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Air Force looking at value of promotion points for longevity

Dec. 23, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Cody delivers his Enlisted Perspective at Air Force Association's Air Warfare Symposium & Technology Exposition in Orlando, Fla., Feb. 21, 2013. Cody's presentation highlighted the toll military service takes on families and the importance of creating a healthy work-life balance. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash) (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)
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An airmen helps soldiers secure the load of a Stryker medical evacuation vehicle during an exercise in October. The Air Force is working on the first major changes to the enlisted evaluation system in 20 years and is considering whether airmen should continue to accrue promotion points for time in grade and time in service. (Tech. Sgt. Jerome Tayborn/Air Force)

LONGEVITY POINTS

How longevity points add up under the current enlisted evaluation system.
For airmen testing for staff sergeant, technical sergeant and master sergeant
Of 460 promotion points possible, up to 100 can be longevity points:
Up to 40 points for time in service — two points for each year of active service up to 20 years or one-sixth of a point for each month.
Up to 60 points for time in grade — one-half point for each month in grade up to 10 years as of the first day of the last month of the promotion cycle.
For airmen eligible to advance to senior master sergeant and chief master sergeant
Of 795 promotion points possible, up to 85 can be longevity points:
Up to 25 points for
time in service — one-twelfth of a point for each month
of active service up to 25 years.
Up to 60 points for time in grade — one-half point for each month in grade up to 10 years as of the first day of the last month of the promotion cycle.
Source: Air Force

The Air Force is working on the first major changes to the enlisted evaluation system in 20 years with a goal to keep the best performing airmen as the service contracts under budget pressure.

One big change being considered is whether airmen should continue to accrue promotion points for time in grade and time in service, said Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody.

The time airmen have spent in the Air Force and at their current rank does “not automatically lead to greater performance and experience,” Cody said in a Dec. 10 email. “So we have to look at that and see if there are ways we can reduce the weight TIG [time in grade] and TIS [time in service] has on promotion, while still ensuring every airman has an equal opportunity for promotion.”

Scrapping longevity points would most likely affect aspiring technical sergeants and master sergeants, an Air Force Times analysis of past promotions shows. On average, airmen selected for promotion to those ranks in 2013 drew about 19 percent of their total score from time in grade and time in service. But longevity points made up slightly more than 7 percent of the total average scores of selectees for promotion to senior master sergeant and chief master sergeant, and 10 percent of average scores for staff sergeant selectees.

Former Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Binnicker is one who thinks the time is right to do away with time in grade and time in service entirely and focus more on performance when considering whom to promote.

“The Air Force is as small as it’s ever been and getting smaller,” Binnicker told Air Force Times in a Dec. 11 interview. “Because it’s so small, the competition for promotions and jobs and even the ability to re-enlist is going to be so keen that you will want the very best in all of those categories.”

While some airmen told Air Force Times they agree with Binnicker, others said longevity points serve a purpose, particularly in helping advance airmen who are not good at taking the tests that measure performance.

Current system

Currently, airmen testing for staff sergeant, technical sergeant and master sergeant can earn up to 460 promotion points, and those testing for senior master sergeant and chief master sergeant can earn up to 795, said Chief Master Sgt. Brandy Petzel, chief of the enlisted force policy branch.

For airmen testing for staff sergeant, technical sergeant and master sergeant, up to 100 of their 460 promotion points are based on time in service and time in grade.

For airmen eligible to advance to senior master sergeant and chief master sergeant, up to 85 of their 795 promotion points are based on time in service and time in grade.

Airmen are also awarded points based on their enlisted performance reports, decorations and tests — for airmen eligible to advance to staff sergeant, technical sergeant and master sergeant — or promotion boards for airmen eligible to advance to senior and chief master sergeant.

EPRs are widely acknowledged as a poor way to measure performance because the vast majority of airmen get a perfect 5, prompting the Air Force to look at possible changes to EPRs in 2014.

That means the Air Force judges performance largely based on how airmen score on the Promotion Fitness Exams and Skills Knowledge Tests.

Getting maximum longevity points is unlikely, Petzel said. “The chances of you having airmen that are going to max every single thing to include time in grade and time in service — you’re talking about someone testing for staff at 20 years — the chances are very, very slim,” she said.

The difference that time in service and time in grade make in who gets promoted and who does not is different for each airman because promotion scores are based on a number of variables including points for promotion tests and decorations. The competition to advance is more stiff in some career fields than others.

Also, whether or not airmen make the cut depends on the Air Force.

“There are times when a cutoff score has been set and there are those — if they were to receive 100s across everything, there’s a chance that they wouldn’t get promoted,” Petzel said. “Years ago, back in the 90s when I tested for staff [sergeant], the first time I tested it was mathematically impossible for me make staff.”

