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Posts from the ‘Mentorship’ Category


Military Pay

Everyone in the Air Force, and the DoD for that matter, is paid by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS).  Once you join the Air Force someone will set you up with a “myPay” account page on the DFAS web site.  You can use myPay to manage almost anything finance related (e.g., download your W-2 tax forms, change how you claim on your W-4, set up allotments which are automatic transfers from your paycheck to separate bank accounts, or view your pay stubs.)

The first one you are likely concerned with is your military pay stub, which we call a Leave and Earnings Statement (LES.)  There are a lot of other sites out there which explain how to view your LES, so I am just going to focus on how you can use the internet to calculate your military pay once you commission.

The LES is divided into three main financial sections; Entitlements, Deductions, Allotments, and Summary.  Here is a breakdown of each:


Your entitlements are what the military owes or pays you.  There are two main types of entitlements, Base Pay and Allowances.  The main difference between the two is base pay is taxable, allowances are not.  This is a huge unseen benefit of being in the military.

My LES is composed of the following entitlements:

  • Base Pay
  • Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS)
  • Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH)

Base Pay

Base Pay is a publicly available number anyone can reference on the web.  Click Here for the link to the DFAS site which has all of the military pay tables from 1949 to the present.  To find your base pay, find your Time in Service (TIS) in Years at the top of the chart.  If you are a non-prior at OTS, I assume your TIS starts the day you begin OTS, so your TIS will be “2 or less.”  Next, find your pay grade and you will see your “Base Pay.”

The day you start OTS you will be a Staff Sergeant, which is pay grade E-5.  The day you commission you will be separated as a Staff Sergeant and commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, O-1.  Prior enlisted officers (over three or four years TIS, I can’t remember), can qualify for O-1E which is a slightly higher rate.

The 2017 base pay for an O-1, 2 or less TIS is:  $3,034.80 per month (taxable).

Pay Table

Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS)

The military pays us a standard rate per month for food.   The military doesn’t control how you spend this money, so you could technically spend $100 on rice and beans for the entire month and pocket the rest, but this is the allowance you are given.  Every time I search for an official site for this I always find a different site.  When I did the search today, the .gov site actually had the wrong number (it wasn’t updated since 2014).  Nonetheless, here is the site which matches what I get for BAS.

The BAS is the same rate for the entire year, one rate for officers and one rate for enlisted.  Here is the site:

The 2017 BAS for officers is:  $253.63 per month (non-taxable).

I honestly can’t remember how this works while in OTS.  I think you get BAS but since you have the chow hall available for each meal you eat they deduct it from your pay in the form of “Meal Deductions” under the deductions category.

Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH)

The military also gives us an allowance for housing.  This rate is calculated by zip code, pay grade, and whether or not you have dependents.  In the Air Force if you are single, you have no dependents.  If you are married you have one dependent; you are the sponsor and your spouse is your dependent.  If you are married and have two kids you have three dependents; you are the sponsor, your wife and kids are the dependents.  The “with dependent” rate is the same regardless if you have one or seven dependents.

While in OTS as a non-prior you will not get BAH because you will be housed in the dorms.  After OTS, your BAH will kick in once you arrive at your first duty station.  For some, your first duty station is your first operational base, for others your first duty station is your tech school.  It depends on your tech school length.

Here is the link to my post about how to tell if your tech school is a PCS or TDY:

If you are a non-prior with dependents my understanding for how this works is unclear, so this is only an educated guess.  If you have dependents, your BAH may kick in for the zip code where your dependents are located once you start OTS.  If that is the case you will get that rate until you check in to your next base.  Ask the Facebook Forum for more details on this, the people there are “closer” to the issue and therefore more “in the know.”

Click Here for the official site for BAH.

The BAH for an O-1 at Tinker AFB, OK, without dependents is currently:  $1,140.00 per month (non-taxable).  I picked Tinker AFB because I think it is one of the lowest BAH rates.

Entitlements Summary

Here is the summary of what a O-1 entitlements as of June 2017.

  • Base Pay $3,034.80 per month
  • BAS $253.63 per month
  • BAH (Tinker AFB) $1,140.00 per month


I don’t really know how the government knows what to take out for taxes (does anyone?)  I am just going to give you guys hard numbers and you can use them to make an educated guess for yourself.

  • Entitlements
    • BASE PAY:  $4,533.90
  • Deductions
    • FEDERAL TAXES:  $291.74
    • FICA-SOC SECURITY:  $281.10
    • FICA-MEDICARE:  $65.74
    • SGLI:  $29.00
    • SGLI FAM/SPOUSE:  $6.50

Here is what I know about these:

  • SGLI is life insurance.  I pay $29.00 per month for $400,000 of coverage.
  • SGLI Family/Spouse is life insurance for my family.  I think it is $100,000 for my wife and $10,000 for my kids, something like that.
  • Roth TSP:  Through myPay you can set up a portion of your base pay to go straight to your Thrift Savings Plan (TSP).  TSP is similar to a civilian 401K.
  • Mid Month Pay:  Given all of your entitlements, deductions, and allotments, the government calculates about half of this and pays you 1/2 on the 15th and 1/2 on the 1st.  The “mid month pay” is what they pay you on the 15th.


Through myPay you can have some of your check go into one account and some of your money go into another account.  Your primary account is going to be the one for your primary pay, allotments are for wherever else you want your money.  I have my pay deposited in my checking account but I set up a $1,000 for a separate savings account.  The $1,000 will show up in this section as “DISCRETIONARY ALT.”

The only other thing on my Allotments category is TRICARE DENTAL which costs me $28.87.


If my base pay was $6,000 and I had $1,000 in deductions and allotments, the government would owe me $5,000 per month.  The military will divide this in two and pay me $2,500 on the 15th and $2,500 on the 1st.  The mid-month-pay in deductions is the former, the End of Month Pay is the latter.

After OTS you should be entitled to “Dislocation Allowance” or “Clothing Allowance”  (ask me if you have no idea what these are), and these will show up as an additional line in your “Entitlements.”  For that month you will get paid more so your mid-month-pay may or may not be the same.  A lot of times they won’t adjust your mid-month pay but they will “catch up” what they owe you at the end of the month.  Sometimes they will over-estimate your mid-month pay then correct it for the End of Month.  Sometimes, they will mess up your pay then add a $389.17 deduction to your next paycheck.  Bottom line, pay attention to make sure that what they are doing makes sense.  If it doesn’t, ASK FINANCE.  If you don’t, they will probably never know that something is wrong until 9 months later when they realize you were overpaid by $8,000.  If you don’t pay attention you won’t notice something is wrong until you don’t get paychecks for two months because they are re-couping the cost.  This sounds crazy, but this actually happens.

Additional Resources:

Here is a site I found which spells out how to read an actual military LES:


Movie Review – Hidden Figures (2016)

Hidden Figures (2016)

PG | 2h 7min | BiographyDramaHistory | 6 January 2017 (USA)
Hidden Figures Poster
The story of a team of African-American women mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the US space program.


 Theodore Melfi


 Allison Schroeder (screenplay), Theodore Melfi (screenplay) | 1 more credit »

IMDb Link:
Rotten Tomatoes Link:

I recently saw the movie Hidden Figures and I thought it had some powerful messages and interesting references to historic space events.  Instead of doing an in-depth review of the plot, I will assume you have seen the movie and just point out my observations.

