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Air Force Enlisted Ranks
The Air Force Enlisted Rank Force Structure
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It's been said over and over again, NCOs are the backbone of the Air Force. The organization's success or failure, strengths or weaknesses, can be directly related to the effectiveness of its NCOs. Although most airmen are aware of their responsibilities, an overview of both general and specific responsibilities may be necessary, especially as the airman progresses in rank.

The Air Force enlisted force is comprised of distinct and separate ranks. Each correlates to increased levels of training, education, technical competence, experience, leadership, and managerial responsibilities. In 1977, the enlisted force structure was reorganized into three tiers:

The Senior NCO Tier. The top three ranks of the enlisted force structure are master sergeant, senior master sergeant, and chief master sergeant. 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 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.

The NCO Tier. This tier is where technical sergeants and staff sergeants transition from workers and journeymen to craftsman and supervisory positions as they develop military leadership skills and attend Professional Military Education (PME).

The Airman Tier. This tier consists of airman basic, airman, airman first class, and senior airman. It is the initial tier of the three-tier enlisted force structure. As a member progresses from airman basic to senior airman, he or she acquires the discipline, skills, and PME necessary to become eligible for NCO status.

The Air Force Enlisted Force Structure

Senior NCO Tier

(E-7 through E-9)

Chief Master Sergeant (E-9) Superintendent/Manager
Senior Master Sergeant (E-8) Superintendent/Manager
Master Sergeant (E-7) Craftsman/Supervisor/Manager

NCO Tier

(E-5 through E-6)

Technical Sergeant (E-6) Craftsman/Supervisor
Staff Sergeant (E-5) Craftsman/Supervisor

Airman Tier

(E-1 through E-4)

Senior Airman (E-4) Journeyman/Supervisor
Airman First Class (E-3) Apprentice/Worker
Airman (E-2) Apprentice/Worker
Airman Basic (E-1) Apprentice

Chief Master Sergeant (CMSgt). The rank of CMSgt is the highest Air Force enlisted rank, with the exception of the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force. CMSgts are superintendents and managers and provide senior enlisted leadership. They are assigned chief enlisted manager (CEM) codes upon selection to CMSgt and 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. The average Air Force wide active duty time for promotion to the rank of Chief Master Sergeant is 22.6 years.

Senior Master Sergeant (SMSgt). SMSgts perform as superintendents or managers. Broad management skills are essential to exercise the responsibilities of the higher leadership positions in which SMSgts serve. The 9-skill level "Superintendent" is awarded when SMSgts sew on E-8. 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. The average Air Force wide active duty time for promotion to the rank of Senior Master Sergeant is 19.1 years.

Master Sergeant (MSgt). MSgts function primarily in craftsman and supervisory positions as they prepare for more advanced leadership 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 AFSNCOA correspondence course. The official term of address is master sergeant or sergeant. The average Air Force wide active duty time for promotion to the rank of Master Sergeant is 16.1 years.

Technical Sergeant (TSgt). TSgts hold a 7-skill level and are qualified to perform highly complex technical duties in addition to providing supervision. They are responsible for the career development of all enlisted personnel under their supervision. They must obtain maximum performance from each subordinate and ensure the product or service is of the quality necessary for total mission effectiveness. TSgts will continuously strive to broaden and perfect their professional expertise and supervisory techniques. The official term of address is technical sergeant or sergeant. The average Air Force wide active duty time for promotion to the rank of Technical Sergeant is 14 years.

Staff Sergeant (SSgt). SSgts are primarily craftsmen with certain NCO supervisory responsibilities. They may hold either a 5- (journeyman) or 7- (craftsman) skill level. SSgts must complete their 7-skill level through upgrade training to be promoted to TSgt. SSgt supervisory duties differ from those of the TSgt only in scope and span of control. SSgts strive for greater supervisory competence as they function in their technical capacity. They are responsible for their subordinates and the effective accomplishment of assigned tasks. They ensure proper and effective use of personnel and materiel. SSgts must continuously strive to further their development as technicians and supervisors. The official term of address is staff sergeant or sergeant. The average Air Force wide active duty time for promotion to the rank of Staff Sergeant is 6.9 years.

Senior Airman (SrA). A SrA is in a transition period from journeyman to NCO. Development of supervisory and leadership skills through PME and individual study is essential. 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. The average Air Force wide active duty time for promotion to the rank of Senior Airman is 36 months (three years).

Airman First Class (A1C). 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 fields. The official term of address is airman first class or airman. The average Air Force wide active duty time for promotion to the rank of Airman First Class 16 months.

Airman (Amn). An Amn, while still primarily an apprentice, is expected to understand and conform to military standards. The official term of address is airman. The average Air Force wide active duty time for promotion to the rank of Airman is six months.

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. The official term of address is airman basic or airman.

The NCO. As members of the profession of arms, all enlisted members are sworn to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and to obey the orders of all officers appointed over them. NCOs carry out orders of those appointed over them by virtue of the authority vested in their rank. This is done by effectively employing personnel, materiel, equipment, and other resources under their control. They represent the Air Force NCO Corps to all whom they come in contact with. Personal integrity, loyalty, leadership, dedication, and devotion to duty must remain above reproach. As an Air Force leader, manager, and supervisor, the NCO must uphold Air Force policies, traditions, and standards.

Rank and Precedence. 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, 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.

Above Information from AFPAM 36-2241 Vol I, and AFMPC


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