USAF Looking to Overhaul Officer Promotion System

Col. Kenneth Kmetz, the 179th Maintenance Group commander at the 179th Airlift Wing, Mansfield, Ohio, recites the oath of office at his promotion ceremony on June 18, 2017. Air National Guard photo by A1C Megan Shepherd.

The Air Force is planning to revamp its officer promotion system this fall, completely overhauling how the service develops officers and allowing for more flexibility within various career fields.

Right now, the service offers competitive categories for specialty career fields, such as lawyers and medical personnel, but 87 percent of the officer corps is lumped into one category known as line of the Air Force, which includes everyone from pilots to public affairs officers.

“What we’re seeing is that we very often get to the lieutenant colonel or colonel level and we just kind of trust the law of large numbers to give us the expertise we need,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told reporters in Washington, D.C., on May 16. “We’re looking at how do we develop people, giving them the experiences they need to be successful in different areas, so we have exceptional teams at every level. Not everybody’s career is going to look like everybody else’s, and it doesn’t have to.”

For example, Wilson said an Air Force officer who works in acquisition or research and development, will have to go back to school to get their PhD at some point in their career. This new system is intended to give them the flexibility they need to do that without saying to that officer, “oh, you know you’re now off cycle,” Wilson said.

Specifically, the service is looking to break the line of the Air Force category into six subcategories:

  • Air operations and special warfare
  • Nuclear and missile operations
  • Space operations
  • Information warfare
  • Combat support
  • Force Modernization

Wilson emphasized the concept is still in draft form, but she said the service already has conducted a significant amount of research and gotten feedback from the commanders of all the major commands to get to this point. Now it’s time to roll it out to airmen to get their feedback, she said.

“We think it’s a really big change, so we’re going to take it out to the force, get a lot of input, have people post on it, blog on it, have town hall meetings on it, and then we’ll make the final decision on where we’re going to go in October,” Wilson said.