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Budget constraints tamp down promotion hopes for thousands of senior airmen

Senior Airman Derek McCormick, a pararescue jumper with the 58th Rescue Squadron, Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, participates in a mass casualty exercise during Exercise Angel Thunder at Camp Navajo, Flagstaff, Arizona, on May 9, 2014. The Air Force selected only about 25 percent of senior airmen for promotion to staff sergeant this month, but some undermanned jobs, such as pararescue, saw promotion rates of 50 percent and higher.

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — It’s a tough year to be an ambitious senior airman in the U.S. Air Force.

This month’s round of promotions to staff sergeant had the lowest selection rate in 16 years.

“It’s absolutely intentional,” said Brig. Gen. Brian Kelly, director of force management policy for the Air Force. It’s necessitated by requirements to shrink the force by thousands of airmen.

The numbers this year were stark: Of the 36,739 senior airmen eligible for promotion, 9,403 made the grade, a 25.59 percent selection rate – or roughly 1 in 4 airmen. That’s the lowest selection rate since 1998 and down from a high of 50 percent in 2009.

Promotion rates were also fairly low for master sergeant and technical sergeant, Kelly said, reflective of the overall Air Force drawdown.

Senior airman is the enlisted rank with the highest number competing for promotion. The Air Force purposely kept numbers low to avoid involuntary separation later on to thin the ranks, Kelly said.

However, the rate of promotion varied depending on whether candidates were in jobs with a surplus or those that are understaffed.

Career fields with less than 85 percent of their required staffing make the Air Force’s “chronic critical shortage” list and tend to have better promotion rates, Kelly said.

Jobs that saw the highest percentage of senior airmen promoted were all on that list. For example, of seven airmen eligible for promotion in the “mobility air forces integrated instrument and flight control systems” — the person charged with maintaining all aspects of flight controls — six were promoted, for a selection rate of 85.71 percent. Nearly 67 percent of airmen who maintain remotely piloted aircraft made staff sergeant, as did about 64 percent of airmen in the pararescue career field, according to data from the Air Force.

Jobs with some of the lowest advancement rates included in-flight refuelers, which saw a promotion rate of 17.65 percent, loadmasters at 16.43 percent and public health specialists at 15 percent.

It’s too soon to know if the promotion rates will improve next year, given budget uncertainties, Kelly said.

“What is the actual size of the Air Force going to be? Until we get that solidified, we won’t really know” how promotion rates might shake out next year.

svan.jennifer@stripes.com

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