The Space Race

After a few of the characters are introduced the movie opens with the American perspective of the beginning of the space race in the 1960’s.  When I first saw the movie I thought it was showing the launch of the Sputnik 1, which was when the Soviet Union beat us in the race of putting the first artificial Earth satellite into orbit.  After further review, I noticed they actually called it “Korabl-Sputnik 4” which was the ninth Sputnik mission which occurred in on March 9, 1961.  This makes sense because the NASA administrator answered the phone as “Jim Webb,” and he didn’t take that position until February 14, 1961.  If you have ever heard of the James Webb Space Telescope which is the replacement to the Hubble Space Telescope, it is the same James Webb.

Sputnik 1:
Sputnik Missions Overview:
Korabl-Sputnik 4:
James E. Webb:
James Webb Space Telescope:

The movie does a great job of capturing the emotion of the space race for the people who were living during that time.  They mention the fear of the Soviet Union slapping a nuclear warhead on top of one of their rockets.  Now that they could put something into orbit, there really wasn’t anything that could stop them from doing so and attacking the United States.  These thoughts and fears helped mold the history of our country and the development of our space program into what it is today.

Know How to Read, and Fight for What is Right

Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), one of the three main characters, demonstrates a natural talent in engineering.  When she applies for the NASA Engineer Training Program, Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst) informs her that the rules have changed and the Engineering Training Program now requires advanced extension courses which can only be taken at all-white segregated schools.  The first thing she does after she finds out is reads the regulation straight from the source to understand the exact issue preventing her from achieving her goal.  This allows her to understand the possible actions she can take to fight for her right to obtain the education and apply for the position.

Understanding how to read and apply Air Force regulations is one of the most valuable skills I have obtained during my prior-enlisted service.  When I was trying to retrain from Security Forces to comm, I had an assignment to another base which made me ineligible to even apply.  I asked MPS (the personnel or HR department) if I had any options for turning down the assignment, and I was told that it was not possible.  After reading through all of the source regulations called Air Force Instructions (AFIs), I learned although it is not possible to turn down an assignment, it is possible to turn down obtaining retainability (my remaining enlistment contract time) for an assignment.  Doing so would cancel the assignment but flag my record with a code which would require me to separate at the end of my contract.  Since that was my backup plan anyway I accepted those terms and the assignment was cancelled.  After I was selected for retraining, that code was removed from my record and I PCS’d and started my career in my new career field.

After consulting the regulations, Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) realizes the only way she could become an engineer was to petition the court to allow her to attend the all-white school.  She not only knew how she needed to act, she had the courage to take action.  There will be times during your career when you know something is right but there is some injustice that is preventing it from happening.  For example, you may go TDY and get overpaid, then six months later the Air Force may try to take $4,000 from your paycheck.  Your leadership may try to back-date an EPR so the other guy who is TDY doesn’t have to write the report but you do, even though you have only really supervised the troop for two weeks.  If this happens, go straight to the regulations and see if have any ground to fight on.  If you do, have the courage to take action and make it right.

I want to pause and make a very clear distinction here.  My point is not for you to be insubordinate and disrespectful, my point is for you to fight for what is right but only when it is necessary.  There will be times when your guys are getting screwed over and there is nothing you can do about it, but there will be other times when you can do something about it.  Don’t be the guy who always causes trouble any time you are threatened, be the guy who wisely watches and listens to everything and fights only when it truly matters.  Your priority should be taking care of your people or your career, and your foundation should be in the regulations.  Ideally, your chain of command will have your back as well.  Whatever you do, do it with dignity and respect.  Once you start making waves everyone is going to notice you, so you want to be sure you do it right.

Officer Promotion – Seize the Opportunity

Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) recognized that the jobs they were doing would soon become obsolete because of computer, the IBM 7090 DPS.  Instead of being beaten down and distraught, she looked for an opportunity for her and her subordinates to stay relevant.  She craftily obtained key information she needed from the instruction manual and the FORTRAN book, then strategically studied and armed her subordinates with the knowledge.  Also note that she didn’t just barge in and take over the IBM, she waited for the right opportunity to act.

This example captures one of the differences I noticed about being an officer.  While I was enlisted there was always ‘that guy’ who always tried to do the things to get ahead, but for the most part everyone just did their jobs and advanced as they were placed.  As an officer it seems like everyone is always trying to look for an opportunity to get ahead, and at first I found it really exhausting.  After I realized it was happening, I was able to get a better feel for how it truly worked.

First of all, none of this should be a major concern to you.  Your attitude should truly be that you just want to be really good at your job and you want to do what’s best for the mission and the unit.  If something isn’t working right or something needs to be fixed because it is negatively impacting the unit, THAT is when you should act.  How you execute is key:

  1. First, figure out who’s responsibility this thing is and give them the opportunity to make it right.  If they don’t that is on them and it really isn’t your place to do anything about it.  If it is something which is serious or dangerous, of course you can go to their supervisor but that is not likely the case.
  2. If it is no-one else’s responsibility or no-one else wants the task, that is when you can step up and seize the opportunity.
The officer world (at least the 13S version) is really murky.  There are so many wanna-be Chiefs and basically no Indians that usually the lines between responsibilities are incoherent.  One of the best skills you can have if you are in the midst of this chaos is to see the clarity of responsibilities for how things should be structured or organized.  Once you crack that code you then have all of the ammunition you need to act when the time is right.
My last point in this section is that it isn’t all about you and your promotion.  Your priority should be with taking care of your people.  Only looking out for your career or your back is selfish, and it ultimately hurts our Air Force.  We all know who these people are, and nobody wants to work for them.  You need to know your people and their responsibilities well enough to know when their well being is being threatened.  A good leader then takes the next step and knows how to maneuver their people and react to the threat before it evens happens, just like Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) did in the movie.  If you have the foresight and tact to skillfully execute at the right time, your people are going to come out ahead every time.
I’m Proud to be an American
Every space professional needs to watch this video.  On September 12, 1962 President John F. Kennedy gave this speech at Rice Stadium in Houston, TX.  This speech outlined the American goal of putting a man on the moon in the 1960 decade.  It provided NASA with a direction and specific goal, and was instrumental in making our space program what it is today.  Skip to 7:10 for the beginning of the most famous part of the speech.
Seeing this video makes me proud to be an American.  I am proud of our accomplishments, and I am proud to serve in the Air Force.  We hear about so much division in our country that we often forget that we are all American.  I am not a Republican or a Democrat, I am an American.  I am not American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian and Pacific Islander, Black or African American, Hispanic or White, I am an American.  Can’t we just leave it at that? Text Transcript:

Officer Promotion – Fighting For Success
The third main character is Katherine Johnson (Taraji Henson), and she is a “calculator” who does orbital calculations for the space launches.  She is a resourceful and extremely intelligent mathematician who demonstrates her talent time and time again throughout the movie.  At the beginning she is severely limited by not having the tools needed to complete her job with how they redacted the classified information surrounding the calculations.  They also try to limit her from receiving time-critical information because there is ‘no protocol’ for her to attend the briefings.

Demand the Resources Necessary to Do Your JobI don’t know if it is because I am older now or what, but I have become more demanding with getting what I need to do my job.  When Katherine couldn’t do her job because the information was redacted, she used the math to read through the lines and solve the problems anyway.  When she is told she cannot attend the briefings to get the latest data, she persistently demands it from Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons).  When Paul continues to unfairly hold her back, she appeals to Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) and is eventually allowed to attend the briefings.As commissioned officers we swear to faithfully discharge the duties of the offices we enter, NOT to just obey the orders of the officers appointed over us.  Discharging the duties of your office (which can also be said as doing your job) means not only executing the mission, but ensuring you have what you need to execute your mission.  When I was enlisted I was expected to execute the mission with whatever resources I was given.  As an officer, it is my job to get my guys whatever they need to do their job.  I have to fight for my people to have what they need.  A good officer will ensure his or her people have an abundance of resources available so the only things holding them back are themselves.Make a Stand Against Unfair Treatment and Childish Games

Throughout the entire movie Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons) tries to hold Katherine back.  Perhaps he is jealous of her talents, or perhaps he is just trying to find security in his own position.  Regardless of the reason, it is petty and unfair.  Katherine is respectful and allows him to unfairly impede her success and contribution, but only up to a point.  When it started to severely impede the success of the mission, she put her foot down and wouldn’t stand down.

