Air Force’s chief master sergeant promotion rate hits 7-year high

The Air Force is bumping up nearly a quarter of its eligible senior master sergeants to the top enlisted rank next year, hitting a seven-year high in the promotion rate.

More than 22% of eligible NCOs were selected for promotion, marking the highest selection rate since 2016, the service announced Tuesday.

Officials selected 506 senior master sergeants for promotion from a pool of 2,249 candidates, an increase of 2.2 percentage points over last year’s selection round.

That does not mean the service is getting more generous with its chief chevrons, however. The pool of eligible E-8s was the smallest since 2018.

Chief promotion rates dipped to a 10-year low in 2021, influenced in part by lower retirement rates among service members during the COVID-19 pandemic. The rate recovered last year, when just over 20% were tapped for the next stripe.

Despite the fluctuating rates, the total number of promotions remained relatively stable because of constraints on the eligible pool, which was the smallest since 2018, when only 2,241 candidates were up for the next rank.

In addition, Title 10 of the U.S. Code limits enlisted promotions to the rank of E-9 to no more than 1.25% of the active enlisted force across the Defense Department.

In 2022, the service announced plans to make promotions scarcer in the bottom rungs of the enlisted ranks to rebalance its force structure.

The changes have made promotions to mid-level positions more challenging to attain and made it harder for airmen to climb the ladder to the most senior rungs in the years to come.

Additionally, mandatory development courses are part of a broader initiative to revamp enlisted career development on the way to E-9.

For most airmen, promotion to chief master sergeant occurs after more than two decades of service. Chiefs typically serve as close advisers to senior command teams and advocate on behalf of their unit’s enlisted force.

Of those currently serving in the rank, one will be selected as successor to Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass. She took office in 2020 and is expected to retire upon selection of her replacement by Gen. David Allvin, the Air Force’s newly appointed chief of staff.

The full list of chief master sergeants-select will be made public Friday, the Air Force said.

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