A group of 505 Air Force senior master sergeants beat out more than 2,200 others to snag a promotion to chief master sergeant, the latest round of an increasingly competitive race to reach the highest grade for enlisted airmen.

Fewer than one in five senior master sergeants — or 18.2% of those eligible — were picked to become E-9s, the Air Force announced Dec. 9. That’s a small drop from last year’s selection rate of 18.8%, and nearly 3 percentage points lower than in 2019.

Those chosen for chief spent, on average, just over three years as a senior master sergeant and nearly 21 years in the military.

The Space Force also tapped nearly 40 guardians for promotion to two of the service’s highest enlisted ranks.

Ten senior master sergeants were chosen for promotion to chief master sergeant, or more than one-fifth of the 45 who were eligible. That’s eight more than were picked in the first board for chiefs in December 2020 — and 37 more guardians who were eligible — as the Space Force grows.

Another 29 master sergeants were selected for E-8, or about 11% of 259 eligible guardians.

On average, the rising E-9s spent nearly four years as senior master sergeants and over 21 years in service, the Air Force said. Incoming senior master sergeants have spent almost three and a half years as master sergeants, and nearly 17 years in the military, on average.

Read the full list of those selected for promotion here.

Space Force personnel issues are causing some friction on Capitol Hill as the service tries to build out its leadership, too. It had around 13,000 military and civilian members as of Sept. 21.

The fiscal 2022 defense policy bill under consideration lifts federal limitations on how many senior enlisted personnel and field grade officers — master sergeants, senior master sergeants, chief master sergeants, majors, lieutenant colonels and colonels — can serve in the Space Force, as well as how many people the service can employ overall.

The bipartisan, bicameral agreement also allows the newest military branch to promote as many as 95 percent of its brigadier generals to the rank of major general.

Both provisions expire after one year as lawmakers try to rein in the Space Force’s authority.

“The initial growth of the Space Force may have necessitated some of these variations, but we are concerned that Space Force leadership continues to seek exceptions to military personnel laws that apply to every other service,” lawmakers said in a joint statement accompanying the bill. “This trend of repeated, last minute, requests for legislative relief cannot continue.”

Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.

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