Chief unveils secret to enlisted progression

Commentary by Chief Master Sgt. Randy LaCombe

50th Space Wing command chief

Twenty-seven years ago I enlisted in the United States Air Force and I have learned many things along the way. I have had many great supervisors and mentors that guided me and are a part of the reason I am a chief master sergeant. Often times when I speak to the First Term Airmen Center and noncommissioned officer professional enhancement seminars I get asked, “what does it take to make chief?” Of course, being a bit of a wise guy, I always say, “the first thing you need to do is make your next stripe.”

All kidding aside, I believe there are three basic fundamentals to getting promoted in our AF. Number one is working hard and knowing your air force specialty code, two educate yourself, and three, get involved.

Working hard and knowing your AFSC inside and out is by far the most important factor in getting promoted. This is especially true as you progress from airman basic to master sergeant. It is imperative that you become the technical expert in your career field. If you read Air Force Instruction 36-2618, Chapter 2, Paragraphs 2.1.1. and 2.1.2., the Junior Enlisted and NCO tiers spell it out very clear as to what is expected of you. Specifically it states, “junior enlisted continue to broaden technical skills and pursue development through on and off duty education. NCOs develop institutional competencies in preparation for increased responsibilities while continuing to broaden technical skills and pursuing professional development through off duty education.” So the little brown book spells it out nice and simple. Being the technical expert prepares you to be a good mentor, supervisor and maybe someday a chief. It also gives you credibility among your peers and junior Airmen. Bottom line, if you want to be successful and get promoted, work hard at your job. In addition to working hard and knowing your job you must strive to educate yourself.

Education is the second key to success and promotion in our AF. The AF has stated and made it a requirement to complete your professional military education and have a Community College of the Air Force degree in order to be eligible for the senior rater endorsement. Without the senior rater endorsement you will not be promoted to senior master sergeant. or chief master sergeant. Read chapter 2, paragraph 2.2.1. and 2.2.2. , in AFI 36-2618 and it is pretty darn clear of what is expected of you. If you aren’t already working on completing your CCAF, you are behind the power curve. If you haven’t done or keep putting off doing your PME, you are only denying yourself the opportunity to get promoted. Of course getting these blocks checked isn’t all you need to do, but why put up a road block to getting promoted? Furthering your education will make you more valuable to your AFSC and your AF. The other great thing about education is it will make you more marketable after you retire or separate from the AF. The more education you get, the more disciplined you become to study and improve your comprehensions skills. Bottom line, get as much education as possible whether PME or college classes and use everything you learn.

The final key to getting promoted is to get involved.

When speaking to our FTAC classes I always start off telling them that it is their AF. That’s right, the AF belongs to each and every one of us. This belief and concept is vital to being successful. Take ownership and pride in your USAF! If being in the AF is a 9 to 5 job for you, I suggest that you have lost focus on why you serve and perhaps you need to think strongly about another profession. Getting involved and being a whole person is essential to making your career a success. You should seek out opportunities to be a part of private organizations like Top 3, Airman’s council, 5/6 council, Air Force Sergeants Association, Noncommissioned Officers Association, Air Force Association and the list goes on and on. Volunteer to be on committees to organize dining outs and annual award banquets. Many will tell you just going to the meetings is all you need to do and this is bad advice, go to the meetings and seek out executive level positions in these organizations to show that you are a leader and a mentor.

Often I have heard folks say getting involved is not and should not be a part of getting promoted and that job performance is all that should matter. This is a great statement, but remember this is your AF and you must get involved in making it better for future generations, and that requires more than just doing your job. However, some take it too far to the other extreme. You must stay proficient in your AFSC, never push your duty responsibilities onto others so that you can focus on off duty activities. Balance between the mission, education and getting involved is paramount.

In closing I will say getting promoted is your responsibility. If you work hard, get your education, get involved and make a difference you will go as far as you want to. As I prepare for my retirement I would like to share the final best kept secret to getting promoted and it is…study, study, study!