Deliberate Development

Professional Development for the Military Leader



Howdy. Glad to assist in any way I can. I prefer long walks on the beach on my way to brown bag lunches ;)

How my Command Chief, Became a Command Chief

I recently sat down with the Senior Enlisted Leader at my Wing.  This wasn’t my first time sitting down with a Command Chief, and I’m sure it won’t be my last. During our conversation, he explained how he got to his position. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t the typical “I worked hard to get here speech”.

The Chief went on to say, that leaders at different stages of his life offered him new jobs. Strange jobs. Uncomfortable jobs that he didn’t think he was ready for… But with the advice and counsel of his mentor, he accepted every challenge as an opportunity. He went on to say that self doubt was in full effect. As an introvert, if you can believe it, he had to “will” himself to gather courage.  Meetings with Senior leaders was a challenge. Doing the unpopular, but right thing, was a challenge. This may have been the most humble man, in uniform or not that I’ve ever met.

Bottom line from the conversation was this: Take every opportunity and job that comes your way. Be  bold, and make a difference. You may be the next Command Chief at your base.




Air Force SSgt(E-5) in 2.5 years?!

(U.S. Air Force graphic)

Yes. It’s mathematically possible.

Enter basic military training with some college, CAP or JROTC under your belt and A1C is sewn on for Graduation Day. Make SrA Below-the-Zone and sew on before the cutoff date and you’re promotion eligible for Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force.

There’s a long-standing debate of whether someone is “ready” for the next rank, regardless of how soon or fast they are selected to advance.

I’ll quote CMSAF Wright when he said: “Leadership isn’t about rank or position. It’s not about having all the answers. It’s about getting into the trenches and taking care of your people… Never discount what you bring to your team.”

Yes, there will be those a bit “salty” for what seems to be a faster-than-light promotion system, but let’s think of just some of the factors that got us here.

The Air Force NEEDS more NCOs. This isn’t a want… It’s a nessesity.  15 years of combat operations will do that to any military.  Our front-line ranks need replenishing.

So what now? Do we scoff at the hyper-green soon-to-be SSgt? Nope.  Not even a little bit. That’s just counterproductive towards our team goal. We can’t fly, fight or win anything if we are at odds with our own people.

What we NEED are mentors. And we needed them yesterday. If you are a mentor to someone who is junior to you and are downloading every bit of professional development that you’ve received into your Airman, you’re doing your part. The only way that we’re going to see a stronger, faster, and more committed force is when we act like a team. Again, the Air Force is going to promote people based on the system we have.  And for those selected with minimal time in service… moving up from JV to Varsity is going to have it’s own challenges that they will have to deal with and grow from.  The question is: Are you doing your part to make the team…work?

Write your own EPR… Seriously.

“My supervisor didn’t do me justice.”

“I didn’t even see my EPR until it was time for a signature.”

“I submitted bullets and they didn’t even use them.”

Any of these sound familiar? It’s pretty common to assume that a performance report is going to be written by your supervisor, in any job, military or not. The biggest difference in the military though, is how much impact a collection of fragmented sentences have on say: Career opportunities, Early Promotion, Forced Distribution, Quarterly Awards, Annual Awards, AF level Awards, Promotion Boards, Stratification Panels, Job Interviews, Inbound Supervisor Perceptions, Quality Reviews and a few more that don’t come to mind immediately.

So here comes my analogy. Writing your own evaluation is akin to marinading a steak, seasoning it how you like it and handing it off to the Chef to cook. Sure, some Chefs are great on the fly… But some just make things taste bad… Some even burn things. Especially if they don’t have the recipe right.

Preparing your own EPR provides you not only practice on getting better with the whole bullet writing ordeal but it also allows your supervisor to tweak what you know you’ve done.  You may not have the final say, but doesn’t prep work make all the difference? Just remember; Act-Fact-Impact. What did you do? How did you do it? And lastly, who did it effect?

Take the lead. As an old Airman once said “The only person who will consistently take care of you, is you.”






Forced Distribution works… kinda.

There are a number of ways to increase your chances of advancement in today’s Air Force. Taking the time and memorizing the Professional Development Guide is one way, maxing out decoration points is another and finally; being selected as a “Must Promote or Promote Now” via Forced Distribution increases your chances as well. This is especially true for the ranks Senior Airmen through Technical Sergeant.

The question isn’t “Why are we racking and stacking E-4s as if they were headed to the E-7 boards?” Although it may superficially seems so…

The question is “What can I do to increase my odds of moving up?”

