The Military has a problem. Every year thousands of letters of recommendation are written for good Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen, and Marines in hopes that they get selected for good programs. Unfortunately, most times they don’t say much, and very few actually speak to the character of the individual; in fact, most recommendations are simply a cut-and-paste from one adjective-laden document to another.
This benefits no one. It is a waste of time for the writer, does nothing to set apart the candidate, and forces the board to wade through letters that offer them no value in selecting the proper candidate. Even worse, this can cause the wrong candidate to get selected for a prestigious assignment.
The intent of a recommendation is to highlight who you think is favorable, suitable, and qualified for the job. You are utilizing your credibility and influence as a senior leader to offer advice to the selection board. Why not take advantage of that opportunity and make your statement memorable? Why not convey your selected candidate in the best possible light?
Solution: Here is a process-driven approach to help your written recommendations stand out from the crowd
Note: These techniques are to be used with caution and discretion: If your candidate is only “pretty good,” then you will do your military service and the candidate a disservice by giving him a “most highly qualified selection”. Do not paint your candidate as if he’s in the top 1% when he’s really in the middle 50%; doing so will only set up your candidate for failure and prevent a more qualified candidate from being selected.
Before starting here are some questions to ask the candidate:
- When is the recommendation due?
- Am I the right person to do this recommendation?
- What type of individual is the board looking for? (this can be found in the board precepts or application instructions). With a critical eye and reading between the lines, you might be able to see hints of what the board wants.
- What is the competition level for this position?
- Who was on the board last year? Picking up the phone and inquiring about last year’s board is a great way to glean advice, improve your record, and show an above-and-beyond level of interest in the process.
Use persuasive copywriting techniques
Copywriting is defined as the art and science of strategically crafting reader-focused words (“copy”) which gets people (in this case the board) to take some form of action. Just like the copywriters of the advertising industry it is your job to create a recommendation letter that inspires the board to act. Gregory Ciotti from CopyBlogger provides some scientifically-backed copywriting tips that will provide some background into good copywriting techniques. Here are some applicable examples:
First, use pathos, or emotional appeal with a good, gripping story, especially one that you know the Board can relate to. Why? Because good stories are designed to transport and change the reader. Using this storytelling technique alone will help the board remember your candidate when sorting through hundreds of other applicants.
The devil’s advocate is your friend! Address any objections you foresee the board will have head-on. The following sentence starters serve as excellent examples: “Now I understand you might be concerned about ____ right now.” Another: “While ____ could be a cause for concern, I see it as one of John’s greatest strengths…”
Do not overly rely on adjectives. Overuse of adjectives (amazing, flawless, commanding, phenomenal, outstanding, brilliant ) is a frequent problem in military writing and causes writing to become less impactful. They bog down the reader and overuse will dilute the writing and lessen their interest rather than boost it. Verbs, on the other hand, are a powerful and clear way to communicate the candidate’s skills.
Imply Selection. When writing recommendations II frequently uses the term “When you select him…” or “ Upon selection to Dive School….” This implicit expectation of selection will display confidence in both the candidate and the board.
Finally combine valuable assets that the candidate has. It not only reads more concisely, but it shows the board how his/her qualifications and goals work together. For example: “John Jones will not only excel as a Supply Officer, but he is someone who shows the traits of a career military professional and is someone who I expect will spend 20+ years in the Navy.”
Example Format for Military Recommendations
When I write a recommendation I try to break it up into four distinct paragraphs; these include Opening and my background, career highlights, gripping or memorable story, and closing. Below gives further examples and additional paragraphs.
- Opening – My background, how I know the individual, for how long, in what capacity and my qualifications to write this award are (Forwarded with my strongest personal recommendation for selection to the Mine Warfare Weapons Tactics Instructor. I’ve known John Jones for two years, from August 2016 to February 2019, serving both as his Executive Officer and Commanding Officer, During that time John far exceeded expectations while serving as N1 department head, lead Battle Watch Captain, and Lead planner for RIMPAC 2018. As a Mine Sweep Sailor, EOD Officer, and Commanding Officer I can think of no stronger a candidate for a Mine Warfare WTI instructor. )
- Career Highlights ( As one of my most trusted Battle Watch Captains and Exercise Planners at COMCMDIV THREE ONE, John Jones set and maintained a high standard of tactical performance and leadership to be emulated by both officer and enlisted ranks. He was an instrumental player in upwards of 30 national, interagency, and multi-national Mine Warfare exercises.)
