March 1, 2022
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What Are Enlisted Air Force Ranks?

What Are Enlisted Air Force Ranks?

Fred JacksonMarch 1, 2022,

Airmen (E-1 through E-4), non-commissioned officers (E-5 and E-6), and senior non-commissioned officers (E-7 and E-8) are the three tiers of enlisted ranks in the Air Force (E-7 through E-9).

The Air Force is the only branch of the US military in which NCO status can be obtained at the grade of E-5. Some individuals, including those in the Army, can enlist at a higher rank if they have college credits or have participated in Junior ROTC. Airman first class is the most advanced rank available under these programs (E-3).

For military personnel who agree to enroll for six years, the Air Force offers rapid advancement. Enlistees who join the military as an airman basic (E-1) are promoted to airman (E-2) after completing basic training and subsequently to airman first class (E-3) after completing technical school or 20 weeks after completing basic training, whichever comes first.

  • Ranks of Airmen (E-1 through E-4)
  • Basic Training for Airmen (E-1)
  • Ranks of Non-Commissioned Officers (E-5 and E-6)
  • Ranks of Senior Non-Commissioned Officers (E-7 through E-9)
  • Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force (E-9S)

Airman (E-1)

The majority of airmen receive the rank of airman basic after completing basic military training (E-1). While learning military and technical abilities, an airman acquires and demonstrates knowledge of military conventions, courtesies, traditions, and Air Force standards.

Moving up the Air Force ranks: Promotions to E-2 are automatic under normal circumstances if the Air Force's performance and behavior standards are met. Time in grade (TIG) and time in service are the only requirements for advancement (TIS). While still essentially an apprentice, an airman is expected to learn and follow military regulations.

Pilot (E-2)

The obligation of assimilating to the Air Force way of life and becoming proficient in an Air Force occupational specialty comes with the rank of the pilot. Following basic training, all airmen attend Air Force schools in their specialties ("jobs") based on their aptitudes and interests and the Air Force's needs.

First-Class Airman (E-3)

First-Class Airmen are completely integrated into Air Force and military life, and their responsibilities include completing assignments swiftly and effectively while improving job abilities.

First-class Airmen are given more and more responsibilities. A first-class Airman is expected to uphold Air Force standards and serve as a role model for their colleagues. They are also expected to begin honing their job and leadership abilities.

Moving up the Air Force Ranks: Airmen basic (E-2) must have completed at least ten months of training before being promoted to airman first class. There are no time-in-service (TIS) requirements for airman first class. As they gain experience and become journeymen and leaders, an airman's first-class role and responsibilities expand. The average active-duty period for advancement to airman first-class in the Air Force is 16 months.

Air Force Senior Airman (E-4)

The senior airman rank is between journeyman and non-commissioned officer (NCO). Airmen must improve supervisory and leadership qualities through professional military experience (PME) and individual study. They are expected to act in accordance with set norms, serving as a positive influence and example to both their subordinates and peers. Senior airmen project an image of expertise, pride, and integrity.

Moving up the Air Force ranks: needs 28 months in grade (TIG), or 36 months of TIS and 20 months of TIG for an airman first class. The average active-duty duration for promotion to the rank of the senior airman is three years across the service.

Senior Airman is an exception to the rule (E-4). 'Below-the-Zone' is a term used to describe a situation that Air Force unit commanders have been permitted to promote 15% of their excellent airmen first class (E-3) to senior airmen (E-4) six months ahead of schedule. The choice of the unit commander is mostly based on a promotion board. Promotion boards are run "in-house" by large units, with 15% of employees being promoted early. Small units construct a Central Base Board by combining applications into a pool (CBB).

Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) (E-5 and E-6)

NCOs are the Air Force's enlisted members E-5 and E-6. Personal integrity, loyalty, leadership, dedication, and devotion to duty are expected of Air Force NCOs and respect Air Force policies, traditions, and standards.

The Weighted Airman Promotion System promotes Air Force NCOs and Senior NCOs (WAPS). Airmen with the appropriate TIS/TIG/skill level and a commander's recommendation compete for promotion within their AFSC based on their "WAPS Points" (Air Force Specialty Code). 

Moving up the Air Force ranks: WAPS promotion points are calculated based on a system that provides points for the promotion fitness examination (PFE), specialist knowledge test (SKT), medals and awards, time in grade (TIG)/time in service (TIS), and performance assessments.

Sergeant on Staff (E-5)

In the Air Force, the staff sergeant (SSgt) is the first level of the NCO ranks. The staff sergeant is a craftsman with particular NCO supervisory responsibilities who may have a skill level of 5 or 7. SSgts must also seek to improve their skills as technicians and supervisors regularly. Promotion to the rank of staff sergeant takes more than four years on active duty in the Air Force.

