Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs
The Air Force is expecting lower promotion rates for the next few years due to enlisted grade restructuring, a leveling-off of end-strength growth, and high retention levels.
Based on structure revisions and end-strength requirements, grades E-5 through E-7 will be impacted. Through this realignment, the Air Force intends to balance and increase experience within its noncommissioned officer tier.
“We value the experience Airmen bring to their work centers and we want to ensure we are aligning our enlisted force grade structure appropriately,” said Lt. Gen. Caroline Miller, deputy chief of staff for Manpower, Personnel, and Services. “Although this news may be discouraging for some, this revision is absolutely needed and allows us to grow the Air Force our nation needs.”
The review also confirmed various career field managers’ concerns on the decrease of experience levels among their Airmen after analyzing historical data.
“While a small part of the decline can be explained by the elimination of time-in-grade and time-in-service points from enlisted promotion considerations, the majority of the experience decline was attributable to the Air Force trying to achieve an enlisted force structure with too many higher grades,” said Col. James Barger, Air Force Manpower Analysis Agency commander. “We also found that experience levels would continue to decline unless the Air Force lays in more junior Airmen allocations and fewer E5-E7 allocations. So, we built a plan to transition to a healthier grade distribution by Fiscal Year 2025.”
From 2015 to 2021, enlisted end-strength grew by nearly 16,000 Airmen and since more promotable quotas were available to Airmen during the period of growth, promotion rates over this time period were higher.
Now that the end-strength growth has leveled off, the higher promotion opportunity is no longer available and will be further constrained as strengths drops by 3,000 into FY23 from its high in March 2022.
Furthermore, due to record-high retention levels across the enlisted force, promotion opportunities due to Airmen separating or retiring have also been reduced. Over the next several years, and as retention levels may be expected to normalize, increased promotion opportunity may be expected.
The revised grade structure distribution is essential for solidifying and building upon the experience gained and captured from the recent revisions to the Enlisted Evaluation System. Within this FY22 promotion cycles, the Air Force adopted the Promotion Recommendation Score, which places value on the experience of Airmen and sustained superior performance when it comes to promotions. The goal is to slow the rate at which the average Airman is promoted to give an average of an additional year of experience at each of the E-5 and E-6 grades.
Last year, the Air Force introduced Airman Leadership Qualities which focus on competency-based development and lay the foundation for “Developing the Airmen We Need” for both officers and enlisted personnel. The ALQs are also an integral part of the recently released “Blueprint: Roadmap to Enlisted Development.” ALQ-based evaluations, slated to begin this fall, allow the Air Force to measure what it values for leadership development and future conflicts.
“As we continue to improve and revise our enlisted evaluation system and grade distribution, we must ensure members are ready to both take care of their Airmen and are experts in their primary duties,” Miller added. “Our enlisted force must be poised and structured to be able to accomplish both of those key tasks.”