- Maxim or quote that he lives his life by ( One of the quotes that John Lives his life by is the famous quote from JFK “Pray not for an easy life; pray for the strength to endure” John encapsulates this “strength to endure” by daily…..)
- Gripping Story (the best example of his personality can be summarized in a situation that happened a few months back. During a very stressful time at the command John Jones….
- One word of caution ( If you do select John Jones I do have a word of caution; John will not belong in this position before he fully masters his primary responsibilities and starts increasing his workload, shouldering more responsibility and possibility putting you or others out of work)
- One Unknown skill (One unique skill that John Jones has is that he also a part-time violin player for the Oregon Symphony. This shows his multi-dimensional ability……..)
- Aptitude for future growth ( Not only will John Jones excel as a supply officer, but he shows the aptitude and critical thinking ability for the type of leader that we would expect as a Future Admiral)
- Leadership ability (while John Jones is a technically proficient supply officer, his real skill is in leading a team of logistics professionals. Just last week John…….)
- A failure that shows growth and development and willingness to face a challenge (While it may be unconventional to discuss a failure in a recommendation letter I believe this story is instrumental in understanding John’s character. Just last month John was tasked with the implementation of an experimental program that involved the tracking and management of 200 vehicles spread over three states. While the program was ultimately unsuccessful, John maintained an upbeat attitude, took full responsibility, and deliberately worked each and every issue. Even though he was not involved in planning this program, he worked it as if the idea was his very own. )
- Last book he read (John also happens to be a voracious reader who just finished the Entire Horatio Hornblower series…..)
- Soft Skill (While John Jones excels at all the typical naval traits, his strongest attribute by far is his ATTITUDE. No matter how heavy the workload, how dire the environment, or how at risk the mission John’s attitude constantly shines through. Even during RIMPAC 18, our most physically and mentally taxing exercise John was both a light to his team and leadership. I remember frequently walking on the watch floor tired, hungry, and stressed only to be picked up by his smile, warmth, and command of the situation. Regardless of his many “FITREP talents”, attitude is what John is known by… )
- Final closing – confidence you have in the individual, future aptitude, and final recommendation.
- Hand Written notes. I’ve also seen success with handwritten notes at the bottom of the letter such as:
- Select her now and then assign her to my Team/Command/Unit.
- Not only is she a must select, but should be at the very top of your selection pile
- Select now, You will not regret it!
Example Military Recommendation Letters
There are many websites that provide great examples of Army, Navy, Air Force, and USMC recommendation letters. Here are some of my favorite:
Now go and write a great Recommendation Letter…
If done well a recommendation is one of the most powerful gifts you can give. Not only does a recommendation acknowledge current work, but they provide a glimpse into an individual’s future aptitude. I’ve outlined what recommendations are and how to create one that will make your candidate shine off the paper when the board sits down to review their options.
How do you write a killer recommendation letter? Anything missing from this list? Would you like to share some of your recommendation letters? Reach out to me on Linkedin and I look forward to reading your suggestions.
Navy Letters of Recommendation
Letter of Recommendation to Law School
1. It is with great pleasure that I write this letter recommending Mineman First Class Paige V. Barrett for admission to Florida Coastal School of Law. I have had the opportunity to observe Petty Officer Barrett since Fall 2017. She is an extraordinary Sailor and continues to demonstrate the maturity, leadership, and dedication we seek in our Navy. You will not find a more impressive candidate!
2. Petty Officer Barrett leads from the front! She was my pick as CHARLESTON's Sailor of the Quarter and was awarded Sailor of the Year by Commander, Littoral Combat Ship Squadron ONE. She is responsible for managing all correspondence, identifying and correcting pay issues, and maintaining over 74 personnel records. In the last year she processed seven reenlistment contracts and 16 extension contracts which resulted in over $30,000 worth of reenlistment bonuses across the command. Further showing her commitment to Shipmates, she volunteered to become a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Victim Advocate, a 24/7 responsibility to provide support to those who might experience sexual assault. This required over 40 hours of training during off-duty hours, all after completion of 22 initial classroom hours.
