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Welsh: Master's degree required soon for colonels

Feb. 27, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh says the Air Force will require lieutenant colonels to have a master's degree before they can be promoted to colonel.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh says the Air Force will require lieutenant colonels to have a master's degree before they can be promoted to colonel. (Michael J. Pausic/Air Force)
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Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh says the Air Force will require lieutenant colonels to have a master's degree before they can be promoted to colonel. (Michael J. Pausic/Air Force)

ORLANDO, FLA. — Officers hoping to make major, lieutenant colonel or colonel may soon have to head back to school.

The Air Force is planning to tighten its education requirements for many officers to receive or be considered for promotion, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said Feb. 20 at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium here.

Welsh said the Air Force is planning to require lieutenant colonels to have a master’s degree before they can receive promotion to colonel.

“We think the Air Force should have an education requirement,” Welsh said. “Now, there’s no requirement for a masters degree at any rank. Everybody thinks there’s one, and a lot of people think it’s at major. That’s crazy.”

And before officers can be considered for promotion to major, lieutenant colonel or colonel, Welsh said the Air Force is planning to require them to have completed squadron officer school, intermediate service school or senior service school.

Welsh did not say how soon those changes would go into effect.

The planned master’s degree requirement would likely only affect a handful of lieutenant colonels hoping to make rank. More than 98 percent of the Air Force’s 9,916 lieutenant colonels — or 9,760 O-5s — already have master’s degrees, PhDs or professional degress that are equivalent to at least master’s degrees.

EPR update

Welsh also said that details on the impending changes to the enlisted performance report are likely to be released in the next three or four months. He is concerned that because airmen are virtually guaranteed a performance score of 5 out of 5 under the current system, airmen’s performance plays almost no part in determining who gets promoted.

As a result, an average tech. sergeant gets promoted to master sergeant about as fast as a really strong tech sergeant, Welsh said.

“As long as you don’t shoot yourself in the foot, you’re going to get a five on your EPR,” Welsh said. “Time in grade, time in service, that’s what’s going to make a difference. Job performance, that’s what we should value most.”

Welsh did not offer details on the new system but said it would emphasize performance more.

The Air Force first announced it planned to revamp the EPR in January 2013.

The first step, contained in a revised instruction released that month, dictated that no airman who receives a referral report can receive the top score of 5 on his EPR. Referral reports are given for a range of problems, from failing to meet physical fitness standards to substandard job performance to disciplinary action.

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody pledged at the AFA’s September conference that the new system would include a significant overhaul of how Air Force supervisors provide regular feedback to their airmen so they know what is expected of them. And in a Jan. 17 video, Cody said supervisors could ask their airmen questions about finances and relationships under a new feedback form. Cody said the Air Force needs to ask about those matters — as supervisors always have —because they affect someone’s ability to be an effective airman.

Cody also said that feedback and the performance report will be tethered together more tightly under the new system.

The practice of awarding longevity points — or awarding promotion points for airmen’s time in grade and time in service — also could be greatly reduced or scrapped entirely under the new system. This would likely most affect aspiring technical sergeants and master sergeants, based on recent promotion data.

The transition process to a new EPR system will be lengthy. Airmen likely won’t be evaluated under it until summer 2015 at the earliest. Command Chief Master Sgt. Rick Parsons of Air Combat Command said last September that after the new policy is released, it would take another year or so to completely move over to it. The new EPRs will be phased in, beginning with the most senior enlisted members, Cody said during a Feb. 21 media briefing at the AFA symposium.

Boards for master sergeant

The Air Force is also considering adopting promotion boards for technical sergeants who hope to become master sergeants, as are currently held for promotion to senior and chief master sergeant.

The Air Force has completed its analysis of the plan and “has a high level of confidence that it’s the right way to go,“ and is “way down the road” of moving in that direction, Cody said Feb. 21.

“I want our best tech sergeants to be promoted to master sergeant first,” Welsh said. For “our best performers, we need our senior NCOs faster so we can use them longer. I don’t know any master sergeant who would disagree with that, by the way. It doesn’t mean we haven’t had qualified people get promoted in the past, it just means our best people are not moving forward quickly.”

Welsh said a mock master sergeant promotion board held last year resulted in a 25 percent difference in who was promoted. Many of the tech sergeants who landed in that 25 percent were some of the best performers in their skill sets, Welsh said, but did not get promoted under the current system because they were a year or two behind those who did make master sergeant.

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