The Air Force on Thursday nearly doubled the number of early promotions available for standout enlisted airmen.

The number of promotions to staff and technical sergeant available through the Stripes for Exceptional Performers, or STEP, program is increasing this year from 96 to 180, the Air Force said in a release. And it will help the service build promising airmen into strong leaders, the Air Force said.

“Increasing STEP allocations is another way we’re empowering commanders at every level to identify and reward their top performers,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein said in the release.

The Air Force is also shifting the timing of the STEP process each year to September at the earliest. This way, the release said, in-cycle promotions can be announced before the nomination deadlines for STEP promotions.

The requirements for STEP boards for central and combatant commands have also been tweaked to be closer to the usual Enlisted Force Development Process.

When considering candidates, the board will consider their last three evaluations at their current grade, at most. The board will also review nomination forms including up to five bullet points spelling out the airmen’s recent accomplishments since the closeout of their most recent enlisted performance report.

This will streamline the process, the Air Force said, by reducing the administrative requirements by up to 25 bullet points per airman.

“Not only does this help support our senior leaders’ focus on revitalizing squadrons, but it also helps to save airmen’s time,” Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright said. “We’re allowing commanders more opportunities to recognize those airmen who have demonstrated sustained performance at the next level.”

By increasing the number of available stripes, or promotions, the Air Force said all major commands and the central base board will have at least two STEP promotions to give to airmen.

The Air Force said it made the change based on feedback from commanders and senior enlisted leaders in the field, commanders at wing and group commanders’ courses, and assorted working groups, as well as comments collected during the 2018 Enlisted Force Development Panel.

Since it was begun in 1980, the STEP program has allowed MAJCOM and field operating agency commanders and senior officers in organizations with large populations of enlisted airmen to promote a small number of airmen showing exceptional potential to E-5 and E-6.

One of the most noteable STEP promotions in recent years came in 2015, when Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone ― who was lauded internationally after he and his friends charged and subdued a gunman on a train bound for Paris ― was promoted two grades, to staff sergeant. When announcing Stone’s unusual promotion at the Air Force Association’s 2015 national convention, former Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said he had “represented the Air Force very well and very proudly.”

Stephen Losey covers Air Force leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times.

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