How the United States Air Force Promotes Members

USAF System of Promotion to TSgt (E-6) and Beyond

Air Force Pilot in hanger
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Enlisted promotions in the Air Force vary by job and depend on how many available slots there are in the next grade. Promotions up to E-4 are automatic and are based on Time-in-Serve (TIS) and Time-in-Grade (TIG).

However, for promotions to E-5 and above there must be an open position made available because a person retires, is promoted or otherwise leaves the slot vacant for a new promotion. This means that for over-manned jobs, it can very hard to get promoted, while those in undermanned jobs may be promoted much faster than the service-wide average.

How Air Force Promotions Differ

The Air Force first determines the overall promotion rate across the whole of the Air Force for the promotion cycle by forecasting how many slots will be available. It then takes this rate and applies it to all of the jobs—referred to as Air Force Specialty Codes (AFSC)—almost equally (see below).

Example of Promotion to Technical Sergeant (E-6)

For example, let's say the Air Force determines that 20 percent of all eligible Staff Sergeants (E-5) will be promoted to the rank of Technical Sergeant (E-6) for the next promotion cycle. Each and every career field (job) will promote 20 percent of their eligible Staff Sergeants to Technical Sergeant, regardless of whether or not the job is over-manned or undermanned.

Why Promotion Percentages Aren't Quite Equal

The percentages for each job don't come out evenly for two reasons:

  1. The Air Force rounds the numbers up for each job. For example, if the overall promotion rate for the cycle is 10 percent, and there are 100 people eligible in "Job A," then 10 people will be promoted (10 percent). However, what if there were 113 people eligible? 10 percent of 113 is 11.3. You can't promote one-third of a person, so in this case, the Air Force would round it up and promote 12 people. That would result in a promotion rate in that job of 10.6 percent, instead of 10 percent. If there is only one person eligible for promotion in that AFSC, he or she would be promoted—assuming the commander recommends the person for promotion. Thus the promotion rate in that job would be 100 percent.
  2. Each year, the Air Force selects some critically manned career fields to receive an extra five percentage points for promotions. So, if the overall promotion rate is 20 percent, some critically manned fields would be allowed to promote 25 percent of their eligible people.

    How the Air Force Selects People for Promotions

    When determining who gets promoted, the Air Force uses Weighted Airman Promotion System, or WAPS, points. Quite simply, you add up the WAPS points and those members in a job with the most WAPS points are selected for promotion until the total percentage of promotions is met in that job.