Most military officers' careers progress according to well-known rules. For example, good performance is rewarded by favorable fitness reports, command assignments, special educational opportunities, and—above all—promotion. The other side of the ledger is less familiar, because most officers' records are without serious blemishes and their careers suffer only as a result of competitive pressures in the up-or-out promotion system.
Courts-martial for officers remain rare, but misconduct can lead to mast or office hours, with career-damaging penalties such as letters of reprimand. Administrative sanctions can come in the form of a special fitness report, transfer, or detachment for cause. Removal from a promotion list can have more devastating emotional consequences because it is a clear example of "so near, yet so far." Although promotion delays and removals occur yearly, the processes remain largely unknown because they typically unfold out of the public eye.