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Air Force Rank Structure
All About Air Force Rank and Insignia
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Insignia identify the rank of each member of the Armed Forces. Members of the Air Force assume a degree of responsibility equal to their rank. The Air Force insignia system is broken down into two major categories: officer ranks and enlisted ranks (the Air Force does not have warrant officers). The enlisted ranks are further divided into Airmen and NCO (Noncommissioned Officer) ranks. Each rank has a pay grade that begins with a letter, "O" for officers and "E" for enlisted. In the Air Force, the enlisted pay grade is always one more than the number of stripes; for example, one stripe designates the pay grade of an E-2.

The following is not an exact anology, as it's not possible to accurately compare the military to a civilian company or corporation. However, it may help you to visualize the differences between airmen, NCOs and commissioned officers.

Think of the enlisted member as the worker in a civilian company. The enlisted are the ones who hands-on perform the job. Within the "worker group," NCOs are the foremen and line-supervisors. They perform the job, but also provide direct supervision to the other workers. Senior NCOs (E-7 and above) are assistant managers who came up through the ranks of the corporation. They are valuable as managers because of their many years of experience, but will never make it to the Board of Directors. Commissioned officers are the managers of the company. They have broad areas of responsibility for the management, organization, and efficiency of various departments of the corporation. Senior commissioned officers (generals and admirals) are the board of directors.

Enlisted Ranks

The insignia for Air Force enlisted personnel (above Airman Basic) consists of a chevron of one or more stripes. The background of the chevron is blue, the stripes are silver with a silver star in the center. The subdued insignia worn on the Battle Dress Uniform (the camouflaged utility uniform) has a green background, dark blue stripes and a dark blue star in the center.

There are four airman ranks, and five NCO ranks. Additionally, there is one special NCO rank (Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force), and two NCO "special positions" (First Sergeant, and Command Chief Master Sergeant).

The policy for rank and precedence stems from time-honored military customs and traditions. Within the enlisted force, NCOs take rank and precedence over all airmen and other NCOs according to rank. Within the same rank, the date of rank, Total Active Federal Military Service (TAFMS) date, total military service date, and date of birth determine the process. Responsibility and accountability increase commensurate with rank. Within each rank, responsibility for leading rests on the individual who is senior in rank.

The Airman Tier

This tier consists of airman basic (AB), airman (Amn), airman first class (A1C), and senior airman (SrA). It is the first tier of the three-tier enlisted force structure. As a member progresses from AB to SrA, he or she acquires the discipline, skills, and PME necessary to become eligible for NCO status.

No Insignia Airman Basic (AB). The AB is an apprentice who is acquiring and demonstrating knowledge of military customs, courtesies, traditions, and Air Force standards while learning both military and technical skills. Airmen Basics have no rank insignia. The official term of address is “airman basic” or “airman.”
Airmen (Amn) wear a chevron of one stripe with a silver star in the center. Pay grade is E-2. An Amn, while still primarily an apprentice, is expected to understand and conform to military standards. The official term of address is “airman.”
Airman First Class (A1C) wear a chevron of two stripes with a silver star in the center. Pay grade is E-3. An A1C must comply with Air Force standards and be a role model for subordinates. He or she is expected to devote efforts to mastering the necessary skills in the new career field. The official term of address is “airman first class” or “airman.”
Senior Airmen (SrA) wear a chevron of three stripes with a silver star in the center. Pay grade is E-4. Personnel serving as SrA are in a transition period from journeyman/worker to NCO. They must develop supervisory and leadership skills through PME (Professional Military Education) and individual study. All SrA should conduct themselves in a manner commensurate with established standards, thereby asserting a positive influence on other airmen. The SrA must, at all times, present the image of competence, integrity, and pride. The official term of address is “senior airman” or “airman.”


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