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Half of the senior airmen eligible for staff sergeant will be promoted beginning next month, a 6 percent increase over last year that a top personnel official attributes to projected growth of the force.
Of 30,574 eligible senior airmen, 15,223 will sew on a fourth stripe. The selection rate of 49.79 percent matches the 2003 rate, the highest in the past decade.
The rate increase reflects the 10,000 airmen that the Air Force expects to add in the next two years, for an active-duty end strength of 332,700. Today, the force numbers 328,700, which breaks down to 262,800 enlisted airmen and 65,900 officers.
"Our end strength was changed within the last year to show we would have higher end strength," said Chief Master Sgt. Mike Helfer, chief of the enlisted promotions and testing branch at the Air Force Personnel Center. "[And] the selection rate is based on projected vacancies within that particular grade."
Staff sergeant is the first grade that airmen compete with other members of their Air Force Specialty Codes to advance. To compete, senior airmen must have three years of time in service and six months of time in grade and a 5-level skill rating by their promotion eligibility cutoff date.
The average score of those selected this year was 275.81, compared with 268.39 last year.
The point averages for each category that factors into the selections:
* 131.57 for enlisted performance reports.
* 59.01 for the promotion fitness exam.
* 58.5 for the specialty knowledge test.
* 18.3 for time in grade.
* 11.47 for time in service.
* 0.94 for decorations.
The airmen selected have been in the service for an average of 4.69 years and in grade E-4 for an average of 2.09 years.
This year's promotions to E-5 start Sept. 1 and wrap up Aug. 1, 2010, Helfer said.
The timing of an airman's promotion is based on time in grade, time in service and date of birth, with the most senior airmen getting promoted first, he said.
Airmen who are deployed but eligible for staff sergeant can still test for promotion, Helfer said. They have up to 60 days after they return to their home stations to test.
For those preparing to compete for promotion, Helfer said, the key is to study for the specialty knowledge test and promotion fitness exam.
"The only thing they can control is those two tests," he said. "Each one is 100 points, so if you score 100 on both tests and you still don't get promoted, there's not much more you can do after that."
The testing window is the same each year, the month of March, Helfer said.
"So if an individual meets the time in grade and time in service eligibility," he said, "they should pull out the books and start studying for next year's test."