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Air Force Rank Structure
All About Air Force Rank and Insignia
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The Senior NCO Tier

The top three ranks of the enlisted force structure are master sergeant (MSgt), senior master sergeant (SMSgt), and chief master sergeant (CMSgt). Within this tier, personnel transition from craftsmen and supervisors to leadership and managerial positions. SNCOs are assigned duties commensurate with their skill level and rank. Their primary leadership duties are as superintendent, supervisor, or manager of a flight, function, or activity. They should be used as a chief of a flight, section, or branch; as superintendent of a division or unit; first sergeant; or, in special circumstances, as a detachment chief or commandant. It is very important to avoid oversupervision created by establishing unnecessary supervisory or managerial levels. Proper use of SNCOs allows them to exercise leadership and manage resources under their control.

Master Sergeants (MSgt) wear a chevron of six stripes with a silver star in the center. One of the six stripes is in an inverted V position above the star. Pay grade is E-7. MSgts function primarily in craftsman and supervisory positions as they prepare for more advanced leadership and management positions. MSgts hold a 7-skill level. This rank carries significantly increased responsibilities and requires a broad technical and managerial perspective. MSgt selects should enroll in and complete the Air Force Senior Noncommissioned Officer PME course. The official term of address is “master sergeant” or “sergeant.”
Senior Master Sergeants (SMSgt) wear a chevron of seven stripes with a silver star in the center. Two of the seven stripes are in an inverted position above the star. Pay grade is E-8. SMSgts perform as superintendents or managers. Broad management skills are essential to exercise the responsibilities of the higher leadership positions in which they serve. The 9-skill level “superintendent” is awarded when SMSgts pin on. SMSgts should continue their professional development to become viable candidates for unique assignment opportunities and future promotion selection consideration to CMSgt. The official term of address is “senior master sergeant” or “sergeant.”
Chief Master Sergeants (CMSgt) wear a chevron of eight stripes with a silver star in the center. Three of the eight stripes are in an inverted position above the star. Pay grade is E-9. The rank of CMSgt is the highest Air Force enlisted rank, with the exception of the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force (CMSAF). CMSgts are superintendents and managers who provide senior enlisted leadership. They are assigned chief enlisted manager (CEM) codes upon selection to CMSgt who may fill any managerial-level position and perform all duties not prohibited by law or directive. CMSgts are advisors and enlisted force managers. The official term of address is “chief master sergeant” or “chief.”

 

Special NCO Positions

 

First Sergeant. First Sergeants can be in the pay grades of E-7, E-8, or E-9. The first sergeant exercises general supervision over all enlisted personnel assigned to the unit, even if they technically outrank the "shirt" via pay grade. That's because the first sergeant works directly for the unit commander and derives his/her authority directly from the commander. When the first sergeant acts or speaks in his/her official capacity, he/she is acting or speaking "for the commander," in all matters relating to assigned enlisted personnel. The first sergeant’s role is time honored and rich in custom and tradition. A distinguishing diamond device on the chevron identifies the first sergeant. As the vital link between the commander, enlisted personnel, and support agencies, the first sergeant must ensure the enlisted force understands the commander’s policies, goals, and objectives, and that support agencies are responsive to the needs of unit personnel. Additionally, the first sergeant must remain vigilant for and move to resolve issues that, left unchecked, would adversely impact troop readiness. See Dedication to the First Sergeant and Day in the Life of a First Sergeant for more information.
Command Chief Master Sergeants (CCM). What the first sergeant is at the squadron level, the Command Chief Master Sergeant is at the Wing, Major Command (MAJCOM), and Numbered Air Force Level. CCMs work directly for the Wing Commander, MAJCOM Commander and/or Numbered Air Force Commander. They advise commanders on matters impacting the enlisted force, such as proper utilization, quality of enlisted leadership, management/supervisor training, operations tempo, and quality of life. They monitor compliance with Air Force standards, serve on advisory councils, and maintain a close relationship with the local community. They maintain a liaison between their commander, the enlisted force, and staff members, and they communicate with commanders on problems, concerns, morale, and attitudes of the enlisted force. They also ensure their commander’s policies are known and understood by the enlisted force and serve as the functional manager for assigned first sergeants. CCMs are all in the pay grade of E-9. CCMs wear the distinctive stripes shown to the left.

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force (CMSAF). Until 2004, the CMSAF wore the same rank insignia as a CMSgt with one exception: the chevron had a wreat encircling the star. In November 2004, the CMSAF insignia was updated to include the Great Seal of the United States of America and two stars in the upper field. The laurel wreath around the star in the lower field remained unchanged to retain the legacy of the Chief Master Sergeants of the Air Force. CMSAF is an E-9, but receives special pay and allowances, so his/her pay grade is sometimes unofficially called "E-10." The idea of creating a CMSAF position surfaced in the Air Force as early as 1964 when the Air Force Association’s Airman Advisory Council presented the idea. At that time, Air Force leadership rejected the proposal, fearing that such a position may undermine the formal chain of command. Purposeful action did not come until 1966 when Congressman Mendel Rivers introduced a bill that would mandate each of the services to appoint a SNCO. Congressman Rivers became convinced that the Air Force needed to follow the example of the Marine Corps (which had created the position of Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps in 1957) and the Army (which had created the position of Sergeant Major of the Army in 1965) and appoint a Senior Enlisted Advisor (SEA) to the CSAF. Although the Rivers bill never passed, the Air Force recognized the tremendous support behind the proposal. On 24 October 1966, Air Force Chief of Staff General John P. McConnell announced the newly created position of CMSAF. In April 1967, Chief Paul W. Airey became the first to wear the unique insignia with the wreath around the star.

The CMSAF acts as personal advisor to the highest-ranking military commander in the Air Force, the Air Force Chief of Staff (CSAF) and the highest ranking civilian leader in the Air Force, the Secretary of the Air Force (SECAF) regarding the welfare, health, morale, proper utilization, and progress of the enlisted force. The office of the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force represents the highest level of enlisted leadership, and as such, provides the direction for the enlisted corps and represents their interests, as appropriate, to the American public. The CMSAF testifies before various legislative committees on issues such as pay and compensation and also provides the enlisted voice on numerous boards and panels. The CMSAF is the senior-ranking enlisted member of the Air Force.

 

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