For enlisted airmen hoping to add their next stripe, the past few years have been tough.
Promotion selection rates were consistently low in 2013 and 2014. Staff sergeants saw the steepest plunge in selection rates over the past few years, dropping nearly in half since 2009 and hitting a 16-year low of 25.59 percent last year.
When enlisted selection rates started trending downward at the beginning of the decade, the Air Force said high retention rates were largely to blame. When airmen at higher ranks didn't leave, that meant fewer slots were open for junior airmen to move up. And that low rate of promotions into senior ranks had a cascading effect down the ranks.
And when the Air Force started drawing down its ranks in 2013, the competition for promotions grew more intense.
Airmen grew annoyed and disappointed by the regular news of low selection rates.
"Fanfriggentastic," Air Force Times reader Michelle Bastille-Wynne wrote on the newspaper's Facebook page in July, after the staff sergeant selection rate hit its 16-year low. "Another kick in the teeth."
And some appeared resigned that such low rates represented a new reality, at least while the Air Force was tightening its belt.
"Not surprised with the whole 'downsizing' going on," reader Jamie Corbin said on the Facebook page that same month.
But that all is going to change this year. Promotion selection rates in 2015 aren't likely to hit recent highs such as in 2009, when nearly half of all promotion-eligible senior airmen were selected for staff sergeant, Brig. Gen. Brian Kelly, director of military force management policy, said in a May 13 interview. He couldn't say how high they'll get. But they are going to be higher than they've been since at least 2013, he said.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.