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Air Force Enlisted Rank (Insignia) History

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JUNE 1976 - In June 1976, various proposals for a distinctive uniform insignia item for the top-three NCOS grades were provided to the major commands for comment. The major commands concurred with three proposals : (1) An additional overstripe for the top three, (2) an optional shoulder mark (board) with embroidered grade insignia on shirts with epaulets, and (3) use of miniature grade insignia on the collar of the short sleeve shirt. The Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, Thomas N. Barnes, disagreed. He did not perceive any "grass roots" support for an insignia change. Consequently, General Jones, the Chief of Staff, placed the proposals in a "hold" status. However, continuing support for some sort of distinctive insignia for the top three brought about a reevaluation of the shoulder mark (board) style of insignia. This proposal was still being staffed by the end of 1976.

28 FEBRUARY 1980 - The Vice Chief of Staff, General Robert C. Mathis, directed the suspension of airmen wearing grade insignia by students undergoing Basic Military Training. The wearing of stripes by E-2s and E-3s while undergoing Basic Military Training had an adverse impact on training since some trainees were in a position of outranking student leaders who were appointed by instructors. Suspension of the wear of grade insignia was also applied to enlisted personnel while in a training status during Officer Training School (OTS) and Airmen Education and Commissioning Program (AECP).

25 FEBRUARY 1982 - After over five years of staffing, Interim -----Message - -- Cha-nge--8-2=-Y -toA-ir-Force -Regulation 35-10 --allows the topthree enlisted ranks to wear shoulder mark (board) insignia for shirts with epaulets and the pullover sweater. Until the shoulder mark (board) insignia became available, the top-three ranks were allowed to wear metal grade chevrons on the epaulets of the pullover sweater.

19 MARCH 1991 - General Merril McPeak, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, announced the termination of the E-4 NCO (Sergeant) status, effective 2 May 1991. In place since October 1967, the removal of NCO status for E-4s was due to a number of reasons. Officials cited that with fewer enlisted accessions (due to the mandated drawdown of personnel ordered by the U.S. Congress) ratio between NCOs and Airmen was off balance. Seventy-seven percent of the enlisted force were NCOs, with the E-4 Sergeants accounted for 28 percent of the NCO corps. Yet less than half of them were in positions of responsibility. By dropping NCO status of E-4s, General McPeak believed the Air Force would have a better ratio of NCOs to Airmen. Those in the rank of E-4 Sergeant would continue in that capacit~ until promoted to Staff Sergeant or separated from the Air Force. 3 This action brought Staff Sergeants back as the first level NCO grade as it had been in 1952 through 1967. In addition, a reduction of E-4 Sergeants would reduce the NCO strength of the enlisted force to 52 percent. The reduced Air Force budget also had a share in the demise of the appointment ceremony from E-4 Senior Airman to E-4 Sergeant. Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Gary Pfingston cited the cost savings by eliminating the monthly NCO status appointment program.

OCTOBER 1991 - General McPeak (Air Force Chief of Staff) and Chief Pfingston (Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force) revealed new proposed enlisted insignia. The chevrons could be worn on both the service dress and mess dress uniforms, eliminating the need for a separate, embroidered and expensive mess dress chevron. The proposal also returned the silver star back to all enlisted ranks and modified the top three sergeant stripes. Specifically, one stripe would be taken off the bottom and put at the top starting with master sergeant. Senior master sergeant would have two stripes up ith five down and chief, three up and five down.

Admittedly, there was mixed reaction to the new stripes from those in the field, reminiscent of--the 1967 reaction to the proposed Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force chevron : "Too much!" The justification for the change, as provided by General McPeak, was to bring the insignia more in line with that worn by top enlisted members in the Army and Marine Corps. Adverse initial reaction from the "troops in the field" may have been due not only to the extra stripe on top, but also the size. The proposed insignia grew from three to three and a half inches in width.

(1993) - General McPeak orders the implementation of the new stripes.

(1999) - Senior Enlisted Advisors (the top enlisted person in each Wing and MAJCOM) have their title changed to "Command Chief Master Sergeant, and the insignia is changed to include a small white star in the space between the bottom stripes and the top stripes.

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

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