For the first time in five years, staff sergeants can be nominated to become military training instructors, the Air Force announced Tuesday.

Since 2012, only technical sergeants and master sergeants have been allowed to become MTIs, who oversee basic military training for tens of thousands of Air Force recruits each year. But now, commanders can nominate airmen who have been staff sergeants for at least two years for the MTI developmental special duty, according to an Air Education and Training Command release.

The Air Force stopped allowing staff sergeants and senior airmen to become MTIs in 2012, after a sexual misconduct scandal involving MTIs — many of whom were E-5s — and basic trainees. Airmen in those ranks accounted for about 42 percent of the 497 MTIs that were in the Air Force at that time, and some feared the change could mean the end of the all-volunteer MTI program.

The next year, the Air Force switched to a system where commanders nominate their best performers to serve as MTIs, and nine other developmental special duties such as recruiter and first sergeant.

There are now 557 MTIs at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, where the Air Force conducts its basic training.

AETC said that expanding the eligibility requirements for MTIs brings that field in line with other developmental special duties, such as military training leaders, professional military education instructors and recruiters, which already allow staff sergeants.

"Allowing skilled staff sergeants to once again serve as MTIs provides greater NCO developmental opportunities," said Chief Master Sgt. Stephanie DeSouza, operations and special duty airmen career management division superintendent at AFPC, in a news release. "We are confident that mature, experienced staff sergeants have the skill set necessary to thrive as MTIs and better balance the [basic military training] workload. MTIs represent the Air Force enlisted corps on a national stage, and they are called upon to develop America's sons and daughters into our next generation of airmen."

The Air Force is also lowering the fitness standards for airmen to fill developmental special duties, bringing them in line with the rest of the Air Force.

Until now, airmen must have had a score of 90 or above on their last physical training test, or at least 80 on their last two tests, to be considered for developmental special duties. But now, airmen must have scored at least 75 on their PT test on each of their last three assessments to be eligible — the Air Force's standard fitness requirement.

Maj. Gen. Mark Anthony Brown, AETC vice commander, said in the release that the fitness change will allow more airmen to qualify for these jobs.

"This change just makes sense for the process," Brown said.  "If you meet Air Force standards, you should be qualified to perform in a DSD or [technical training instructor] position."

As of Monday, airmen who are interested in volunteering for technical training instructor duty can apply through the Enlisted Quarterly Assignments List, or EQUAL, Plus assignment system. Chief Master Sgt. Dave Staton, command chief for Air Education and Training Command, said in the release that using the EQUAL Plus system will likely be more effective in filling and managing the assignment process for those instructors.

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter at Defense News. He previously reported for, 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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