While it may seem like a crap-shoot for a higher Forced Distribution rating, there are ways to make you more competitive vs. your peers. Hence the title of this blog. There are a number of Airmen who self eliminate by not competing well. Here’s some helpful tips to aid you in your quest:

1. Lead… everything. Upcoming project? Ask to lead it if you can. No volunteers for a base function? Lead it.  Airmen’s Council, 5/6 or Top 3 needs a effort lead?  Jump on it like it’s on fire.

2. Be better at your job than your rank requires you to be.  Just don’t be a jerk about it.  If you just said “that’s not me” in your head, it’s probably you.  Just sayin’

3. Embrace reality.  Everyone thinks they are great. Just look at the EPR’s of your supervisors. It’s like someone photocopied ratings that once stood, and made a book out of them. With that said, know that in reality most people are not truly among the best, but can certainly strive to be. Judge yourself vs. your peers rather than your ego.

4. Awards. Don’t fool yourself and think that awards via achievement or awards for performance mean nothing.  And telling yourself that these things are for “woodchuckers” and people who don’t do their job is a very shallow way of thinking. It’s one of the best ways for people who are reviewing your record, that your leadership endorses you.

5. Continued Education. Whether it’s a CCAF, B.S/A. or a Certification, the Air Force promotes you getting your education on. Even as recently as the CMSAF announcing that PDUs (Professional Development Units) are going to be a reality.  Plus it adds to your resume once your service is done.

6. Testing.  We’ve seen the numbers. Folks with low decoration points and a “Promote” statement get promoted like everyone else. But taking the time to score a 75 or higher usually ends up in being selected for advancement. Period.

7. Find a mentor.  Walking through life without direction seldomly gets you to the finish line in a timely manner. Find someone who’s been there and latch on for dear life. When it’s said and done, do the same for someone younger than you.


8. Followership. Making rank in the military is comparable to playing chess. If advancement is in your goal plan, then it’s a long game that you’re setting yourself up for. I’ve always found that if you are making sure that your supervisor is being taken care of, they will take care of you. And no good leader ever made it to the top without understanding what followership means.

The chips may land where they do, but make sure that the odds are in your favor by doing what’s needed to compete on a level playing field.





How to get Promoted (or not)

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







Bullet Writing… For Dummies (like me)

Ah, the art of bullet writing. From the very first Air Force evaluation in the wonder years of the late 1940’s to today’s latest EPR form, many have been bested by the arduous task of taking life itself, amplifying it’s quintessence, whittling large narratives and compartmentalizing facts into… A single; three part bullet–with an impact [here].

So, where to begin? Let’s take into account how much weight an Air Force bullet holds. It’s a remarkable statement that can change the tide of a SrA Below-the-zone competition, it can validate those who are, as written, the best performers of the quarter/year and it can make or break promotion recommendations and even promotions themselves.

The bullet formula has many styles; from it’s simplest form of “Act-Impact”, then to a more in-depth and commonly used “Action-Result-Impact”.  Personally, I find the latter to have two parts that are redundant. A result is and can also be an impact.

So we arrive at what I prefer, “Act-Fact-Impact” or AFI for short. Vaguely familiar right?

The end result of shaping your bullet with “Act-Fact-Impact” allows you to write in an active voice. Active voice is the preferred way of speaking as it is direct and to the point. “Airman David ate breakfast”. The active voice is broken into 3 parts as well; Actor, Action and Recipient.

Let’s put it to practice. If Airman David helped with base clean-up, spent 8 hours bagging leaves, cleaned 4 square miles and led his fellow airman in the charge we can extract this bullet:

– Led 4-man team in base beautification; cleaned 4 sq miles in 8 hours–improved image of facilities & compound.

Sure, this is a simple bullet, but it’s exactly what happened. And anyone who reads it regardless of AFSC will know what it means. As we said at the begining, let’s keep it simple. What did you do(act), tell me something about it(fact) and how did impact others?(impact).  Now take this simplistic bullet and fine tune it with a much stronger impact such as cost savings or manpower efficiency and you’re good to go.

A common thought is that this is acceptable:

– Led 4 BSRP Ann/NCO TARPA proj; 6 BMP/JPG/MOV increase vs ABCsec tm–inc prod 500% to USAF std

For your career field, that may be the trend.  It is not acceptable as it isn’t helpful.  Bullets weighed down with catastrophic acronyms and decoder ring secured details may seem important, but let’s be honest. Any reviewing panel previously mentioned that oversee awards or such will start drooling as the grey matter leaks out of the judges’ ears. Keep it simple. For the judges… think of the safety of the panel.

To conclude, these “great works of fiction” or similar language that some have come accustomed to referencing, don’t have to be that.

Just remember, AFI or Act, Fact & Impact. Often times, the best solution is also the simplest.



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