The selection rate for chief master sergeant hit its highest point in three decades this month as the Air Force chose 531 E-8s for promotion.

Those promotion selectees were chosen out of 2,229 eligible senior master sergeants, resulting in a 23.82 percent selection rate, the Air Force Personnel Center said in a Thursday release. The last time it was that high was in 1986, when 23.82 percent of eligible airmen were also chosen for promotion to chief.

The promotion selection rate is up from a 20.83 percent selection rate last year, and far above the 19.77 percent and 18.97 percent selection rates of 2013 and 2014, respectively.

However, the actual number of selectees was only up slightly from last year, when 525 out of 2,521 eligible made chief. The higher selection rate is due to the lower number of promotion-eligible E-8s.

The boost in selection rates continues the promotion boom of the last two years. For years, selection rates steadily ticked downwards, until technical sergeants bottomed out in 2013, and the other enlisted ranks hit their recent lows in 2014.

But now, the logjam has broken. Selection rates for staff, master, senior master, and chief master sergeants increased in both 2015 and 2016. Technical sergeants saw a sizable increase in 2015 before dipping slightly in 2016 -- but even this year's E-6 selection rate is much higher than in previous years.

In an April interview, Brig. Gen. Brian Kelly, director of military force management policy, said that the plunging selection rates were closely tied to the significant force cuts of 2014. As the service contracted, there were simply not as many open positions for airmen to be promoted into, which had a ripple effect that slowed promotions across the board.

Over the last two years, however, the Air Force has been slowly rebuilding its end strength. And Kelly said that has helped selection rates get back to around their historical averages.

"When we were drawing down, the force was getting smaller, and those lower [selection] rates reflected that," Kelly said in April. "Now we've been growing and stabilizing, and so those rates have returned closer to the historical averages of where they've been, and we've been able to keep them in that area."

In all, 31,024 airmen were selected for promotion in 2016. That is the most in at least five years -- more than the 28,798 airmen promoted in 2015, and far higher than the recent low of 21,638 in 2014.

The average overall score for this latest group of chief master sergeant selectees was 506.82. Their average decorations score was 24.16, the average U.S. Air Force Supervisory Exam score was 69.2, and the average board score was 396.94.

Their average time-in-grade was 3.23 years, and their time-in-service was 21.37 years -- but this will be the last time that matters when making chief. The Air Force has phased out longevity points as part of a wide-ranging overhaul of the enlisted promotion system, and for the first time next year, airmen hoping for promotions to all ranks except senior master sergeant will not receive those points. E-8 promotions will have longevity points phased out in 2018 because the 2017 cycle was too far along to make the change.

Among career fields with at least three selectees, the lowest cutoff scores were in the 3N2X0 premiere band, 1S0X0 safety, 2R0X0 maintenance management, 2A3X0 fighter and remotely-piloted aircraft maintenance managers and 3M0X0 services career fields. This indicates where competition was lighter.

And the highest cutoff scores, showing where competition was toughest, in jobs with at least three selectees were in the 1A1X0 flight engineer, 3E8X0 explosive ordnance disposal, 7S0X0 special investigations, 4T0X0 medical laboratory and 3E7X0 fire protection career fields.

The list of selectees can be found here.

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter at Defense News. He previously reported for Military.com, covering the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare. Before that, he covered U.S. Air Force leadership, personnel and operations for Air Force Times.

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