3. Exemplifying her commitment to excellence, she completed her Associates of Arts in General Studies in February of 2017 and Bachelors of Arts in Human Development and Family Studies in August of 2018. All her academic work was done while serving the United States Navy with honor. Paige knows how to manage her time better than any of her peers!
4. Paige is a community servant! She has volunteered over 150 hours as a Crisis Text Line Counselor, worked with special needs teens throughout the San Diego area through an organization called Adventure Club, and dedicated countless hours preparing and serving food to families living in the Ronald McDonald House of San Diego at Radys Children's Hospital.
5. As a former Assistant Professor at the University of San Diego and San Diego State University, I know firsthand what it takes to be a successful student. I also know how important it is to admit students who will carry on the reputation of the institution from where they obtain their degree. No University or School can sustain such a prestigious reputation as yours without successful alumni. Paige is exactly who you want to represent you as a student and graduate. I am confident a review of her record will prove she has all the tools to excel as a law student at Florida Coastal School of Law. The day she graduates, all previous degrees earned from your school will inflate immediately. She is simply that special. Waste no time debating on her admission and accept her application immediately. If I can provide any additional information, please don't hesitate to contact me at [email protected]
Letter of Recommendation, Commissioning
1. Please accept this letter as my strongest possible personal recommendation for Intelligence Specialist First Class Name be accepted for commissioning as a Naval Officer - if you have only one selection, ISl Name is your pick!
2. I have the opportunity to observe IS1 Name in action here in *region*. An extraordinary Petty Officer, she continues to demonstrate the maturity, leadership, and dedication we seek in our officer corps. You will not find a more impressive candidate - none! Promoted to First Class Petty Officer during her first month at *UNIT*, she has not looked back. Our "subject matter expert" on the countries of *country* and *country*, she is an articulate analyst and a polished briefer, providing numerous updates to the Commanding General and the entire *unit* leadership team. Confident, poised, and professional.
3. Engaged and active across the staff, Petty Officer Name has devoted herself to self improvement,taking on leadership positions usually filled by more senior non-commissioned officers. Performing brilliantly as the LPO of her CPO 365 ship, she has also volunteered as a Command Fitness Leader and Command Foreign Disclosure Representative. Setting an outstanding example, everyone on the staff knows Petty Officer Name!
4. l could go on-and-on, but I am confident a review of her record will prove she has all the tools to excel as a Naval Officer. I look forward to welcoming Ensign Name into the officer wardroom and have no doubt she will serve the intelligence community, our navy, and our nation with pride and zeal. If I can provide any additional information, please don't hesitate to contact me at [email protected]
Letter of Recommendation for Special Duty
Airman Armstrong has my strongest possible recommendation for selection to the Dive Medical Technician/Fleet Marine Force Reconnaissance Program. Standing a cut above his peers, he is a prime example of the Navy Core Values, a superior leader, manager, and organizer, who exhibits virtually unlimited potential. Airman Armstrong's appearance both on and off duty is a model for junior Sailors to emulate. He is guaranteed to excel as a member of the Corpsman Community.
Letter of Recommendation for Advancement
1. Petty Officer Armstrong serves the Navy above and beyond the call of duty through her expert and skilled leadership of both her peers and junior Sailors alike. She requires no rudder as she consistently demonstrates exceptional leadership and unrivaled determination in helping NIOC Norfolk to achieve its mission.
2. Building upon the foundation of Sailorization, she provides directional insight for her junior Sailors to successfully navigate through the challenges and early stages of their Naval careers. As a poised intelligence professional, Petty Officer Armstrong was hand-selected among a group of highly competitive peers to represent her work center in briefing the quarterly Cyber threat briefs to the highest levels of command leadership.
Letter of Recommendation for FTS Program
This letter is my personal recommendation for Petty Officer Bingham. Until just recently, I have been Bingham's immediate supervisor for several years. I found her to be consistently pleasant, tackling all assignments with dedication and a smile.
Besides being a joy to work with, LS3 is a take-charge person whose leadership and organizational skills have been invaluable to the unit. Though she was an asset to our unit, LS3 was also extraordinarily helpful in other areas of the NOSC. I highly recommend Petty office Bingham for the FTS program. She is a team player and would make a great asset to any organization.
Letter of Recommendation, Enlistment in Navy
This letter is my personal recommendation for Justin's Gersner's enlistment in the United States Navy. He is extremely intelligent, loyal, dependable and will be a great asset to whatever rate and/or rank he desires to achieve.
