Letter of Recommendation

The letter of recommendation is a difficult portion of the application because you are relying on someone else and there is so much freedom with how it is written.  There are 100 different ways you can do the LOR, your main job is to make sure the LOR matches the guidelines in the BOT as closely as possible.  Everyone's situation is different so there is no cut and dry answer for who should do it or how it should be written, but here is my perspective:

Keep in mind these are Active Duty guidelines.  Civilian LOR guidelines are different.

General LOR guidelines:
  • LOR must be written within your chain of command, no higher than senior rater (normally the wing commander).
  • Cannot be older than 180 days old.
  • Only one allowed.
Other comments:
  • LOR purpose - If you think about your entire application, your Applicant Profile covers both your personal and professional life.  If the purpose of your commander's bullets are to add credibility to your record and translate your record into your potential, what role with the LOR play?  In my opinion, the LOR fills in the gaps between it all and addresses your character or who you are as a person...  something the board cannot truly get a feel for from the rest of the application.  The BOT guide addresses this by saying "adds emphasis to "whole person" concept", "individual's character and potential for commissioning" and "the best person to write an LOR is one who has a working knowledge of the applicant".  
  • Who should write the LOR - This is a tough one because again, it is different for every person based on their current chain of command.  One of the main things you should avoid is having your commander write your LOR.  Doing this is not necessarily wrong, but think of it this way:  Your Applicant Profile is your presentation of your perception of yourself.  Your commander adds a second voice with his bullet's and interview results.  Which would have more of an impact, your commander's voice again in the LOR, or a third voice reinforcing what has already been said by both you and your commander?
  • Higher rank or more personal knowledge - In a perfect world you would personally know your senior rater and your senior rater would author your LOR.  Since most of us do not know our senior rater, it is important to personally assess who the best author would be.  From the board's perspective, the author of the LOR is someone who knows you well and can speak to your character and potential.  The rank of the author adds credibility to their words, which either adds to or degrades the impact the LOR has on the board member's overall score.  So in short, read all of the current guidance and use your best judgement when selecting who to endorse your LOR.
My story:
  • My LOR was written entirely by my supervisor's supervisor, my Flight Commander.  I was extremely lucky because he is a GS-13 civilian who served 22 years and retired as a Lt Col.  I was also lucky because my office included a total of six people (including my Flight Commander), so I see and interacted with him on a daily basis.
  • My LOR was a very wordy two pages.  Two normal sized paragraphs and most of an extremely long paragraph on the front, and 3.5 paragraphs on the back.
  • Summary of my Flight Commander's letter:  I give the strongest possible recommendation, I retired from 22 years of commissioned service, I have credibility because I led x people over my years and here is my strat of applicant.  Short paragraph of who applicant is.  Applicant displays character and leadership we expect from our finest officers.  Here are two examples of how I personally witnessed this character in my mission.  Applicant is the whole person because he did this for a flight member and this in the community.  He is exactly what we need for tomorrow's Air Force.  Strong language stating this package more than any other should move forward.  Contact info for questions.
  • I was at a GSU so the only other real option to author my LOR was my commander's commander, the Group commander.  If he authored it I would have gained one grade but at the expense of +/- ten years of Air Force experience and no personal knowledge of me.  That's why I chose my Flight Commander, and it worked out in the end.
Feedback from 15OT02 Board regarding LOR: (click here for my full post):
  • Recommend getting the highest recommendation letter for the applicant.  Not all should go to the Wing/CC or GP but those that should will resonate with the board.  Suggest brevity in the letter of recommendation.  NO more than 1 page.
Feedback posted by HiFlyer on the airforceots forum. (click here for my full post):
  • The one LOR allowed for an active duty applicant is generally more compelling if from an O-6 or FO/GO/SES.  Also, there is little value added if interviewer is also the LOR author.
Ref:  AD BOT Guide 26 Jun 14 C3 22 Dec 14

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