This year's staff sergeant and technical sergeant promotion cycles will be the first to include several changes the Air Force announced last year. These airmen will only have up to their three most recent enlisted performance reports since becoming eligible for promotion considered. Previously, the Air Force considered the past five years of EPRs.

The Air Force is also increasing weighted EPR points to a maximum of 250 points, from the current 135-point maximum. It will begin phasing out promotion points for time in grade and time in service this year, a process that will take three years to complete.

And beginning this year, supervisors will assess airmen's performance by choosing from a system of prewritten responses on the revised EPR form which best describe an airman's duty performance. At promotion time, commanders will take eligible airmen's EPRs and slot them into one of at least four categories, the top of which will be for airmen who are most highly recommended for promotion. The top two categories will have quotas so only a certain percentage of eligible airmen will end up with recommendations, which is intended to prevent the so-called "firewall 5" effect that rendered the old system effectively useless at differentiating between levels of performance.

For the first time the new system is also setting minimum score requirements for specialty knowledge tests and promotion fitness examinations. Airmen must score at least 40 out of 100 for each test, and their combined scores must be at least 90. Airmen who are only taking the PFE, including those who have recently gone through retraining, will have their PFE score doubled to take the place of the missing SKT, but that means they must score at least 45 on the PFE to hit that minimum combined score of 90.

Changes for master sergeants

In addition to meeting a selection board for the first time, those eligible for promotion to master sergeant saw other changes this year under the new enlisted promotion system. The first phase of the process set initial scores by combining specialty knowledge test and promotion fitness examination scores with time in grade, time in service, decorations and enlisted performance reports. Those scores were then sorted by Air Force specialty code to decide who would meet the board. For small AFSCs with 15 or fewer eligible tech sergeants, all eligible airmen moved on to the evaluation board, as long as they met the minimum SKT and PFE scores.

The board, which is underway, will review the selection folder containing each airman's evaluation brief, enlisted performance reports closing out within 10 years of the promotion eligibility cutoff date, and all decorations received within two years of the cutoff date and recommended for placement in the selection folder by a commander. The board will calculate a score for each airman's record, which will replace the weighted EPR points from the first phase in the process. The board score will then be combined with the remaining Weighted Airman Promotion System scores from the first phase to create a final overall score. Those overall scores will then be racked and stacked by AFSC to create an order of merit. Finally, the Air Force will apply the promotion quota to each AFSC's order of merit to decide who will be promoted to master sergeant.