Moving up the Air Force ranks: Promotion to staff sergeant in the Air Force requires three years in service (TIS) and six months in grade (TIG). Before acquiring the rank of staff sergeant, airmen must acquire a 5-skill level, compete in WAPS, and finish the Airman Leadership School in-residence.

Technical Sergeant (E-6)

The technical sergeant (TSgt) is the second-highest rank in the Air Force's NCO ranks. In addition to providing supervision, technical sergeants are qualified to execute highly complicated technical activities. They are in charge of the professional development of all subordinates under their supervision.

The TSgt's job is to ensure that all enlisted people have the tools, training, and support they need to perform at their best and complete the task effectively. The average active-duty period for promotion to the rank of technical sergeant in the Air Force is 12 years.

Moving up the Air Force Ranks: The promotion process for tech sergeant is identical to that for staff sergeant, except for the five-year time in service (TIS) and 23-month time in grade (TIG) criteria, as well as obtaining a seven-skill level.

Senior Non-Commissioned Officer (SNCO) (E-7 and E-9)

SNCOs are Air Force enlisted members with an E-7 or higher rank. Personal integrity, loyalty, leadership, dedication, and devotion to duty are expected of Air Force SNCOs and respect Air Force policies, traditions, and standards.

Like NCOs, senior NCOs are ranked according to their "skill levels." The required skill levels for SNCOs in the Air Force are as follows:

  • Technical sergeant (E-6) to master sergeant (E-7)
  • Manager (E-8 and E-9).

Master Sergeant (E-7)

While having more advanced leadership responsibilities, the master sergeant (MSgt) performs largely as a craftsman. MSgt has a talent level of 7. This position comes with a lot more duties and necessitates a broad technical and management viewpoint. The average active-duty period to reach the rank of master sergeant in the military is more than 17 years.

Moving up the Air Force Ranks: The promotion process for a master sergeant is identical to that for staff sergeant and technical sergeant, with the exception of the minimum requirements, which include eight years of time-in-service (TIS) and 24 months of time-in-grade (TIG), as well as achieving a 7-skill level.

Senior Master Sergeant (E-7)

Supervision or management is expected from the senior master sergeant (SMSgt). Broad management abilities are required for SMSgts to fulfill the obligations of higher leadership roles. For progression to the rank of senior master sergeant, the average active-duty time is more than 20 years.

Moving up the Air Force Ranks: The SMSgt promotion system is extremely competitive because only 2% of the enlisted workforce can be in E8. WAPS points and a Central Evaluation Board that evaluates promotion records promote senior master sergeant and chief master sergeant in the Air Force. An MSgt must have a minimum of 11 years TIS and 20 months TIG to be considered for advancement.

The Central Evaluation Board is the most important senior master sergeant promotion (CEB). The Air Force convenes the CEB, which consists of many three-person panels, twice a year, once for senior master sergeant (January) and once for chief master sergeant (October). Each panel looks at individual AFSC promotion records (jobs).

This means that the same panel will score all records inside a certain AFSC. Performance, professional competence, leadership, work responsibility, depth of experience, specific achievements, and education level are all factors the panels consider when scoring promotion records.

Chief Master-Sergeant (E-9)

With the exception of the chief master sergeant of the Air Force, the chief master sergeant is the highest enlisted rank in the Air Force. The CMSAF is a unique rank with law-enforced basic and retirement pay rates. Chief master sergeants are senior enlisted leaders who function as managers, superintendents, advisers, and enlisted force managers. 

After selection, CMSgt is assigned chief enlisted manager (CEM) codes, allowing them to occupy any managerial-level job and undertake any duty not banned by law or regulation. For progression to the rank of chief master sergeant, the average active-duty duration is more than 22 years.

Command Chief Master Sergeant (E-9)

Senior aides to unit and base commanders are command chief master sergeants. All concerns affecting the command's mission and operations and the readiness, training, utilization, morale, technical and professional development, and quality of life of all enlisted soldiers in the organization are handled by CMCs. The functional managers for all SNCOs in their command/organization are the command chiefs.

Moving up the Air Force Ranks: Only 1% of Air Force enlisted personnel can be assigned to the E9 grade at any given time. As a result, CMSgt promotions are exceedingly competitive. WAPS points and a Central Evaluation Board examine the individual's promotion record to determine chief master sergeant promotions in the Air Force. An SMSgt must have a minimum of 14 years TIS and 21 months TIG to be considered for advancement.

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