Believe it or not I have seen this many times in my career.  The competition between CGOs can be fierce so some people think that the smallest things determine the difference between a #1 stratification vs. no stratification.  If you are ever treated like Katherine was in the movie, here are some things to try to remember:

Be Good At Your Job
Katherine was extremely good at her job.  She didn’t allow distractions such as drama, segregation, or personal discomforts to take away from her ability to do her job.  When she was called upon to act like when she was finally allowed to attend the briefing, she was able to focus on her math and solve the perform the calculations.  When they were trying to re-invent the math to calculate the return trajectory, she knew her math well enough to know there was an ancient method which could be applied to the present which would allow mission success.  If she had the knowledge, she could spit it out correctly.  If she didn’t have the knowledge, she knew exactly where to look.

As a new officer we are all extremely focused on what career field we will get, where we will be stationed, what is weapons school, how to promote, what opportunities we are missing out on, the list is literally endless.  If you have just graduated, chill out.  Allow the euphoria of OTS to linger while you assess your new surroundings of the operational Air Force and get to know the people around you.  When you are ready for game time again, put your nose back in the books and get good at your job.  Regardless of where you end up, this is all that really matters.  Being good at your job will give you the credibility to stand against injustice.

Katherine’s Core Values

In the movie Katherine uses some potentially questionable methods such as using the light to read the redacted info and losing her temper.  It is important to realize that there are times when the decisions we make are not black and white.  I am by no means saying we should take shortcuts or sacrifice our integrity, but we need to be grounded and establish in advance what is important to us as leaders.  I think the two most important things to Katherine were:

  1. Success of the Mission (Service Before Self)
  2. Dedication to Doing Her Job Well (Excellence in All We Do)


Katherine put up with a lot of shenanigans but she always kept her head down and continued to do her job to the best of her ability.  When we are faced with challenges in our job, we should do the same.  Draw back in to the core of what we are supposed to be doing and make sure we are doing it well.  If we personally fail, ask ourselves if it impacted the mission and if so, make sure it never happens again.

Leading Your People

My final notes are about the leadership of Katherine’s boss, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner).  I could have probably spent this entire post focusing on him alone, but instead here are the two which stood out to me from the end of the movie.

Reward Your People – Katherine worked hard for the mission under Al Harrison’s leadership, and Al knew it.  At the end of the movie after Katherine had made the final calculations to essentially save the mission, Al could have plugged in the numbers and proceeded with the mission.  Instead, he took time to get Katherine the clearance she needed to join them on the ops floor.  By doing this Al both recognized her contribution and knew that her being there to personally experience the mission would be a tremendous reward.

Be Honest – Paul showed his true colors in this movie and it became blatantly obvious that he was trying to impede Katherine’s success at a large cost to effective mission accomplishment.  As a leader, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) knew very well what was going on because he watched it happen.  Instead of ignoring his behavior or subtly punishing him by not promoting him, he provides short and concise counseling in the moment.  At the end of the movie he reminded Paul:

“Do you know what your job is, Paul?  Find the genius among those geniuses to pull us all up.  We all get to the peak together, or we don’t get there at all.”  -Al Harrison, Hidden Figures (2016)

It may have been easier for Al to not say anything at all.  There will be times during our career when our guys mess up and we need to mentor or correct them.  Have the courage to say what you need to say.  It isn’t always about punishment, sometimes we need to let reality be the teacher.  But during these times we as leaders need to have that conversation, sometimes a one-way conversation, letting our subordinate know that 1) they messed up and 2) we know they messed up.  And sometimes, those few words can be as powerful as any other method of discipline.  Sometimes even more powerful.

Links About Historical Accuracy

Where to See America’s Greatest Spaceships



Choosing a Master’s Program as an Air Force Officer

Choosing a master’s program was one of the most difficult decisions I have made in my life.  As some of you may have read in my more personal posts, many of the major decisions I have made over the years have been based on a series of opened or closed doors.  I would sometimes make a career decision such as to separate from the Air Force, but that door would close and would soon be followed by an opportunity such as retraining or commissioning.  In this way it seemed to me that I just followed the path of life which was laid out in front of me.  For choosing a master’s program I felt like I was supposed to make a well informed decision for myself.  It was sort of like I was being told now that I am an adult and I have 10+ years of wisdom and professional experience, the decision was up to me alone.

The Air Force Answer – If and When

After asking this question of others and of myself hundreds of times, I realized there is an Air Force answer and a personal answer to the question of whether or not to get a master’s degree.  The Air Force answer is fairly straight-forward:  although getting a master’s degree isn’t mandatory at this time, you should probably “check the block.”  A few years ago having a master’s degree was required for promotion to Lt Col.  Prior to that it may not have been required in writing, but if you didn’t have a master’s degree you wouldn’t promote to Maj or above.  Now I think Air Force leadership has recognized the fault in mandating a master’s degree at any level so they removed the “requirement.”  However, I wouldn’t be surprised if they try to add it again later.

Since having a master’s degree isn’t a hard Air Force requirement right now, when and whether or not you do your degree is largely up to you.  Here are some points to think about when considering the ‘if and when’ to the Air Force answer:

