Commentary Search

It takes more than ‘filling squares’ to get promoted

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Marty Anderson
  • 90th Missile Wing command chief
I wrote the below article several months ago, but because we have new members assigned to Warren as part of Air Force Global Strike Command, and I am still asked the question "What does it take to get promoted to senior master sergeant?" I wanted to run this article again.

As I am asked about promotion opportunities and specifically promotion to senior master sergeant and chief master sergeant, my mind quickly scrambles to organize my thoughts to a very difficult question. Some say you have to "fill the squares;" not quite! It is important to understand there is no set path or specific answer because the Air Force looks at a variety of factors to select the most deserving individuals for promotion. I hope this article will help you understand the factors that are being considered in order to be more competitive when you are eligible for senior master sergeant or chief master sergeant.

The promotion system is very simple, fair and straight forward. An individual's score is comprised of the same factors as the weighted airmen promotions system (360 pts) and a board score (450 pts). The board score is the least understood. Basically, a colonel and two chief master sergeants review a person's records; i.e., enlisted promotion reports, decorations, education, etc., for the past 10 years and use that to develop a score from the past five years.

It is important to note, board members are comparing your records with everyone in your specific Air Force Specialty Code. So, basically you are being racked, stacked and assigned a score. Just filling squares gets you in the game, but it does not make competitive. If you caught the clue of "past 10 years," you need to start developing your records when you are a staff sergeant, not when you sew on master sergeant. If you wait, you are lagging behind.

To even be considered for promotion you must meet three requirements: completion of the senior NCO Academy Correspondence Course, a Community College of the Air Force associate's degree and senior rater (wing commander) endorsement. These must be completed before the promotion eligibility cutoff date. I highly recommend completing the SNCOA correspondence course and CCAF degree before sewing on master sergeant. If you don't have those two requirements, you are not even eligible for a senior rater endorsement. These three items, along with EPRs stating you are doing a good job, will give you a board score of 315 to 330 out of a possible 450 points. So, what are the board members really looking for to distinguish you from others?

To be competitive, the board members are looking for you to demonstrate the whole-person concept; i.e., job accomplishment and impact, breadth of experience, education and leadership. Simple right; well not quite! To simplify a difficult discussion, you want to think about the following items in this order: Opportunity, quality of result, and heart.

Opportunity is seeking out greater responsibilities and professional development. This may come in the form of positional moves, temporary duty assignments, special duty assignments and being involved in professional organizations. You need to take the lead and stand out front and lead others to follow your direction. You can't just always be a participant. It takes courage for you to place yourself in that type of situation.

Results are how well you did. The scope of responsibility with wing-wide impact weighs more than flight-level impact. There will be times that you will not achieve the results you were after. This situation will define your character; do you give up and quit, or do you try it again?

Heart is why you are doing what you are doing. The board members will know from reading the EPR if you are taking on responsibility to "fill squares," or because you genuinely have an interest in the mission and the people who accomplish it. When I write an EPR, if I believe a person cares more for the good of the organization than themselves, I write in manner conveying the person's devotion to our Air Force. So does your supervisor.

Putting it all together, the AF needs you to step up and seek out challenging situations and achieve solid results. If you establish a vision or goal, develop and implement a plan, work with others to achieve the desired end result while doing it merely for the benefit of the AF and others; then you are clearly the person the AF wants promoted to senior master sergeant or chief master sergeant!

You must accept opportunities to showcase your leadership and management skills to prove you can handle the increased responsibility that comes with those grades and positional requirements. The choice is yours; make excuses or get out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself. Promotions are about character!