Snagging a promotion to master sergeant became more difficult this year, as just under 19 percent of those eligible to rise to the grade of E-7 made the cut.

The Air Force announced Tuesday that it considered a pool of 24,721 technical sergeants for promotion and ultimately chose 4,676 of those airmen. That resulted in a promotion rate of 18.9 percent, according to the Air Force Personnel Center.

This year’s promotion rate is about two points lower than in 2020, when 20.9 percent of technical sergeants were tapped to advance. The 2021 rate is the lowest selection percentage since 2014, when the Air Force picked nearly 18 percent of eligible airmen to become master sergeants.

It has dropped each year since 2018, when almost 30 percent of the eligible group was promoted.

“The eligible promotion population for the 2021 E-7 cycle increased significantly based on high retention rates,” Air Force spokesperson Maj. Leah Brading said.

Because more airmen are staying in the service, the group of technical sergeants who were up for promotion grew from more than 19,400 in 2019 to about 24,700 in 2021, Brading said. That means more of those airmen are left behind as they try to rise in rank, which can create ripple effects that limit the number of troops picked to advance across the service.

The Air Force decides how many promotions to dole out based on the number of open jobs and the budget. That number fell from 4,733 spots to 4,676 between 2019 and 2021.

“They remained consistent over time while the number of eligible [airmen] increased,” Brading said of available promotions.

The decision comes at the usual time of year for E-7 promotion announcements, after the coronavirus pandemic pushed last year’s list into July. The service will post the names of future master sergeants on May 19.

Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.

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