  • Being Competitive.  Don’t give a promotion or assignment board a reason to pick your peer over you.  Almost every other Lieutenant I am working with has already started their master’s.  When it comes time to PCS and our records are otherwise identical, having his master’s degree box checked already will set them above me.
  • Ops Tempo.  As a Lieutenant we will be the least busiest of our career now vs. later.  Now we work at the tactical level so we are the do-ers of the mission.  As we are promoted to leadership positions we will have more responsibility, and thus less free time for school.  Additionally, more officers start to have families the further into their career they go.
  • Cost – Tuition Assistance.  Officers are eligible for tuition assistance for master’s degrees, but the rate caps are the same.  For example the cap is still $250 per semester hour even though graduate classes are often twice as expensive.  Take advantage of the assistance while you still can (while you are active duty).
  • Active Duty Service Commitment (ADSC)- Tuition Assistance.  Officers incur a 2-3 year ADSC for using TA (I can’t remember if it is 2 or 3.)  Since this can be paid concurrently with any other ADSC you owe, you should definitely consider this if you are only planning on doing one assignment as an officer then separating.
Checking the Air Force Block
It became clear to me very early that I wanted to get my master’s to be competitive against my peers in the Air Force.  Regardless if it is a hard requirement, I believe having a master’s degree will directly or indirectly give you an advantage.  But does my decision to get my master’s end with checking the Air Force block, or do I have other personal objectives for my education?  I believe many people stop and make their decision here, and that may be the category you fall in to.  If so, here are some things to consider.
  • Tuition Assistance.  There are web sites out there which can help you find schools who will match our TA rate even for master’s degrees.  For example, Tuition Assistance only covers $250 per semester hour but there are schools out there which will lower their cost to $250 per semester hour for active duty military, allowing you to go to school with 100% of tuition paid by the government.
  • Type of Degree.  I have attended many mentorship briefings, and someone always asks this question.  ‘Do I need to get a degree in a space field because I am in the space career field?’  Many Field Grade Officers are asked this, and their answer is the same.  The Air Force does not care what field their degree is in, or if it aligns with that officer’s current career field.  I completely agree.  I literally feel like at this time or for this season, the Air Force literally looks at the master’s degree as a yes/no block to check.  Choosing a degree program is more of a personal decision, and I will talk more about that below.
My Personal Choice – Choosing a University
When I started my bachelor’s degree in 2006 I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.  I was in Security Forces and I liked the field, but I wasn’t drawn to pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice.  Instead, I knew I liked to understand people so I chose Psychology.  Over time it evolved to a computer field, which I will go into later.  I never really considered my options as to where I went to school.  I basically went to the education center and signed up for the closest or easiest school which met my needs and had my major.  In short, I picked the easiest option.
  • Online vs. In-Residence.  While I don’t regret that decision, pursuing a master’s degree gave me the opportunity to do it over again.  I didn’t want to go to the most convenient school this time, I wanted to do research and make a deliberate decision.  I knew I wanted to do my degree online (mostly because I didn’t like the local options) so that helped me narrow down my options.
  • GRE/GMAT Scores.  I never took the SAT/ACT in high school because I immediately joined the Air Force, so the thought of taking the GMAT or GRE slightly terrified me.  I of course took the ASVAB and AFOQT, but those are different, they are ‘military.’  I looked at these tests as legitimate placement tests, and to be honest I was really nervous how I would stack up against other college grads.  Additionally, I finished my bachelor’s in 2012 and my last math class was in 2010, so I really would have had to dust off the cobwebs.  I told myself over and over again for about 14 months that I needed to man up and take one of these tests, but in the end I chickened out.  Instead, I used this as a discriminating factor and only considered schools who did not require these test scores.
  • Prestige.  This was really important to me.  I picked the easiest option for my bachelor’s degree, and my education laid an outstanding foundation which I have drawn upon professionally for the past 5-6 years.  But despite how much I learned, the fact remained that virtually no-one has ever heard of my school.  I suppose this brought out the pride in me because it personally irked me.  I told myself that I am better than that, and I am capable of so much more.  In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter?  No.  But does it matter to me?  Apparently it does.  I’ll talk more about this later.

Choosing a Major – Information Technology

Now that I started to narrow down the direction I wanted to go, I really needed to nail down a major.  It probably took me a solid three or four years to actually make this decision.  When I started making this decision I was still in the IT field as an enlisted 3D so my decision leaned toward cyber.  I knew I wanted to go to one of the best schools so I Google’d “best computer science schools” and eventually found a US News Report.  My method was much more complicated than this, but I basically found 4-5 different “best of” lists and cross referenced them with each other before I actually started going down the list of programs.  I wanted to learn from one of the best programs, so this is how I found what I wanted.

Here are some of the lists I referenced.  At this point I decided to pursue a Master’s of Science in Information Technology (Heinz) through Carnegie Mellon University.  I debated the IT Management track vs. the Information Security and Assurance track for a long time, but chose Information Security and Assurance in the end (until I decided to go an entirely different direction.)

Useful links I frequented at this time:

I chose Carnegie Mellon because I wanted to go to one of the best schools.  I didn’t necessarily care whether or not I attended an Ivy League school but I wanted to go to a school which was well known in the field as a good school.  The Air Force may not officially care where I go to school, but there is always that “wow” factor you get in casual discussion or if it is seen on an official biography, special assignment application, or AF1206.  I have never been able to experience that, and I personally believe it is something I am capable of so I wanted to reach high and see what it was like.  Additionally, it has always been my strategy to keep myself marketable by civilian standards in case I choose to separate early or for when I retire.
“At this point in your career, it is time for you to specialize.  You need to have a field of expertise and be an expert in that field.”
Choosing a major is a much more personal decision that I don’t think you can really make until you spend a few decades figuring out what you want to do with your life.  My undergrad was in Information Technology Management and I took a variety of “techie” classes which scratched the surface of fields such as programming (Java) or networking (Cisco), but in the end I decided those fields were not where I ultimately wanted to be.  I understand Java and Cisco really well, but when I ask myself if working in those specialized fields are what I absolutely love doing, the answer is no.  I decided that I have more of a managerial-based mind which understands how the technical fits into the larger picture, but my strength is in maneuvering the different fields to complete larger overall objectives.  There really isn’t a field in this, so at the time I thought the answer was IT Management.  I chose the Information Security and Assurance track because I recognized the need to continue to specialize. That quote is from one of my mentors, and it helped me realize you cannot spend your entire career at the general knowledge level of education.
I chose to specialize in information security because IT is the foundation of everything, and securing IT is currently on everyone’s mind.  Specializing in an IT field would codify my IT experience and give me an edge that few others would have after a career in the military.  I could also apply my IT education and experience to almost any field in the future.  For example I could help large financial firms secure their infrastructure against hacking or attack, protect large dot-com corporations, continue working for the government in a different capacity, etc.
Choosing a Major – Space Operations
As my dream of commissioning became a reality and my billet in the 13S Space Operations career field became secure, I began to consider if I really needed an education in IT.  I am naturally good with computers so did I really need to spend thousands of dollars to qualify my experience to my peers and employers?  Undergraduate Space Training (UST), which is what we are currently calling 13S tech school, was also a little bit of a wake-up call to me.  It was by no means difficult, but when we started the orbital mechanics blocks I felt completely exposed and way outside of my comfort zone in the math and physics fields (I have a computer management background.)  Would it be more beneficial for me to increase my breadth of knowledge and expand to fields which are more closely related to my career field?  Now that I have been in the career field a little bit I know my field of education absolutely does not matter, but while in training I began to doubt the direction I was pursuing.
While in the midst of this new direction I began to research options which were more closely related to my field.  It was during this time that I did my post on officer education – Click Here – where I reflected on Lt Gen Grosso’s remarks about your education being a foundation of intellect which you draw upon to make better decisions.  While shrouded in this cloud of doubt I thought to myself, ‘How can I be in the space field but be so ignorant to the mathematics, engineering, and theory of space?’  ‘Do I have what it takes to effectively lead my subordinates in this technical field?’  Again, the answer to both is yes but it took me a long time to discover that for myself.
Through my research I learned that there are not a lot of options out there related to the space field which met my requirements.  I think I found some solid programs such as Embry Riddle, Cal Poly, MIT, etc. but I had to rule many of them out because I didn’t have an engineering-based undergrad or I didn’t yet have GMAT or GRE scores.  Here are the three options I came up with until I again decided to change directions.
  • Webster University – M.S. Space Systems Operations Management – This program is available online and I believe you do not need GMAT or GRE scores for admission.  My assessment was that it is less prestigious (although General Mark Welsh (retired) is an alumni), but still a decent program.  The cost was lower than the top universities in the nation, which was a plus.
  • University of Colorado Colorado Springs – Master of Engineering in Space Operations – Almost everyone I talked to spoke highly of this program, including retired 13S’s.  I think a lot of people retire from the Air Force and teach with this program so it is drawing upon some solid experience.  My assessment was that it is a solid program and if I wanted to do a space degree I would probably pursue this program.
  • Air Force Institute of Technology –  AFIT has some extremely good programs to include a Master’s in Space Systems, Aeronautical Engineering, and Astronautical Engineering.  The Air Force will often fund your education here but you have to apply and there are generally TOS requirements at your first “ops tour” before you can apply.  My assessment was I didn’t really want a degree with “Air Force” in the name.  I know this is wrong but it felt the same as CCAF feels as an enlisted guy.  It can check the block but I personally wanted something different, mostly a different perception for jobs I try to get after the Air Force.  There is a general stereotype in the private sector that people in the military only know military things, so for me personally, getting a degree from AFIT didn’t help me counter that stereotype.

