, don’t feel the need to meet it! You’ll be appreciated for your brevity if you can respond effectively in fewer words.
- Follow application instructions. Formatting matters. Be consistent.
- Ensure your Soldier Record Brief (SRB) is updated and then reviewed by someone that knows SRBs well. This should always be up-to-date as it is reviewed more often than you realize.
A last bit of advice—don’t apply to a program just because it appears to be something that will look good on a resume. Follow on utilization and service obligations accompany these opportunities. If you don’t like your program you may be miserable and potentially left with a designator that could land you similar assignments in the future.
If you find something for which you are passionate or interested in learning more about—go for it! No is the worst answer you’ll receive. The best case scenario is you get to do something you never imagined in the Army. Be sure to bring what you learn back to the force to develop your future Soldiers. Best of luck!
Major Kimberly Mallard-Brown is currently assigned as a Defense Fellow in the U.S. Senate and taking part in the Army’s Congressional Fellowship.