More than half of the airmen eligible for promotion to staff sergeant were selected this year, resulting in the highest rate in 16 years.

Officials at the Air Force Personnel Center said Wednesday that 15,669 out of 30,651 eligible senior airmen were chosen for E-5, resulting in a 51.12 percent selection rate. That’s much higher than the 42.25 percent and 44.3 percent selection rates in 2016 and 2017.

And it’s about twice the 25.59 percent selection rate of 2014, when promotions hit their nadir in the midst of the Air Force’s massive drawdown known as force management.

AFPC’s news release said the rate spiked this year because the Air Force is trying to grow its end strength. The Air Force has already brought its active-duty end strength up from 313,000, after it bottomed out during the drawdown, to 325,100. And the proposed fiscal 2019 budget calls for adding another 4,000 active-duty airmen, as well as 700 more guardsmen and reservists.

The last time selection rates were this high was in 2001 and 2002, when the Air Force selected nearly 65 percent and 63 percent of all eligible airmen for staff sergeant. Those years of unusually high selection rates became known by some rank-and-file airmen as the “great staff giveaway,” though the Air Force argued that nobody was given anything and those airmen earned their promotions.

The actual number of selectees is also the second-highest in 16 years. The Air Force selected 16,506 for promotion to staff sergeant in 2016. But this year’s crop of new E-5s will be the most since 2002.

AFPC will post the list of airmen selected for staff sergeant online Aug. 22. Selectees will start to be promoted beginning Sept. 1, according to their promotion sequence number.

Commanders will start to be told which of their airmen were selected beginning Wednesday, so they can prepare to make an announcement celebrating their promotions. AFPC said they should wait until next Tuesday at least to tell airmen they were selected.

Other enlisted ranks also saw similarly high promotion selection ranks earlier this year, as the Air Force continues to rebuild its manning levels.

Stephen Losey covers leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times. He comes from an Air Force family, and his investigative reports have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover Air Force operations against the Islamic State.

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