Needless to say I decided not to pursue a degree in Space Operations.  A different mentor who is a retired 13S Lieutenant Colonel (O-5) told me although UCCS had a great program, she advised against getting a degree in Space Ops.  I expressed my concern about feeling out of my comfort zone and she said she recommended self-study and that it was something I could easily overcome without the degree.  She told me that as an officer I wouldn’t be operational for long so a more beneficial master’s degree would be a management masters with a business or language minor, or even a government or international studies program.  Her advice was to think about what would be most beneficial after the Air Force.

Choosing a Major – Engineering

My search for the right major was becoming exhausting, but I was dedicated to finding the perfect program which would help me achieve my goals.  I put everything on hold for a few months and focused most of my efforts on my Air Force training.  After I finished training I restarted my search basically from scratch, and I reconsidered my personal career goals.

  • Two or three years later, I still had not taken the GRE or GMAT, so it probably wasn’t going to happen.
  • Going to a prestigious school was still important to me.
  • I wanted to complete my degree 100% online.
  • Cost was not an issue, or rather, I did not want to let it become an issue for me or prevent me from obtaining the education I wanted.

My personal goals hadn’t really changed, so I eventually realized the only thing I really needed to decide was what type of program I wanted to go for.  Although I thought IT was a wise choice it never really felt right.  I already explained my thoughts on a space ops degree so I essentially had to go back to the drawing board and really ask myself what I wanted out of my education.  The advice I received in the past still resonated inside of me, so I began internalizing it:

  • “At this point in your career, it is time for you to specialize.  You need to have a field of expertise and be an expert in that field.”
  • Your education is your foundation of intellect from which you draw upon to make decisions in the future. – Paraphrase, Lt Gen Gina M. Grosso

In my opinion a lot of personal thought and reflection should go into deciding what you want to major in.  I would love to be able to put advice on here that applies to everyone, but it is such a personal decision that it is essentially impossible to provide general advice which can be applicable to your own personal situation.  This is why I have chosen to walk through my entire decision-making process for my own personal decision, in hopes that you can pull out what is helpful to you and meditate on your own answers.  I am of course always open to helping you pursue your own career or educational goals if you need it (my email address is at the top of the blog.)


I understand people’s reasoning with simply “checking the block” for your master’s degree but in my opinion if this is where it stops for you, you are missing out on a huge opportunity. Here are my closing thoughts on how to think about education.

  • Building a foundation of intellect.  The valuable part of learning is not in what you learn, but how you practically apply it in the future.  Once you build a “foundation of intellect” through your education and experience, as you progress through your career you will find yourself drawing from this foundation more and more.  The more you build this foundation when you are young, the farther you can go in the advanced years of your career without having to ‘touch up’ your knowledge with self-study or additional education.
  • You are learning more than you think you are.  It has been five years since I completed my bachelor’s degree, and I recently realized that I use the knowledge I obtained from earning my degree on an almost daily basis.  I built an Microsoft Access database the other day to make things easier at work.  My management classes have helped me see how my squadron could be reorganized to work more effectively.  My two basic accounting classes help me manage my rental property…  I have so many more examples.
  • Education vs. experience.  Education and experience have a truly symbiotic relationship.  You will be better armed to tackle professional duties if you have a foundation of education, while having experience will help you to better understand the importance of education.  Being a “lifelong learner” means spending your entire career constantly developing both.
Tying it All Together
Picking a master’s degree means bridging a gap from where you are to where you want to be.  Ideally, it will also include a natural progression from where you were to where you are.  During this entire process you need to also maintain the balance between your education and experience.  For example, here are some bullet points from my career:
  • Security Experience.  I started in Security Forces, so as an Airman I gained a lot of security related experience.
  • Management/Information Technology Education.  I started my education in Management and Information Technology.  Management closely related to what I already did as an Airman leader in Security Forces, Information Technology is where I wanted to go.
  • Management Experience.  As a Security Forces Airman and NCO I gained management level experience leading my Airmen on post.
  • Information Technology Education + Management Experience.  As a Security Forces NCO I was hired for a program/project management position which helped me apply my Information Technology education while gaining additional program/project management experience.
  • Information Technology Experience.  Retraining to comm allowed me to gain Information Technology experience.
  • Space Operations Experience.  Now that I am a space officer, I have been gaining space operations experience.

As you can see, I have been able to apply my Management/Information Technology education to every professional position I have been asked to fill so far.  Even now as a space officer, I have found having a background of education and experience in Information Technology has been extremely helpful in understanding the more technical aspects of my career.  In this case, I still have a foundation of educational intellect available to pull from.  The question is how much more do I have left, and what should I augment it with in the future?

The space field is a highly technical field often led by highly technical minds.  As I stated earlier I considered advancing my education in information technology and space, but the former would be too similar to my undergrad and for the latter, I didn’t think I was quite ready to isolate my educational specialty to the space field.  This inspired me to seek out a new field which would both broaden my academic experience and increase the depth of my educational intellect.
The answer for me was the engineering field.  A degree in engineering would apply to both the information technology and space fields, so it provides a certain level of job security.  It identifies a new field for me to pursue, an area I can greatly expand.  If I choose to stay in the Air Force, understanding the technical aspects of systems and programs would lay the framework for my experience as I transition from operational to strategic-level leadership.
If you it this far, congratulations!  My goal is to keep my posts short and to the point but they almost always end up way too long.  The reason I kept this long is because I spent countless hours researching this decision for myself, and many mentors helped me out along the way.  This is such valuable information that I want to be sure to pass it down to future generations, because every Air Force CGO I have met has had to make this decision for themselves.
Feel free to email me at if you want some details about how I made my decision, or what program/university I ultimately chose.  Like I said before, I am also willing to help guide you with your own education decisions and goals.  Good luck and thanks for following!

The Politics of Promotion

One of the interesting things about switching from enlisted to officer is now it seems like everything is a subtle competition.  It all started when people were jockeying for Distinguished Graduate (DG) or other awards in OTS or in tech school, but as I have progressed in my career it has become less clearly defined.  Little things such as who will get selected for what SOPS (unit) or who will become a mission planner first are always in the back of our minds.  As Captains or senior Lieutenants it will grow into who will become the Flight Commander of the most prestigious flight or who will be re-assigned to the other BA unit.  I saw this in a limited way as an Airman or NCO periodically throughout my career, but now it seems like it more like the “norm.”

As an officer there is more to promotion than just rank.  Regardless of who you are there is an unwritten and sometimes unknown hierarchy that you will fall into within your peer group.  This is more clearly defined in OTS or tech school because everyone knows there will be a DG at the end of the course, but how does this look in the operational Air Force?  If you are one of eight vehicle operators, are you the best one or middle of the pack?  Out of all of the Lieutenants in your squadron, does the commander know your name?  I should remind you all that I am a 13S so I am sure this looks very different in my career field vs. others.

In my career field or in my unit there are general things people who are considered successful have done, and some people may say that a successful person would need to do this or that.  Some examples could be if someone said you have to be a space operator, then mission planner, then flight commander, the mission commander, or perhaps someone said you have to be an exec or instructor at some point in your career before you can get the best job.  Graduating from weapons school is another common thing which people associate with success.  I will do a later post specifically on weapons school.

