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