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Technical sergeant promotion rate lowest in 16 years

High retention rate means most staff sergeants, senior airmen won't be going anywhere for a while

Jul. 1, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Air Force rank insignia for staff sergeant, technical sergeant and master sergeant. (Sheila Vemmer/Air Force Times) (Air Force Times)
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The selection rate for promotion to technical sergeant plummeted to its lowest point since 1997 — and some experts think your chances for promotion next year could be even worse.

The selection rate for promotion to technical sergeant plummeted to its lowest point since 1997 — and some experts think your chances for promotion next year could be even worse.

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The selection rate for promotion to technical sergeant plummeted to its lowest point since 1997 — and some experts think your chances for promotion next year could be even worse.

The Air Force announced last week that 5,654 staff sergeants had been selected to be promoted to technical sergeant, or just 15.03 percent of the 37,608 eligible. That’s far lower than the 22.77 percent selection rate last year, when 8,518 of 37,402 eligible staff sergeants were selected for promotion.

The Air Force said that is due largely to a high retention rate among current technical sergeants, which meant there were fewer openings available in which to promote staff sergeants. But retired Gen. Billy Boles and retired Col. Ted Stevens said the Air Force’s continued gradual drawdown also likely helped push down the selection rate. The Air Force in February began trying to cut 3,340 enlisted airmen from its ranks by the end of fiscal 2013, using voluntary programs and date-of-separation rollbacks.

And if the current budget cuts known as sequestration continue to bite and reduce force levels, Stevens said, the competition for promotions could be even tougher in 2014.

“If they don’t knock that sequestration out and let the [Defense Department] have a larger slice of the budget than what they’re projected to have, strength levels are going to go down,” Stevens said.

Boles and Stevens agreed that staff sergeants who missed out on a promotion this year should concentrate on trying to improve their specialty knowledge test scores and fitness scores to increase their chances in 2014.

“You just have to study your little butt off,” Stevens said. “SKT and [the promotion fitness examination] are the only two things that you can realistically change. Time in grade and service, they’re going to go up, but so is everybody else’s. [Decorations] are based on, usually, where you are and [permanent changes of station], that kind of stuff.”

Indeed, the average SKT score of selectees shot up this year, from 55.39 in 2012 to 63.40, suggesting that was where competition was fiercest.

The average SKT score was by far the highest since at least 2004, the earliest year for which data was available. The overall average score for selectees was 340.17, up from last year’s average score of 321.94.

Fitness scores declined, from 75.37 last year to 72.63 in 2013. But the average time in grade and time in service both increased slightly.

The toughest competition for promotion came among musicians, who had to score at least 375.14 to be selected for technical sergeant. Enlisted aides’ cutoff scores also were high, as were those of linguist debriefers and interrogators, safety airmen, military training leaders and professional military education instructors.

The lowest cutoff scores were for cardiopulmonary laboratory technology airmen, computer networking specialists, aircraft structural maintenance airmen and nondestructive aerospace weapons systems component inspectors.

The tech sergeant results largely tracked the promotion rate for master sergeant, which were released May 23. The master sergeant promotion rate dropped from 27.58 percent last year to 18.71 percent in 2013 — the lowest since at least 1990, when the Air Force set a goal of 19 percent for E-7 promotions and 11 percent for promotion to technical sergeant.

And Boles and Stevens said the rising retention and falling promotion rates for E-6 and E-7 don’t bode well for aspiring staff sergeants.

Those promotions are likely to be announced in early August. Last year, 40.67 percent of eligible senior airmen were promoted to staff sergeant.

“This has a ripple effect all the way down in terms of promotion opportunity,” Boles said. “For people who are competing, this is bad news for them.”

Drawdowns also could have a chilling effect on promotion rates for chief master sergeants in November, Stevens said, since their strength level is required to be 2 percent of the enlisted population.

“As [the enlisted force] goes down, their numbers go down,” Stevens said. “It affects everything. Until they get this budget straightened out and the strength level stabilized, the promotion rates are going to stay unpredictable.”


Average promotion rates for technical sergeants, master sergeants and senior master sergeants fell steeply this year, suggesting promotion rates for staff sergeants and chief master sergeants could be similarly dire.

2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
E-5 43.45 49.79 47.41 42.70 40.70 N/A
E-6 18.55 20.80 20.90 24.90 22.77 15.03
E-7 22.31 24.60 24.90 33.87 27.58 18.71
E-8 8.91 10.97 9.24 10.29 13.78 10.65
E-9 21.53 20.9 22.04 22.13 22.9 N/A

Source: Air Force Personnel Center

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