The Key to Success

So how do you navigate through your career with this subtle pressure or within this unknown hierarchy of success?  The key to success is this:  none of it matters.  You need to know how it works, but you don’t need to play games to get to where you think you need to be.  The more you worry about what you did and whether or not you are on the right path, the farther you get from focusing on your people and your mission.  It may seem counter-intuitive, but focusing solely on how you can better accomplish your mission and fulfilling the needs of your people will give you the right perspective or visibility, and success will in turn find you, not the other way around.

Look at it this way.  You are one of 20 vehicle operators at your unit and you are worried because it is hard to stand out.  Instead of trying work yourself into a higher position or becoming best friends with the flight commander of mission planning, become the best vehicle operator you can be.  Learn every aspect of your job and learn from your mistakes.  Instead of just following the TO, learn why each step in the TO exists, then start thinking about how it could be improved.  Ask the hard questions like ‘why do we do this’ and seek the regulatory requirements which drove the action.

Once you become good at all of that, you will be known as a good operator.  Not only will your crew commander notice, other crew commanders will begin to notice.  Flight Commanders such as mission planning, Stan/Eval, training, or Ops will also start to notice, and you will begin to build a foundation of people who are willing to indirectly (or directly) look out for your best interest.

Understanding How it Works

I can’t stress enough how important it is to understand how things work.  One of the main reasons why I do this blog is because I have seen first-hand in my career how understanding can directly lead to once in a lifetime opportunities.  I wouldn’t be where I am today if I was ignorant to how retraining, assignments, or commissioning worked in the Air Force.
Regardless of what your job is there will always be something next for you to do.  In my unit we all start as vehicle operators and from there people are pulled to mission planning, training, ops, etc.  Once there is a need in one of these positions, leadership looks at the pool of vehicle operators and reviews the list for who would be a good fit in the position.  Leadership will likely dismiss who they don’t even know and identify the other potential 2-3 from the list.  They may reach out and ask the crews commanders or other flight commanders if they know the potentials, and they may look at other things such as when the person arrived or when they are due to leave the unit.  Good leadership will already know their people well enough to make the decision for themselves.  After they finish their process to include inquiring if the person is interested, if everything works out the right people will be chosen.
This is why it is important to be known for being good at your job.  When these decisions are made they usually have to be made fairly quickly.  If you are known as a bad operator or no-one really knows you or how well you do your job, once they start polling the potentials it is too late to change that impression.  In this way the cream really does rise to the top and is skimmed off by leadership for these other opportunities.
If you continue to move from one position to another in this way, you will make a really good name for yourself.  In a four year tour you could move from several different jobs, and if you do them all well your commander will make a solid push for putting you in another unit of outstanding opportunities.  You will probably end up with a good officer performance rating, and more importantly, the people you have worked with who are elsewhere in the command will know your reputation and who you are.  This will come in handy later in your career.
Mission First, People Always
If you have a choice you should always try to stay as close to the mission as possible.  It is a shame when a unit loses sight of the people actually doing the mission.  Surprisingly, this is more common than it should be in Air Force Space Command.  People get so worked up about being part of the booster club or the spouses group that they forget to be good at doing their job, or performing the mission.  Sometimes units get tied up thinking training is more important because of some mindset they want you to adopt, but they make you train on your days off so you aren’t as sharp while on console.  Sometimes Flights worry more about making the right decision for an appointment letter but forget the ops floor doesn’t have what they need it needs to adequately do their job.  They are so tied up with administrative nonsense that they forget that their sole purpose in life is to get the ops floor the support they need.  The closer you stay to the mission, the harder it will be to lose sight of the mission.  Even if you get moved to one of the above support shops you can be known for always getting the ops floor the support they need.  Everything should revolve around the mission, not the other way around.
Lastly and most importantly, you need to take care of your people.  As a leader you have to fight for what is right for your people.  If someone is trying to take away their days off, intervene.  If someone is trying to make your troop stay after a mid shift for a late morning appointment, tell them no.  If your troops’ secure phone on the ops floor hasn’t worked in weeks and it is impeding mission ops find out why, who you have to talk to in order to get it fixed, and aggressively follow up until it is done.  If leadership is telling you to do something but it is a waste of man-hours, respectfully find out the “why” behind the decision and fight to make it right.  This is the type of leadership that your troops need, and this is the type that is not common enough in Air Force Space Command.
So what does this all have to do with promotion?  If you learn to take care of your Airmen and become well known for accomplishing the mission well, things such as awards, inter-unit promotions, or other opportunities will come automatically.  More importantly, your Airmen will be good at their jobs and know that you have their back.  As an officer, and especially as a 13S in Air Force Space Command, your reputation really does precede you.  If you work hard and do your best at every job you work, the reputation and accomplishments you built as a Lieutenant and a Captain will all culminate as a BA Major board score and superb opportunities for your DO and commander tours.  It is okay to be involved in your unit in you spare time but be good at your job first, and limit it to what you are personally passionate about, not what people are telling you that you should do.  It may take a career to master all of these skills, but that is what makes life fun.  Good luck!

Leading Airmen / Enlisted Promotions

Part of being a great officer is being a great supervisor.  It is tough as officers because immediately after commissioning you could be supervising one or 100 Airmen.  It is a position we can be thrown into often without the experience or tools to be successful.  The enlisted corps learns to follow and spends years maturing and developing as supervisors and leaders.  When they reach the supervision ranks of SrA/SSgt they are further equipped with some of the best leadership training there is in (IMO) Airman Leadership School (ALS).

I will likely do many posts on my experiences and contrasts between enlisted vs. officer leadership, but I had a troop ask me about studying for E-5 and felt a need to organize my thoughts.  The purpose of this post is to briefly explain many of the tools available to Airmen as they prepare for their promotion test.  Familiarization with these tools will help you become an officer which the younger Airmen seek for advice vs. an officer who the younger Airmen thinks is out of touch.

Enlisted Promotion Overview

Enlisted promotions are based on a Weighted Airmen Promotion System (WAPS).  Airmen earn points in different ways each year (see below).  In order to promote, the total points earned must be above the cutoff established by AFPC yearly, and different for every career field.
  • SKT (max 100 points) – Written test specific to AFSC (career field).  Usually 100 questions.
  • PFE (max 100 points) – Written test on general Air Force knowledge (from AF Handbook 1).  Usually 100 questions.
  • Time in Service (TIS) points (max 26 points) – This is rumored to go away.
  • Time in Grade (TIG) points (max 40 points) – This is also rumored to go away.
  • Decorations (max 25 points) – Points for certain medals.  E.g., Air Force Achievement medal is worth 1 point, Medal of Honor is worth 15 points.
  • Enlisted Promotion Report (EPR) points (max 250 points) – Points based on the Airman’s previous EPRs; Promote Now (PN), Must Promote (MP), and Promote (P) all earn the Airman different points.
Reference:  AFI 36-2502 12 DECEMBER 2014, Incorporating Change 1, 27 AUGUST 2015, Enlisted Airmen Promotion/Demotion Programs.

Enlisted Promotions References Requirements Catalog (EPRRC) (Formerly WAPS Catalog

The EPRRC or WAPS catalog as I still call it is the overall document which outlines what exactly each rank is tested on.  For example, if you are an E-3 preparing for the E-5 test, you could reference the WAPS catalog to see what you would need to study for the “PFE” test (see above.)  It not only tells you what documents to reference but identifies the correct version or non-testable sections.  This is important because it is important to study the right information, and not study information which you won’t be tested on.
The catalog also tells you what to study for the SKT test.  This can be important because it states for example some AFSC’s are only tested on a few chapters out of the CDC study material.  Some career fields don’t have CDC’s so it may reference TOs or AFIs instead of the CDC’s.  The EPRRC literally tells Airmen what they are tested on.

