Air Force Enlisted Force Structure

Ranks and responsibilities for enlisted members of the Air Force

A U.S. Air Force pilot conducts his preflight checklist during engine start up on the flight deck.
Stacy L. Pearsall / Getty Images

Information derived from AFPAM 36-2241 Vol I, and AFMPC.

Here is an overview of the ranking structure in the Air Force, as well as the general and specific responsibilities each rank carries. 

Air Force Enlisted NCO Tiers

It's been said over and over again, Noncommissioned officers, or NCOs, are the backbone of the Air Force. The organization's success or failure, strengths or weaknesses, can be directly related to the effectiveness of its NCOs.

 

The Air Force enlisted force is comprised of distinct and separate ranks. Each correlates to increased levels of training, education, technical competence, experience, leadership and managerial responsibilities. In 1977, the enlisted force structure was reorganized into the following three tiers.

Senior Noncommissioned Officer (SNCO) Tier

The top three ranks of the enlisted force structure are a master sergeant, senior master sergeant, and chief master sergeant. Within this tier, personnel transition from craftsmen and supervisors to leadership and managerial positions.

SNCOs are assigned duties commensurate with their skill level and rank. Their primary leadership duties are superintendent, supervisor or manager of a flight, function or activity. They usually serve in the role as one of the following:

  • Chief of a flight, section or branch
  • Superintendent of a division or unit
  • First sergeant
  • Detachment chief or commandant in special circumstances

    SNCOs exercise leadership and manage resources under their control.

    Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) Tier

    This tier is where technical sergeants and staff sergeants transition from workers and journeymen to craftsman and supervisory positions as they develop military leadership skills and attend Professional Military Education (PME).

    Airman Tier

    This tier consists of airman basic, airman, airman first class, and senior airman. It is the initial tier of the three-tier enlisted force structure. As a member progresses from airman basic to senior airman, he or she acquires the discipline, skills and PME necessary to become eligible for NCO status.

    Air Force Enlisted Ranks and Responsibilities

    The Air Force Enlisted Force Structure
    Senior NCO Tier
    (E-7 through E-9)
    Chief Master Sergeant (E-9)Superintendent/Manager
    Senior Master Sergeant (E-8)Superintendent/Manager
    Master Sergeant (E-7)Craftsman/Supervisor/Manager
    NCO Tier
    (E-5 through E-6)
    Technical Sergeant (E-6)Craftsman/Supervisor
    Staff Sergeant (E-5)Craftsman/Supervisor
    Airman Tier
    (E-1 through E-4)
    Senior Airman (E-4)Journeyman/Supervisor
    Airman First Class (E-3)Apprentice/Worker
    Airman (E-2)Apprentice/Worker
    Airman Basic (E-1)Apprentice

     

    Chief Master Sergeant (CMSgt)

    • Official term of address: chief master sergeant or chief
    • Average active duty time for promotion: 22.6 years

    The rank of CMSgt is the highest Air Force enlisted rank, with the exception of the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force.

    CMSgts are superintendents and managers, and they provide senior enlisted leadership. They are assigned chief enlisted manager (CEM) codes upon selection to CMSgt and may fill any managerial-level position and perform all duties not prohibited by law or directive. CMSgts are advisors and enlisted force managers.

    Senior Master Sergeant (SMSgt)

    • Official term of address: senior master sergeant or sergeant
    • Average active duty time for promotion: 19.1 years

    SMSgts perform as superintendents or managers. Broad management skills are essential to exercise the responsibilities of the higher leadership positions in which SMSgts serve. The 9-skill level "Superintendent" is awarded when SMSgts sew on E-8. SMSgts should continue their professional development to become viable candidates for unique assignment opportunities and future promotion selection consideration to CMSgt.

    Master Sergeant (MSgt)

    • Official term of address: master sergeant or sergeant
    • Average active duty time for promotion: 16.1 years.

    MSgts function primarily in craftsman and supervisory positions as they prepare for more advanced leadership positions. MSgts hold a 7-skill level. This rank carries significantly increased responsibilities and requires a broad technical and managerial perspective. MSgt selects should enroll in and complete the AFSNCOA correspondence course. 

    Technical Sergeant (TSgt)

    • Official term of address: technical sergeant or sergeant
    • Average active duty time for promotion: 14 years

    TSgts hold a 7-skill level and are qualified to perform highly complex technical duties in addition to providing supervision. They are responsible for the career development of all enlisted personnel under their supervision. They must obtain maximum performance from each subordinate and ensure the product or service is of the quality necessary for total mission effectiveness. TSgts will continuously strive to broaden and perfect their professional expertise and supervisory techniques.

    Staff Sergeant (SSgt)

    • Official term of address: staff sergeant or sergeant
    • Average active duty time for promotion: 6.9 years

    SSgts are primarily craftsmen with certain NCO supervisory responsibilities. They may hold either a 5- (journeyman) or 7- (craftsman) skill level. SSgts must complete their 7-skill level through upgrade training to be promoted to TSgt. SSgt supervisory duties differ from those of the TSgt only in scope and span of control. SSgts strive for greater supervisory competence as they function in their technical capacity. They are responsible for their subordinates and the effective accomplishment of assigned tasks. They ensure proper and effective use of personnel and materiel. SSgts must continuously strive to further their development as technicians and supervisors. 

    Senior Airman (SrA)

    • Official term of address: senior airman or airman
    • Average active duty time for promotion:  36 months

    A SrA is in a transition period from journeyman to NCO. Development of supervisory and leadership skills through PME and individual study is essential. All SrA should conduct themselves in a manner commensurate with established standards, thereby asserting a positive influence on other airmen. The SrA must, at all times, present the image of competence, integrity, and pride. 

    Airman First Class (A1C)

    • Official term of address: airman first class or airman
    • Average active duty time for promotion: 16 months

    An A1C must comply with Air Force standards and be a role model for subordinates. He or she is expected to devote efforts to mastering the necessary skills in the new career fields.

    Airman (Amn)

    • Official term of address: airman
    • Average active duty time for promotion: 6 months

    An Amn, while still primarily an apprentice, is expected to understand and conform to military standards. 

    Airman Basic (AB)

    • Official term of address: airman basic or airman

    The AB is an apprentice who is acquiring and demonstrating knowledge of military customs, courtesies, traditions, and Air Force standards while learning both military and technical skills. The official term of address is airman basic or airman.

    Rank and Precedence

    The policy for rank and precedence stems from time-honored military customs and traditions. Within the enlisted force, NCOs take rank and precedence over all airmen and other NCOs according to rank. Within the same rank, precedence is determined in the following order:

    1. Date of rank
    2. TAFMS date
    3. Total military service date
    4. Date of birth

    Responsibility and accountability increase commensurate with rank. Within each rank, responsibility for leading rests on the individual who is senior in rank.

    Continue Reading...