Fewer than 5,400 airmen will become technical sergeants this summer following the stiffest competition for promotions to that rank in nearly 30 years.

Nearly 37,000 staff sergeants were eligible for promotion to technical sergeant, or E-6. Just 5,354 airmen, or 14.5%, were chosen, the service said in a recent release.

That includes airmen who earned a supplemental promotion, or the chance to advance outside of the regular cycle because they were deployed or were temporarily reassigned to a different role.

It’s the lowest selection rate since 1996, when 11.2% of eligible airmen moved up. That did not include supplemental promotions, but Air Force Personnel Center spokesperson Mike Dickerson said adding in those airmen wouldn’t have changed the outcome.

This year’s rate is 1.5 percentage points lower than in 2022, when 16% of staff sergeants were promoted overall. It climbed as high as 32% in 2019.

Shrinking midlevel promotion rates are a ripple effect of the Air Force’s effort to grow its early career enlisted workforce at the expense of middle management. The service aims to cut its cohort of technical sergeants to 15% by fiscal 2025, leaving fewer than 40,000 airmen at E-6, in a bid to move those billets to lower ranks.

If the initiative works as intended, it would give younger airmen more time to hone their skills at lower grades, then rebuild a more experienced noncommissioned officer corps as newer enlisted move up the ladder.

In the meantime, some airmen have taken to social media to express their frustration with what they see as an unfairly moving target.

The Air Force will release the names of those chosen for promotion on Thursday.

Military Times reporter Jonathan Lehrfeld contributed to this story.

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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