How to Make Chief in the Air Force Part 1

I’ve developed a secret formula for making rank in the Air Force.  If you are in a different branch, or a civilian you can skip to part 2, the principles there apply to all.  Unfortunately, this segment is only applicable to Air Force, because every branch has its own standards. I’ve been too long gone from the Army to accurately create a list for it.  

The secret formula is actually quite simple:

Superstar in person + Superstar on paper = Chief material.  

I know, a lot easier said than done.

First of all, what makes me qualified to coach people to E9, when I myself am only an E7?  Well, in August 2012, I was fortunate enough to be 1 of 3 people selected from the 22nd Air Force to serve as an action officer for an E9 development team board.  What that really means is I spent my days taking down the notes of E9’s from across the 22nd AF as to what E8’s needed to do in their career to make E9.  I also got to spend my evenings and weekends exploring the Denver area.  It was one of my best assignments to date; I highly recommend seeking out a similar assignment.  

I am convinced that an Airman of any rank can and should complete all of the requirements of an E9.  I’m a strong advocate of getting the pesky required tasks out of the way as soon as possible. People ask how I’m so lucky to get the sweet assignments and I tell them; Luck = Preparedness + Opportunity.  If you’re prepared, the luck will happen when the opportunity arises.

Here is a list of things to accomplish in order to become a paper superstar (mostly acronyms, which I’ll explain later):

  • Enlisted Development Plan (EDP)
  • CCAF Degree
  • Deployments
  • Awards
  • EPR
  • AFPT
  • PME
  • Breadth of Experience

Enlisted Development Plan  If you haven’t heard of this yet, get with your supervisor.  This is something that is gaining momentum in the Air Force and is required to become a Chief.  Luckily, it only takes about 15 minutes to complete. All it consists of is a short online form to fill out in which one outlines their career goals.  It’s purpose is provide supervisors with insight to better guide their subordinates in completing their goals. So bottom line, figure out how to do this, and keep up with it.  I don’t have the stats with me, but it was a surprisingly large number of E8’s who weren’t considered for E9 just because they didn’t take 10 minutes to at least put their name into this.   

Community College of the Air Force Degree  If you’re not familiar with this, get with your supervisor and your education people.  In fact, I recommend getting with your education people anyhow; they have a lot of knowledge on benefits available to you that you need to be taking advantage of.  This can be a relatively simple task. If you have or are working on a degree, all you need to do is send in your transcripts to the CCAF. If you’re not working on a degree, you should be!  After all, isn’t that why we all joined the military? Your education center will have the address of where to send your transcripts to. For me, all I had to do was fill out a request online and pay $10.  Now, one catch is that the CCAF doesn’t always except credits, which left me short 3 management credits and 3 speech credits even though I had a Bachelor’s degree at the time. What I did to finish this was take the NCO leadership Development Course which gave me 3 management credits through Central Texas College (not to mention 2 week of easy pay and a good bullet for my EPR).  Then I took a CLEP test at my education office for the speech class (I thought I did terrible, but still managed to pass). BAM, a few weeks later, I was awarded my CCAF degree in Allied Health Science. I don’t work in the medical field in the civilian world, but it helps my AF career, is a fallback in the civilian world, and it always looks good to have a random degree in medicine on your resume.  Worst case, you’ll have to take a random class at your local community college, but the military will likely pay for it anyhow.

Deployments  I’m not going to get into deployments in depth here because it’s a topic that is dear to my heart and I’ll discuss it in great detail later.  The bottom line is that going on a deployment will help slingshot your career in the right direction both directly and indirectly. The E9s of the board suggested that E8s had a deployment within the last 3 years in order to promote.  Deployment is a term used loosely in the Air Force. It doesn’t have to be a year in a terrible place, but could be a few months in a nice place.

Awards  This category is a little tougher.  It is expected that an E8 hoping to make E9 have an award in the past 3 years.  My advice for this is to follow the advice coming in part 2 of this post in order to make yourself award worthy.  

EPR  Enlisted performance reports are a topic of some controversy.  Unfortunately, the “firewall 5” has become the standard. If one doesn’t have 5’s across the board they won’t be competitive as far as EPRs go.  On the plus side, the E9s know this to be situation and they take a much closer look at the content of the bullets. So the generic “Super Soldier” bullets won’t fly at the competitive level.  What you need to do is track your own accomplishments and provide the raw material for your supervisor. As a supervisor, especially in the Reserves, it’s just not practical to track the activities of your subordinates outside of drill.  I don’t believe that one should have to write their own EPR, as is common practice, but I know I do it for a couple of reasons: I’ve got to get my bullet substance to my supervisor anyhow and it’s good bullet writing practice for me. Don’t wait until your EPR is due to start writing bullets, keep a running tab.  I keep a Microsoft Onenote where I keep tabs on all of my Air Force Activities by month and write out bullets as they happen. Then EPR time is just a matter of cut and paste with quality bullets and not rushed generic bullets, or perhaps a little word crafting now that you know you took out the trash 38 times this rating period.  I could go on all day about this, but if you want more information, and good information in general, check out

AFPT Again, another sore subject for many.  I’ve heard it many times that it shouldn’t matter how fast I can run when I’m only a medic, etc (Rumor is a change is coming!).  In actuality, it really shouldn’t, but in reality it matters to the military so it matters to you. My only recommendation here is to work on your fitness scores.  If you’re reading any of my other posts, you’ll know that fitness is important to me. When I first joined my AF unit, I scored a 100 on my first PT test. I was called up front in commander’s call to receive a coin.  I feel this really jump started my AF career because it got me some good publicity. Being known is a factor I’ll talk about in part 2. I’m not going to talk specifically about improving your fitness score, but there will be separate posts on the subject.

PME Your professional military education is a mandatory requirement to getting promoted.  This includes completing your career development course and professional courses such as ALC and NCOA.  My first point of advice is to track your own progress! Don’t rely on your unit education advisors or supervisors to do this for you.  Although they should, they often are tracking hundreds of people and you don’t want to be the person they miss. Get with your supervisor early on and develop a calendar of when you can/need to do each required step.  Now that you know when you can do them, do them as soon as possible. Again, this falls into the category of preparedness + opportunity = luck. Take the courses seriously. I know the information is mostly mundane and unimportant, but you’ll want to score well on the tests because this will set you apart from the rest.  Additionally, do extra PME to set yourself apart. For example, take the NCO leadership development course or complete the Senior Joint Enlisted PME.

Breath of Experience Now I can’t speak with much experience in this category.  All I can say is that the E9’s on the board frowned upon a “stovepipe” career; or one where a person stayed in the same unit in the same career field.  I say if you love what you do, keep doing it. However, you don’t have to be afraid of switching career fields. It is known that someone with a wider field of experiences will be a better leader.  Another opportunity to do this without switching career fields is to take a 1st Sergeant position.  At the very minimum I would accept different roles within your unit to getter a better array of experiences.  

Unfortunately in the military we are often judged by others solely based upon our paper records without ever having been met in person.  Follow this advice and you’ll look good on paper. However, looking good on paper is only half the battle. Stay tuned for the second half of this post on becoming a superstar in person.  

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