Snagging a spot at the top of the Air Force’s enlisted corps grew slightly easier this year.

The service announced Tuesday that it has tapped 506 of 2,249 eligible troops for promotion to chief master sergeant — the most senior rank an enlisted airman can attain, short of being named Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force.

The 22.5% selection rate is the highest since 2016, when nearly 24% of eligible senior master sergeants were chosen to advance. That year, the promotion rate returned to a peak not seen since 1986.

The latest figure is 2.2 percentage points higher than last year’s selection rate, and 4.3 percentage points higher than the recent low of 18.2% in 2021.

The number includes airmen who sought promotion outside of the typical cycle because they were deployed or otherwise unable to participate.

Airmen are typically picked to become chiefs after more than 20 years of service. Those who make the cut become advisers to the officers in command of their organization, with the most senior managers overseeing quality-of-life issues across the force and serving as advocates for the Air Force’s largest constituency.

By law, E-9s must comprise no more than 1.25% of the service’s enlisted airmen. Around 2,600 chiefs serve in the Air Force each year.

The top rank has been exempted from the Air Force’s sweeping effort to restructure its enlisted corps by growing the lower grades and making mid-level positions harder to get. Still, those shifts — slated to be complete by October 2025 — have made it more difficult for aspiring E-9s to climb the career ladder.

The promotions come as rumors swirl about who may replace Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass as the service’s top enlisted leader in the coming months. Gen. David Allvin, the Air Force’s newly installed chief of staff, will pick Bass’ successor from the pool of current E-9s to serve as his enlisted counterpart.

The Air Force plans to release the list of chief master sergeant-selects on Friday.

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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