As he has proved in his current employment, he is a very quick learner, has achieved a supervisory position in a short period of time and shows leadership abilities which will serve the Navy well. Personally, I've come to think of Justin as a friend because of strong moral character, his devotion to his family and friends, his sense of responsibility and duty and I hope for that he decides to become a member of our family by becoming our son-in-law.
In conclusion, it would serve the interest of the United State Navy to seriously consider Justin Gersner's enlistment in becoming a member of your branch.
Letter of Recommendation for U.S. Navy
Letter of Recommendation: James S. Sutterlin
17 North Chatsworth Ave. Apt. 6KL
Larchmont, NY 10538
Telephone and Fax 914 834 3902
Email [email protected]
May 8, 2017
To Whom it May Concern,
I am a retired Foreign Service Officer (Inspector General of the Foreign Service), a retired senior member of the United Nations Secretariat, and Distinguished Fellow and Instructor at Yale University. I am writing this memorandum to recommend Forrest Weaver for admission to the United States Navy. Because of my need for various types of assistance since my retirement, I engaged the services of Mr. Weaver to help me, on the recommendation of one of his professors at the graduate school of the City University of New York in which he is now enrolled. Forrest Weaver has now been working for me for almost one year. His tasks are manifold, including maintenance of my financial records, payment of my obligations, summarizing for me incoming correspondence, including scholarly and literary works, and assisting me in the academic and literary writing that I undertake. To perform these functions Mr. Weaver requires a broad education and a keen intelligence.
Forrest Weaver meets all of the requirements listed above. His educational background covers both scientific and humanistic criteria. He is quick in grasping the sense of what is needed, whether it be in the maintenance of a bank account or the correction of a literary composition. He is always willing to learn if new knowledge is needed in completing his work. He has the initiative and the independence of mind to suggest corrections or improvements in works in progress when this may be in order. In summary, I have come to value his assistance highly as a young man of great promise in whatever career he may choose.
Mr. Weaver has spoken to me about various career options that he has considered and has told me of his decision to apply for admission to the United States Navy. He told me that he has given this extensive thought, taking into account, among other things, that there is some history in his family of service in the Navy. I believe that he will make a loyal, skillful and nimble Navy officer. He has shown, in my opinion, all the necessary attributes (I'm familiar with the scores of the tests he has taken). I can recommend Forrest Weaver, without reservation, for acceptance and service in the United States Navy.
James S. Sutterlin
United States Foreign Service Officer (Retired)
Senior Assistant and Speechwriter for the United Nations Secretary General
Distinguished Fellow and Instructor, Yale University
Adjunct Professor of Political Science, Long Island University
Letter of Recommendation for Special Duty
21 February 2013
Letter of Recommendation:
MEMORANDUM FOR WHOM IT MAY CONCERN
FROM: 11 XXX/XXXX
SUBJECT: Letter of Recommendation for Petty Officer Second Class (First Last)
1. I am pleased to provide my strongest recommendation for Petty Officer Second Class (First Last) to hold your next position as an instructor for (Job). She is a dynamic individual with impeccable bearing, positive attitude, and tireless work ethic. Moreover, her talents and leadership qualities have been instrumental towards a variety of domains, which have made people around her professionally grow and possess infectious unions.
2. (Name) is the type of Sailor we need leading from the front. Furthermore, she is what I consider to be a �hard charger�; outshining her peers by multiple degrees. I have known her since (date), and during that time, she has impressed me as a bright, articulate, enthusiastic, reliable and very capable NCO and person. As her (how you know her, supervisor), there were many times I relied on her to perform tasks; she came through each time without complaint or hesitation. What�s more is she would be the one I leaned on to keep the department organized, productive, and within standards as she shared her experiences and knowledge to keep the integrity of what the Navy expects from our future Sailors, thus earning Sailor of the Year.
3. As a (duty position), (name) has proven her performance ability since the start of her career. She has pursued several managerial and public opportunities, to include: managing the (...), coordinating deployment processing lines, and overseeing (...). Her primary duties aren�t the only activities that are noteworthy; she has also demonstrated an adept speaking aptitude: educating 1,500 deployers on (...), and reading scripts at the unit commander�s call. As you can see, she is the complete package and if I were the hiring authority, I would hire her in an instant!