Why change

Factoring in longevity during promotion consideration doesn’t help the Air Force figure out who are the best performers and who are most likely to help the service accomplish its mission, Binnicker said. But by eliminating longevity, the more performance-based measures that remain would carry more weight.

“If they don’t make the change, what they’re doing is promoting old test-takers — people with high time in grade or time in service, and [who] happen to take the tests well,” Binnicker said. “I’m not saying they’re bad people, but they may not be the best performers.”

If the Air Force doesn’t entirely scrap longevity, it should at least reduce the weight longevity carries on airmen’s promotion scores, Binnicker said. For example, instead of giving airmen half a point for each month in their current grade, give them one-quarter of a point per month. And instead of giving them one-sixth or one-twelfth of a point for each month of time in service, depending on their rank, airmen should receive one-twelfth or one-twenty-fourth of a point.

“I applaud the fact that they’re even looking at it,” Binnicker said. “I don’t think a promotion system designed in the ‘60s for 800,000 airmen should be the same promotion system we use for the force today.”

Airmen see pros and cons

When Air Force Times asked readers if points for time in grade and time in service should be scrapped, some said promotion points for longevity serve a purpose.

Promotion points for longevity help airmen who are not good at taking tests to advance, said Master Sgt. Ladd Riser, one of the readers who responded.

“You might have a brand new person come in who is fabulous at taking tests but has no experience or knowledge — or little knowledge — and they can still pass that test,” said Riser, of the Ohio Air National Guard. “Whereas you might have an absolutely phenomenal person who is amazing at his job, but when it comes to tests, he just freezes up, and he could use that [longevity points] help.”

If airmen without the necessary experience are selected for promotion, they could hurt the airmen they supervise by not giving them the appropriate training, said Riser, who is stationed at Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base, Ohio.

Promotion points for longevity ensure that airmen get promoted at the appropriate time, said retired Master Sgt. Tommy McGowan.

Giving points for time in service and time in grade ensures that airmen who score low on tests only get promoted after they have spent a while at their current rank, so they should have the experience they need by the time they advance, McGowan said Dec. 17. If an airman still does not grasp concepts of leadership, commanders can stop him or her from testing for promotion.

“I think doing away with it is just change for the sake of change,” McGowan said.

Rather than doing away with points for time in grade and time in service, McGowan suggests including points from the physical fitness test in the Weighted Airman Promotion System. Currently, PT scores are part of an airman’s enlisted performance report, but EPRs are so inflated that they are useless, he said.

If PT scores were separate from EPRs, they would be a “game-changer” for promotions by separating airmen who score the minimum on the test from those who max out their pushups, situps and 1.5-mile run, McGowan argued.

“It really puts a fire under people to get fit because it impacts them in their military career,” he said.

During a recent discussion on Twitter, Cody said the Air Force had looked into including PT scores in the WAPS calculation but ultimately decided against doing so.

“There are many factors that can impact your PT test, and we don’t think it should be valued more than it already is,” he said during the Dec. 4 Twitter chat along with his wife, Athena.

McGowan countered that the Air Force could adjust how it counts PT scores toward promotion for airmen who cannot complete all of the test, but he added that airmen who are exempt from part or all of the PT test due to injury may not have a future in the Air Force.

“If you have a smaller force, our deployable force will get smaller, so if you’re someone who has been on a waiver for five years and you have been unable to deploy, my question is if you should be retained,” McGowan said.

Some readers were open to modifying how longevity points are awarded. Retired Master Sgt. Stephen Peterson suggested giving half as many promotion points for time in service and time in grade instead of doing away with those points completely.

“You’re never going to find a perfect system for everybody,” Peterson said. “After spending 20 years in the Air Force, my opinion was always that time in grade and time in service was weighted too heavily. Experience in the Air Force and in your specific trade is important but not to the degree of getting so many points.”

Airmen who are junior in rank, especially technical sergeants, are at a disadvantage when they compete for promotion against airmen with more points for being in the service longer, Peterson said. There were times during his Air Force career when Peterson could not be promoted no matter how well he scored on his tests because he didn’t have enough longevity points.

“There’s nothing worse than studying for your WAPS [Weighted Airman Promotion System] testing and knowing there is no way you can get promoted,” he said.

Other readers were in favor of scrapping longevity points altogether. Staff Sgt. Ryan Karasiewicz said it is “absolutely ridiculous” that airmen are awarded promotion points for time in service and time in grade.

By awarding longevity points, the Air Force runs the risk of not promoting its best performing airmen in favor of “supervisors who couldn’t compete on an even playing field,” said Karasiewicz, who is stationed at the U.S. Embassy at Lusaka, Zambia.

“I’m not against the idea that experience is important to the success of an organization, but no successful civilian company would do business this way,” Karasiewicz said a Dec. 19 email to Air Force Times. “Promotion should be about finding talent and promoting it regardless of how long someone has been in the Air Force.”

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