Promotion. Yep, touchy subject for some these days…

Despite the effort to create a more balanced & equitable system for advancement, there are those who feel that however revolutionary the initiative was sold, the new “forced distribution” replaces an antiquated 5-tiered system with, well, you guessed it, another 5-tiered system.

“Stop calling it a 3, 4 or 5 EPR!”, you’ll hear a number of senior leaders say. This of course becomes awkward as Airmen have been programmed from a very young age that one block, followed by two others, equals three blocks. Shapes are fun right?

So, let’s get to the point. How does one get promoted in today’s Air Force? How do you become more competitive for higher forced distribution rankings and further up, stratifications? It can be simple, if you are willing to read further.

Here’s a list of three ideas/thoughts that will aid you in your quest for the next stripe. (with subheadings of course)

1. Score well. For the ranks of Staff to Chief Master Sergeant, scoring more than an 80 rarely fails you. Sure, there are cases where it isn’t enough due to other factors, but scoring a “B-” on a memorization test is hardly rocket science.  It takes time and determination, but so does baking.

2. Read NCO/SNCO responsibilities in AFI 36-2618 “The Enlisted Force Structure”, aka “The little brown book”. This may seem like a scavenger hunt to discover what to do to make yourself more competitive, but once you take away the common sense paragraphs like “know where your Airmen eat and visit them” and “be a good wingman”, you will see as Russell Crowe did, in the movie classic “A Beautiful Mind”, a code for what your quantifiable responsibilities are and what will set you apart from the pack (in paraphrase):

– Promote esprit de corps and get involved in private orgs (5/6, Top III)

– Provide career counseling for others (mentor sessions, pro development brown bag lunches)

– Get your CCAF and continue your development and encourage your people to do the same (take school)

– Be an active, visible leader, in your unit, on your base & in your community (lead a volunteer event in your community, be seen and make an impact)

– Clearly meet, and strive to exceed all standards. (Awards, achievements & recognition help show that)

And most importantly… Kick butt at your job.

None of these matter if your work performance is… sub-par.  Of course there are a number of other factors that will assist you in standing out from the rest of your peer group, but these extracts are literally YOUR RESPONSIBILITY in the current rank you are in.  Don’t believe me? Read AFI 36-2618… really just do it. Not for me, for you. I’m serious. Not kidding.

3. Be realistic, in all that you do.  It’s great to want to get promoted, but understand that each rank tier has it’s expectations. If you’re a SSgt that demands to be the next MSgt, you should probably be the BEST technician you can be at your rank. This only solidifies your reputation as the go-to Airman for the job.  This in turn, keeping the advice above in your hip pocket, will make you competitive for the E-6 cycle.  Then, as you make TSgt, your leadership qualities are expected to grow as you mature in rank. To get to MSgt however, keep this in mind; People aren’t promoted based on thier current work, rather, the potential to accomplish greater work at the next level. So make sure you EPR reads that you are operating at the level you should be promoted to.  Expecting to jump from TSgt to CMSgt as Tyrese Gibson did in Transformers 1 to 2, isn’t realistic, but following these steps and handling your rank responsibilities will get there in the proper time and in the right way.

So regardless of whether it’s a 5,7 or 27-tiered system that represents your annual work; study for your tests like you are back in actual school, know what the Air Force expects of you where you are at and be realistic.

Oh, and revisit this blog (shameless plug, really), It’s that simple.


– JD







3 thoughts

  1. Whoever wrote this is out of touch with what goes on in the Air Force with in a squadron… “None of these matter if your work performance is… sub-par.” The problem is these are the people who are leading the enlisted force. They did everything but their job (or little of it) in order to get promoted…its called stratification and that poison is now at the E-6 level…


  2. Yes these are all great ideas, but to say EPRs to really have a part of it, is nuts. Because EPRs can make or break an Airman’s career and a supervisor can miss use the EPR system to do just that. So here are some highlights from a true but long story of two Ssgts, one with out Integrity and one with Integrity.
    Ssgt #1 returns to Shaw, March 1991 after is deployment for Desert Shield /Storm. He files an I.G. complaint against a Civilian Shop Supervisor for a Racial Incident, only to drop it for promises of favoritism to include: Firewall EPRs, No deployment back to the AOR(fact from August 1991 until July 1997, he did Zero) and possibly of Step promotions. I believe he had 15 or 16 years in 1997, he was able to Achieve the Rank of E-9 before retiring.
    Ssgt#2 was transferred to Shaw June 1990 under Humanitarian Orders. On the second of August 1990, he stood in Squadron formation, and was pull out of formation and was told he was non deployable because he was under Humanitarian Orders. However he deploy for Desert Shield/Storm the 14th of December. Only after he Voluntary sign off his Humanitarian to replace a young Airman not even in his AFSC, because his wife was hospitalize going through a problem pregnancy with their first child. In march as Shaw was getting ready to redeploy back to base and he was suppose to be on one of first freedom bird out, he volunteer to learn to run the mobile pickup truck mounted insect sprayer (fogger) so the bug shop can return together, plus he was the site water and waste and plumber, he basically took the position of three individuals. And in June of 91, with the site total shut down, he again volunteer to go to Dhahran and maintain it until August. Upon returning to his at Shaw he notice the favoritism going on, and the effect it was having on the younger Airmen. He try to correct the situation, but ended up filing an I.G. complaint and when the Supervisor order him to drop it he kept the faith and refused. His first EPRs was due the first week of October, two months after filing the complaint and it was a3, he try to rebutt it, and was told that a 3 is the new 7 and was Average and was non rebuttal. His second EPR was also a 3, and during this reporting period he did a 90 day TDY to Gitmo and receive Air Force Achievement Medal and against was told it was non rebuttal. There’s alot more I can say, but as you can see EPRs do make and break careers. So here are two more ways you can get promoted. Maybe.
    1. Black Mail on behalf of the Ssgt.
    2. Or bribery on behalf of the supervisor.


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