4. Having been an (your experience or position)and having (X) years of Navy experience, I understand what it takes to fulfill a high profile �special duty.� So again, I urge you to consider Andrea(name) for the position and I guarantee she will not disappoint; rather, she will continue to excel in this important duty. If you need additional information or would like to discuss my recommendation in greater detail, please contact me at DSN XXX-XXXX during normal duty hours Pacific Time or email me at [email protected]
Letter of Recommendation for Supervisory Position
26 Dec 2012
To Whom it May Concern,
I have known Jayce Yeager for over two years (2008 - 2010). I was an immediate supervisor during his employment here at the Napa Distribution Center in Anchorage, Alaska. Jayce's responsibility was to keep the different sections of the DC stocked with appropriate product in that area. He worked in all the sections of the DC and was familiar with all the functions necessary for the DC to operate.
Jayce didn't require supervision and always completed his responsibilities as quickly as possible. His assigned area was always among the best stocked and neatest in the store. When he finished his duties, he frequently assisted other employees in their areas. He was well liked and an asset to our store. His co-workers frequently depended on his advice and his versatile and outstanding performance was recognized by DC management. He went beyond his duties as stocker and went on to will call position. Which is a function at the DC to pick parts for the local stores that are high priority.
In summary, I would not hesitate to recommend Jayce for any position he applies for. He is an intelligent, dependable, and capable worker. In my opinion he has all the skills necessary to be an effective supervisor and I hope that his next position is more challenging and rewarding because he certainly deserves it. His loyalty is beyond reproach.
Quality Assurance Manager
MEMORANDUM FOR HQ ARSTRAT/XO
SUBJECT: Recommendation for Special Duty XXXXXXXX
1. Staff Sergeant Roscoe P. Coleman, 123-45-6789, is an intelligent, mature individual who learns easily, retains what he is taught, and is able to apply his knowledge in his daily work. He always produces quality work, even under stress, and is completely reliable. Sergeant Coleman's job performance is outstanding. In addition, he communicates well with supervisors and peers alike. He's also very courteous and his appearance is an example to others.
2. Sergeant Coleman would be an excellent choice for this sensitive position and I recommend him wholeheartedly and without reservation.
Your OCS application has many components, but one of the most overlooked is the letters of recommendation. When the board looks at two candidates with roughly equal packages, the letters of recommendation can easily make the difference between acceptance and a rejection letter.
Consider a wide variety of people to write your letters of recommendation. The important thing to keep in mind is that the writers need to know you personally. It doesn’t matter if George Washington, Mother Theresa, and General Patton recommend you if they don’t really know you. That being said, extra weight is given to any of the following characteristics:
- Military service, especially high-ranking officers
- Those who have seen you in leadership roles
- Long-term relationships, who can attest to your growth
If a similar picture is painted by a variety of people who know you well, the positive testimony will be a strong and cohesive argument in your favor.
For content, a general recommended outline is as follows:
- Open with a specific recommendation for the individual and program
- Call out the most prominent character traits for success in the program
- Explain the personal relationship to give credibility to the praise
- If possible, tie the writer’s military experience and credibility to the candidate’s potential
- Close with a strong statement connecting the candidate’s character and leadership to the recommended program
An (Ideal) Example:
To the Application Board of OCC-234,
I am writing to recommend Chesty Leftwich for the OCC-234 class of Officer Candidates School.
In the four years that I have been his mentor, parish priest, and football coach, I have been impressed with Chesty’s integrity, leadership, academic success, and drive. He has proven himself to be an exceptional athlete, a valedictorian in his school, volunteer in his community, and a natural leader. I met Chesty when he was just a college freshman at State University, when he asked me to be a mentor for the non-profit start-up he funded, Social Justice Through Football. Since then, he has only grown in stature as an accomplished but humble young man.
From my 21-year career as a chaplain in the United States Navy, when I served for 15 years with Marine Corps units, I can honestly attest that Chesty has all the potential and motivation to be a great success as an officer. He has a sharp mind, a patriotic desire to serve, and a passion to lead with humility.
Although the University, his church, and teammates will be sad to see him go, I’m confident that the US Marine Corps will be better off with the commissioning of Chesty as a Second Lieutenant after OCC-234.
Father Patrick Flanagan
Captain, USN, Retired
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Recommendation letter usmc of
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