In my 40-plus years serving on both active duty and working as an Air Force civilian, one question seems to surface each time the promotion list is released. What does it take to get promoted? The question applies to our newest Airmen, NCOs and our senior NCOs.
Although each Airman’s experiences differ, I believe to get promoted you must become indispensable to your work center, squadron, group and wing. How does one become indispensable? There is no ironclad formula; however, please consider the following examples.
A new Airman completing his or her career development course and being upgraded makes them indispensable. A staff sergeant completing his or her Community College of the Air Force degree and then becoming an Air Education and Training Command instructor makes him or her indispensable. A master sergeant asked to become flight chief while waiting on the opportunity to become a production superintendent makes him or her indispensible.
The previous examples describe initiative and leaders at all stages of your career understand that initiative demonstrates potential and the Air Force promotes Airmen based on their potential.
So you are on your way to being indispensible. Is there anything else you could be doing? One misconception that many airmen believe is that one can’t get promoted on the first attempt. I can give you numerous examples of airmen being promoted the first time eligible. Does studying for promotion require sacrifice? Sure it does! My first attempt at staff sergeant failed because I did not study. I never made that mistake again.
What happens if you put in a super human promotion effort and still aren’t promoted? Can you become discouraged? Sure, but I would remind you that sometimes there are factors beyond your control such as a smaller AF-wide selection rate. Yet it’s been my experience that leaders are aware of your efforts and although not promoted still see your potential and give you additional opportunities to excel. These opportunities have a direct affect on your next performance rating and will help build a solid record for future promotion boards.
Additionally, Airmen should be seeking opportunities to advance their education. Of course it begins with completing your CCAF degree. Why a CCAF? When I was selected for promotion to senior master sergeant, 40 percent of my competitors did not have their CCAF degree. Not surprisingly, the notes from the promotion board were clear; they were looking for a degree that enhances the NCOs potential to serve in the next higher grade.
There will also be times in your career the Air Force is going to provide you with additional education, whether technical training or professional military education. Take full advantage of these opportunities. The key is to be indispensible as you never know when someone opts out of training and they need a volunteer to fill the void — be that volunteer.
Finally, would I have done anything different to get promoted? Other than my preparation for staff sergeant, the answer is no. I didn’t worry that I had the right job for promotion; I just did my best at whatever job was given to me. By being indispensible the great jobs, the ones that test your metal and stretch your reach, will come to you.