Navy Task Force to Review Use of Promotion Photos; Marines Will Still Require Them



Another military branch is reviewing whether it should do away with promotion photo requirements as leaders look for ways to end inequality and racial bias in the ranks.

A new Navy task force set up to examine the service’s policies to ensure everyone — regardless of race — is getting a fair shot will review the rule requiring officers to submit photos to promotion selection boards, Cmdr. Dave Hecht, a spokesman for the office of the chief of naval personnel, said.

The current policy was established in 2018 to enable board members to validate the physical fitness, military bearing and professional appearance of the officer being reviewed, he said.

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But now as the Navy looks to “dismantle barriers of inequality” and “create sustainable opportunities” through its new Task Force One Navy, Hecht said the policy will get another look.

Top Army leaders announced last week that it would end the practice of requiring photos for promotion after a study found it led to decisions that appeared to reveal unconscious bias. The Army announced its policy amid a national conversation surrounding racism and inequality in the U.S., though service leaders said they began studying the issue 18 months ago.

The Air Force only requires promotion photos in rare cases. The Coast Guard doesn’t require photos, and last year announced it would also strip gender-specific pronouns from its promotion packages to ensure no bias based on sex.

The Marine Corps is opting to continue requiring promotion photos. That service has promotion selection boards for the ranks of staff sergeant through sergeant major or master gunnery sergeant in the enlisted grades and captain through two-star general on the officer side.

Marines up for promotion to those ranks must include in their records a photo taken in the last 12 months, Yvonne Carlock, a spokeswoman for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, said. Photos are considered a procedural requirement. Board members look at other performance metrics in deciding who’s most qualified to move up, Carlock said, such as professional experience, assignment performance and professional military education.

“There are no plans to remove the requirement of photographs,” she said. “The Marine Corps takes measures to ensure diversity and equal opportunity across the ranks.”

That starts with the composition of the board, Carlock said. Marines from a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities are assigned to participate.

“Additionally, each member agrees to the precept which directs that Marines’ race, religion, color, sex (including gender identity), sexual orientation, or national origin will not impact their professional opportunities,” Carlock added.

For the Navy, this isn’t the first time promotion photo requirements have come under review. Hecht said they were eliminated in 2016 and then reinstated in 2018 after feedback from promotion selection board members who said the images assisted in assessing officers’ ability to perform the duties required of the next pay grade.

“When the policy was changed it was intended to serve as a means of ensuring fairness and equity in the Navy’s performance evaluation system,” he said.

— Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

Related: Inside the Army’s Decision to Eliminate Photos from Officer Promotion Boards

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