More than 1,600 airmen earned a promotion to senior master sergeant, the Air Force’s second-highest enlisted rank, in the latest selection round, the service announced Tuesday.

One in 10 who sought promotion — from a pool of around 16,000 eligible master sergeants — will continue up the ladder. That’s a slightly higher rate than in 2022, when about 8% of E-7s got the nod.

Those who made the cut have spent nearly four-and-a-half years as master sergeants and almost 18 years in the Air Force overall. In the years ahead, it is expected that the pool of successful applicants will skew slightly older. This year’s promotion board came amid a push to rebalance the Air Force’s enlisted corps within a workforce that’s projected to stay flat for another year.

As part of an effort to regrow its midlevel ranks, the Air Force wants noncommissioned officers to spend more time in each grade to mature their leadership skills. For example, people would reach the rank of master sergeant after 18 years rather than 17, which would provide more seasoned candidates when those master sergeants try for promotion to senior master sergeant.

The selection rate is rising even as the pool of eligible master sergeants shrank for the first time since 2020.

The percentage of airmen chosen to become senior master sergeants is ticking up again since it fell below 7% in 2021 — its lowest level since 2014. It hasn’t yet returned to the service’s most recent high of over 12% in 2016.

Federal law dictates how many troops can serve as senior master sergeants, or E-8s. No more than 2.5% of the enlisted force in each military service is allowed to hold the pay grade of E-8 at a time.

Around 263,500 active-duty enlisted airmen and guardians served in the Air Force and Space Force as of Sept. 30, 2022, according to the Air Force Personnel Center, which tracks the Department of the Air Force’s demographics.

Read the list of selectees here.

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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