More than 5,400 airmen have earned a promotion to technical sergeant this year in the most competitive E-6 cycle since 2013, the Air Force said Tuesday.

The announcement came days after the service warned it will shrink the number of midlevel enlisted promotions while it tries to build airmen’s experience by having them spend more time in each grade.

This year, 16% of nearly 34,000 eligible staff sergeants were tapped for promotion to technical sergeant. That rate is about 10 percentage points lower than in 2021, and down by half from a recent peak of 32% in 2019. It’s also the lowest promotion rate since 2013, when it was 15.03%.

Enlisted airmen had enjoyed a streak of time in which 1 in 4, or even 1 in 3, eligible staff sergeants were selected to move up the ladder. That’s fallen to around 1 in 6 now.

But Air Force officials are trying to reassure people that even though it stopped its previous approach of awarding points for an airman’s time in grade and service, a new scoring system will boost their chances of promotion the longer they spend at a certain rank.

“This promotion cycle was impacted due to enlisted grade restructuring, a leveling-off of end-strength growth and high retention levels,” the Air Force Personnel Center said in a release. “The 22E6 cycle also implements the Promotion Recommendation Score, which places value on the experience of airmen and sustained superior performance.”

Some are blaming Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass, the service’s top enlisted leader, for a decision they say will slow airmen’s career progression, affect their earning potential in and out of the military, and burn out a smaller NCO cadre.

“The CMSAF is supposed to be our collective voice at the table, but increasingly seems like a hype man/cheerleader that gives us shout-outs on social media and simply relays messages to us,” wrote one user on Reddit.

“Unless they can find a way to solve how overworked we are, how low our morale is and how expensive it can be to live in some locations, the simplest solution is to increase compensation, especially for the hardest-worked career fields,” added another Redditor, speaking of retention.

User shinee07 chimed in: “It’s going to be funny in about six years when the narrative is ‘NCOs, we hear you. We understand you’re tired, constantly deploying because some career fields can’t operate without 7-levels [craftsmen]. We’re going to increase promotion rates to balance the force.’ And then everyone here will start complaining about ‘They’re promoting people too fast! They aren’t ready to be NCOs!’”

The service will release the names of those promoted on July 20.

Recent E-6 promotion rates

  • 2021: 26.94%
  • 2020: 29.08%
  • 2019: 32.28%
  • 2018: 30.54%
  • 2017: 31.96%
  • 2016: 22.35%
  • 2015: 23.55%
  • 2014: 17.43%
  • 2013: 15.03%
  • 2012: 22.77%

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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