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Air Force Enlisted Rank (Insignia) History

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It was, nevertheless, an excellent solution to the problem of differentiation in the levels of responsibility among Master Sergeants. For instance, in the maintenance Table of organization for a tactical fighter squadron, four flight chiefs, two inspectors, and the line chief all held the grade of Master Sergeant. The new grades would allow the top supervisor a grade superior to the others, each of whom had substantial responsibilities of his own.

Adding two new grades did present some problems. Most significant was the fact that of the total nine grades, five were to be at the "Sergeant" level. Up to 40% of the total enlisted structure would be in these five grades. For this reason, the older breakout of "Airmen" and "Sergeants" seemed outmoded. It was apparent that, with a near 1-to-1 ratio between Airmen and Sergeants, not all Sergeants could be supervisors. It was considered that the time had come to effect some differentiation between the less skilled Airmen, the more skilled at the Staff and Technical Sergeant level, and the supervisory level.

The speed with which it was necessary to implement the legislation did not permit a complete review of the enlisted structure. It was, therefore, determined that, for the present, the titles and insignia should blend into the system with the least possible change.

The comments of the major commands were solicited, and the titles of Senior Master Sergeant (E-8) and Chief Master Sergeant (E-9) were the most popular. They were considered to be the best in clearly indicating ascending grade and to have the advantage of not reflecting unfavorably on those long-time Master Sergeants who would not be selected for the new grades.

Since it had been decided to build on the existing insignia pattern rather than to revise the whole series, the problem of a satisfactory insignia became acute. Numbers of ideas were considered. Some of those discarded were : the use of the Master Sergeant insignia superimposing one and two stars (rejected because of the overlapping of general officer's insignia), and the same with lozenges (rejected out of confusion with the First Sergeant insignia). The choice was finally, and reluctantly, narrowed to a pattern which superimposed on the older Master Sergeant Insignia, one and two additional stripes pointing in the opposite direction (upward) leaving a field of blue between the lower Master Sergeant insignia and the stripes of the new grades. While this did not solve --the--problem--of --"zebra- stripes," the solution was- accompanied with the recommendation that the whole matter of revising the enlisted structure as to titles and insignia be studied. No complaints were voiced over the new rank insignia.

5 FEBRUARY 1959 - On this day the new regulation governing the titles of the various enlisted ranks is released. The only change concerns E-1s. Instead of the title "Basic Airman," the new regulation directs that "Airman Basic" is now the proper title.

15 MAY 1959 - A new edition of Air Force Manual 35-10 is published. It addresses an inequity to the enlisted force. At the time of the creation of the Air Force, formal evening uniforms were considered the provenance of the officer corps. At the time no one seriously believed enlisted personnel would have a need nor a desire for stately uniforms. Soon, however, enlisted people made their needs known and by 1959 the uniform manual caught up with the reality of the situation. While the black formal evening dress uniform was strictly for officers only, the dress white uniform was authorized for optional purchase and wear by all enlisted personnel. For the enlisted men, the insignia of grade was regulation size (four inches) with white chevrons on a white background. For the enlisted women, the same held true except the white chevrons were three inches wide. These white chevrons were used until the white dress uniform was discontinued in 1971.

28 FEBRUARY 1961 - A lightweight all tan uniform (shade 505) was approved by the uniform board. However, only three inch "WAF chevrons" were to be worn on the shirt. This necessitated a change of name. Since men were now wearing the "WAF chevrons," the official name of the three inch wide stripes became "small size.

12 JUNE 1961 - A new edition of Air Force Manual 35-10 revealed a new optional uniform for the enlisted ranks : the black Mess Dress Uniform. Previously prohibited from wearing the black formal wear, the new black mess dress brought about the need for chevrons with aluminum metallic on black background. These embroidered stripes are still in use for the mess dress at the present time.

JANUARY 1967 - Creation of the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force (CMSAF) with its own distinctive insignia.

22 AUGUST 1967 - On this day the uniform board started to explore methods to affix enlisted rank insignia on the raincoat. This problem will perplex the board until 1974.

Information courtesy of U.S. Air Force News Service, and the Air Force Historical Research Agency

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