The Airman Handbook (AFHANDBOOK1) (formerly Promotion Fitness Exam (PFE) or Professional Development Guide (PDG))

Air Force e-Publishing Link (official document source)
This great reference book for everyone in the Air Force, not just enlisted.  It provides a general overview of Air Force history and almost every program in the Air Force to include promotions, IG, Air Force inspections, fitness, organization, disciplinary actions, etc.  It covers pretty much everything you can think of which relates to the Air Force.  The entire PFE test is generally taken from this document.

Study Tools

MKTS stands for Military Knowledge and Testing System.  From what I have gathered over the years, every year a bunch of Chief Master Sergeants (E-9) take a survey about what they think prospective NCOs should know from AF Handbook 1.  The survey is broken down by section in AF Handbook 1 and a code.  The code states to what level they think prospective NCOs should know about a given section in the book.  For example in the most recent survey the board of Chiefs think “Knowledge” of Section 1.13 Cuban Missile Crisis is “Extremely Important.”
The reason this information is so valuable is because I have heard the actual promotion tests are based off of the very same survey results.  This makes sense because it would be silly to make tests with no rhyme or reason, but instead focus it on what SNCOs think is most important.
When I tested for promotion I took this survey and highlighted all of the headings in my physical copy of my AF Handbook.  If something was “Extremely Important” I would highlight both the Table of Contents and the actual heading in the book pink.  As I progressed through my study routine I would focus on these areas first then move on to the “Very Important,” “Important,” and “General Knowledge” sections.  It seemed to me that the areas targeted in the survey lined up perfectly for the promotion tests I took.
The complete survey results can be found in Attachment 2 of AF Handbook 1.  Here is the first page so you know what it looks like.  I recommend copy/pasting the entire table into an excel sheet so you can better manipulate the information.
2.  PDG Gold by McMillian
McMillian provides many different commercial study guides available for purchase, and IMO it is totally worth it.  There are summary books, Q&A books, and software and I have used them all but I strongly recommend the software.  The software I used is called PDG Gold.  McMillian created test questions from the entire AF Handbook 1 and allows you to test yourself by chapter or by the entire book.  Each chapter has a test bank so you can target your study on knowing everything about Chapter 8 for example, then moving on.  It also has games you can play both to study or to just take a break.  I credit my earning SSgt, TSgt, and MSgt stripes to PDG Gold.
While I loved PDG Gold, I was slightly disappointed by the sister software by McMillian called Master Your CDC’s.  I found the tests to be very similar to the questions in the back of the CDC’s so I thought it was a waste of money.
3.  AF Handbook 1 Audio and App Download
Something else I found helpful while studying was the audio provided by the above site.  I had a long commute so I would often listen to the audio mp3’s while commuting to and from work.  If you go to the site and select your grade under “Test to Grade,” you can download whatever you want and add them to your phone or whatever else you use.

The site also provides study apps for different platforms such as iPad, Kindle, Sony Reader, Kobo, or Nook.  These were not available when I studied for promotion but I am sure there are tons of people out there who find them extremely useful.

4. Quizzes

A reader recommended as well.  I have not used it but it looks like they have quizzes broken down by chapter.

My Personal Study Technique

As I said above, I made SSgt my first time, TSgt my third time and MSgt my first time.  I made MSgt the first year the Air Force boarded MSgt’s so I lucked out with a high board score.  Here is what I personally did to study:
  • PFE – Several months out I would begin outlining or targeting my study by using the MKTS survey results.  I would highight the sections deemed “Extremely Important” and mark them in my paper PDG.  I would then use my paper PDG to work my way through the tests in the PDG gold software.  I memorized every question chapter by chapter, again working in MKTS priority.  As I scored almost 100% on each chapter I would keep track in my paper PDG and repeat the process.
  • PFE – If I ever came across a question I didn’t fully understand I would look up the applicable section in my PDG and read the entire paragraph or section.  Understanding the big picture helped tremendously.
  • SKT – I didn’t study the SKT as much as I studied the PDG, (65%/35%), but I did make an effort to do well on the tests.  I would review my old CDC’s from when I did my skill level upgrade because my books were still highlighted.  I used the questions in the back as context then would read the sections I had completely forgotten about.
  • After my actual test I would go straight to my car and write down every question I could remember from the test.  As I recalled them I would then highlight the applicable question in my books so I could try to remember as many of them as possible.  I did not share this information with anyone because THAT WOULD BE CONSIDERED TEST COMPROMISE, but I would reference the book year to year as I began studying again.  It provided a lot of insight into what the MKTS board liked to focus on and how it played out year to year.


  • – This site helps you plan out how many points you will have going into the testing season and how many you are estimated to need on the PFE and SKT.  I found it extremely valuable.  As a supervisor it is a useful way to help an Airman calculate whether or not they are eligible to test for promotion.
  • AFI 36-2502 – This AFI provides the AF guidance on enlisted promotion.  It is the authoritative document on the entire WAPS program among other topics.

Officer Promotion Timing

One of the random things which didn’t make very much sense to me both prior to commissioning and during the process was how the officer promotion system works.  I have been around the enlisted system for years so understanding acronyms like ‘WAPS’ is second nature to me, but the officer side is more cryptic.  There are a few different reasons for this.  First and foremost, officers don’t like to talk about promotions.  One of the worst things you can be tagged as if you are an officer is being a ‘careerist.’  The perception is that a careerist officer only does things to benefit his or her own career, commonly at the expense of others.  While this may or may not be true, once you are tagged with this perception it can be hard to disassociate yourself with it.  And as you will probably hear time and time again, perception is everything.  Secondly, due to the competitive nature of the officer corps it seems like officers are generally expected to figure out a lot of this stuff on their own.  This is one of the sometimes brutal facts about the officer corps.  In order to succeed you will need to know how to find the sources to the information you will need, and use them to your benefit.  The last thing you want is to find a board was pushed forward and a decoration wasn’t included in your board package because you were lazy and didn’t update it.

In the interest of a disclaimer, I am just a Second Lieutenant so keep that in mind as you browse this information.  I am not an expert on anything I am writing about, this is simply an explanation of what I have picked up so far.  I tried to reference the AFI but I decided I was not in the mood to dive deep, so I will keep this simple.  Perhaps someday I would do another post with supporting documentation from the AFI.
For the non-priors, here are the Air Force officer ranks (at the bottom):
Image source:
One of the things one of my mentors told me was on the officer side you only have one shot at making rank.  If you do something stupid and don’t promote to 1st Lt on time, you will probably never promote to 1st Lt.  If you are passed over for Lt Col the first time, they say you will probably not make it the other times even though technically you can.  I am not sure how valid this perspective is, but it makes sense to me.
Here is my understanding for how you make rank as a 13S (non-rated) Space Operations Officer.
  • Second Lieutenant – This is the rank you will receive upon commissioning.  The year you commission will be your ‘year group.’
  • First Lieutenant – Two years after you pin on 2d Lt, you will pin on 1st Lt.  There may be some variations for this but this is the general rule.
  • Captain – Two years after you pin on 1st Lt, you will pin on Capt.  Get used to being a Capt, you will be one for a while.
  • Major – This is where things start to get interesting.  I think technically you are boarded for Capt but it is essentially automatic for everyone.  Major is the first rank which is actually boarded.  The promotion rate varies, but I think in recent years it has been around 65%.  From what I gather as long as you are good at your job you will likely make Major.  It sounds like the ones who don’t make Major are the ones who are terrible officers who aren’t even really good at their job, let alone leading or inspiring Airmen.
    • On the non-rated side officers are currently scheduled to be boarded for Major nine years after their year commissioned.  For example, since I am a 2015 I will be boarded for Major “IPZ” in 2024.  The actual pin on date if selected will be later, in 2025.  I’ll explain IPZ at the end.
  • Lieutenant Colonel – Since I am a 2015, the current schedule states I will be boarded for Lt Col in 2027 (2 BPZ), 2028 (1 BPZ), and 2029 (IPZ).  Squadron command positions are also boarded (separately I think) and it happens to align with after you would pin on Lt Col.  For a 2015 it would be 2030 – 2033 (1st – 4th look).
  • Colonel – As a 2015 I will be boarded for Col in 2033 (2 BPZ), 2034 (1 BPZ) and 2035 (IPZ).


