By Debbie Gildea
Air Force Personnel, Services and Manpower Public Affairs
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas –The enlisted promotion system is based on several weighted factors, most of which are within the member’s control.
Those factors include: time-in-service, time-in-grade, decorations, enlisted performance report ratings, the promotion fitness exam score and the skills knowledge test score.
“Time is a factor in the promotion system — time-in-service and time-in-grade — so a lot of young Airmen think they can’t get promoted because they’re too junior, but that’s not necessarily the case,” said Noxon.
Time-in-service is worth one-half of a point per month (six points per year) and time-in-grade is worth one-sixth of a point per month (two points per year).
“That’s a pretty small number compared to 100 points possible for each of the tests, and test preparation is solely in the Airman’s hands,” Noxon said.
Performance reports are worth 135 points maximum, and the maximum number of points possible for decorations is 25.
“Some people think that EPRs and decorations are subjective, or dependent on what your supervisor thinks you deserve,” Noxon said, “but the evaluation process has very clear criteria and checks and balances up and down the supervisory chain to help maintain process integrity. Ultimately, Airmen who work hard to develop their job and leadership skills are going to get the right evaluation. Whether or not you get promoted depends a lot on your determination and your work ethic.”
Even the first three promotions depend on the Airmen, although they may appear to be automatic.
“Yes, time is a factor and an airman basic or airman can’t get promoted early, but behavior counts,” he explained. “Being eligible doesn’t mean your commander will recommend you, so you have to work hard, learn your job, study the Air Force culture, and behave in a way that tells your peers, supervisor and commander that you’re ready for more responsibility.”
That hard work could be the ticket to early promotions down the road.
An airman first class is eligible for promotion to senior airmen after 36 months time-in-service and 20 months time-in-grade or 28 months time-in-grade, whichever occurs first, Noxon said. However, they are eligible to be considered for below-the-zone promotion to senior airman six months before that time. So being prepared for that opportunity could set the pace for the rest of a member’s career.
“If you excel on duty, participate in off-duty programs, do well on your career development course exams and set the example as an Airman, you’re a good candidate for below-the-zone promotion,” Noxon said. “If selected, you could be eligible to test for staff sergeant when your peers are sewing on senior airman. That would put you a year ahead of others in the promotion process.”
Depending on how well an Airman does on the two promotion tests, that could be just the beginning.
Senior airmen must have 36 months time-in-service and six months time-in-grade to be eligible to test for staff sergeant. Staff sergeants must have 23 months time-in-grade to test for technical sergeant, and technical sergeants require 24 months time-in-grade to test for master sergeant.
“It’s a challenge to do so because there are so many factors involved, but it’s possible for a sharp, fast-burner to make it to master in less than 10 years,” Noxon said. “Again, it’s in your hands.”
Although getting promoted is the Airman’s responsibility, Noxon reminds members that they are not alone in the process.
“Airmen can’t study together, but they can seek guidance and mentorship from senior noncommissioned officers,” Noxon said. “Testing is only part of the process, and long before an Airman can test, other factors are already in play. An Airman may have two performance reports before testing and opportunities to earn a decoration, so looking for a mentor to help guide you is important.”
Enlisted Airmen can positively — or negatively — impact every promotion opportunity. Those who aggressively pursue opportunities, find a mentor, and work hard are the ones who will be promoted, he said.
“Any Airmen — you — can do that. You can be the fast burner, because your promotion is in your hands,” Noxon said.