Here is a summary for the fastest burning career:
  • 2d Lt – 2015
  • 1st Lt – 2017
  • Capt – 2019
  • Maj – 2024 (pin on later)
  • Lt Col – 2027 (pin on later)
  • Col – 2033 (pin on later)
Board Timing
  • IPZ – In-the-promotion zone.  The general idea is that this is the generic on-time year because of course you wouldn’t promote late, just on time.
  • BPZ – Below-the-promotion zone.  This means that you are being boarded to promote below the promotion zone, whether it be 2 BPZ or 1 BPZ.
  • APZ – Above-the-promotion zone.  This isn’t in the current timing list but it would mean that you are past or above the promotion zone.


One last note since I am on the topic of ranks.  One thing which I always notice is when people use the wrong abbreviations for ranks.  Every branch of service does it differently so you have to pay attention and do it right.  Additionally, a lot of Air Force officers I know incorrectly abbreviate their own rank.  The “Tongue and Quill” available on the Air Force E-Publishing site outlines the proper abbreviations for all ranks.  Here is the applicable page taken out of the 27 May 16 (Interim Change 19 Nov 15) edition:

Officer Education – Culture and Career Development

Officer Education – It’s Cool, (and Almost Expected) to Be Educated

“You are officers, you are grownups, you ought to know!” – Eugene Roe, Band of Brothers

Ever since I was selected for OTS I found myself spending more time with officers.  I am not sure if this was a deliberate or unconscious decision on my part, but regardless I started to notice minute differences between the officer and enlisted culture.  One of the first things I noticed is a clear difference in education between officers and enlisted.  Of course officers have a bachelor’s degree but so do a lot of enlisted, so I thought it was just a nominal difference.  The more time I spent with officers, the more I realized I was wrong.  Officers don’t just have an education or bachelor’s degree, they use it.  I alluded to this when I talked about spending time with my classmates, but this is something I noticed time and time again with almost every officer.  It didn’t matter what their field was or what we were talking about, but their education boiled into every other aspect of their life.  On the enlisted side, I found a lot of enlisted members just got the degree to check the block.  To be honest, this may be the reason I ended up getting my degree.  I may have only completed my degree because I thought it would be a good thing to do.  I can honestly say I wasn’t 100% committed to making myself better or applying everything I learned in college to making myself a better person, I just knew the degree would help me later down the road.

Now that I am an officer it is clear this method of thinking has to stop.  It is not cool to be an uneducated officer.  Sometimes I felt like as an enlisted member such thinking was accepted or even the norm.  To take this to the next level, I now realize everything I do should be for the purpose of making myself smarter, more informed, and more educated.  It doesn’t matter if it is to satisfy a mere curiosity or if it will help me with my job.  I now have a desire to want to learn more and make myself better, which is something my public school education didn’t teach me in high school.  It is a shame it took me almost thirty years to figure this out.  Imagine how much more I would know if I would have adopted this attitude when I was a teenager.

Here is a real world observation which helped me formulate my opinion on this.  After I commissioned I realized if I was in a group of 12 officers the group would likely have a solid foundation of education across almost every domain.  While I was in tech school it was not abnormal to overhear conversations about Genghis Khan, engineering fundamentals, or geopolitics.  I arrived at tech school with zero knowledge of orbital mechanics so I was struggling in the course, but it was review for the academy grads.  I could go into detail about my major and how it related to my career field, or how my degree related to my classmates, but that is not my intent.  My intent in telling you this is to emphasize that education is important.  I am not saying it is important to have a degree, I am saying it is important to learn while you are completing your degree.  Allow the knowledge to mold you as a person into someone who is smarter and better prepared to tackle the world of challenges ahead of you.

Another thing to think about as you prepare for your career as an officer is to focus on having a broad or diverse foundation of education.  I would say my education is very focused on business and information technology.  This knowledge does not necessarily help me as I start a career in Space Operations.  While addressing MBA students at Carnegie Mellon University, Brig Gen Gina M. Grosso (now Lt Gen) talked about how she believed she had a foundation of intellect.  At her level she often felt like she didn’t have enough time to make tough decisions but her education allowed her to have a stronger foundation to fall back on leading to better decisions.  Here is the link, it is a great discussion.

Take some time to reflect on this.  What is your current foundation of education or intellect?  How diverse is this foundation?  What type of knowledge will help you in the immediate future?  As you advance through your career, what type of knowledge will likely help you a few steps down the road?  Lt Gen Grosso’s advice really helped me with deciding which direction to go for my master’s.

The quote I opened with is a perfect summary of what I am trying to convey in this post.  As officers, I believe we are expected to be educated on any subject we are confronted with.  Eugene Roe chided Capt Winters and Lt Welsh because they did not know or adhere to the proper procedures for administering morphine.  I think having a diverse foundation of education will help us all make the best decisions when confronted with any situation in the future.  Our continuous challenge should be to prepare for the future by creating and building upon this foundation.


Whole Person Concept

The whole person concept is a term I heard my entire career, but it wasn’t something I began to understand until I successfully made it through both my OTS and E-7 selection boards.  A lot of people think being a whole person means doing the things or checking the blocks on the checklist of your career, but there is so much more to it than that.  Simply checking the blocks will result in a hollow shell of your record and the board will see right through it.  Put simply, being the epitome of the whole person concept means just that.  Being a whole, complete person who excels at every aspect of life and makes a deliberate effort to make a difference.  Here is my story.
Professional Duties
Never abandon your duties at work so you can volunteer.  It’s okay to volunteer during duty hours, but don’t be the person who is always gone when things are happening or any time something needs to be done at work.  To your coworkers, you will the impression that all you care about is yourself or making the next rank.
You need to strive to be the best of the best among your peers before you start doing anything outside of work.  Be known for being the person who willingly accepts all tasks, performs them to the best of your ability, asks for help when needed, and always comes to work with a positive attitude.  You may not think these things matter, but they do.  You don’t always need to be the best, but you need to be known for always trying to be the best.  If you do all of these things on a consistent basis, people will notice.
Your leadership has a ton of control of who gets the opportunities for success.  Have you ever noticed that the same people often get to meet the random General who comes to visit, or eat lunch with the base commander?  That is because leadership is asked who should go and they submit a name.  They are not going to pick Joe Dirtbag because it would reflect poorly on the flight or squadron, and it may appear to reward incompetence or negative attitudes.  Leadership will pick the best and brightest and put them in a position to shine.  This is why doing your job well and always having a positive attitude matters.  Being the best is rewarded with more opportunities for success, which will lead to recognition, which will lead to awards, which will lead to the “Promote Now” EPR ratings or official Decorations, which will lead to great board scores.  It is all tied together.
Making a Difference in the Community
Everyone places so much emphasis on “volunteering” that they forget about making a difference, and focus instead on the number of hours or obtaining the high profile volunteer opportunities.  “Volunteering” is about quantity:  How many times can I devote X hours to Y organizations to move Z pounds of food or impact Z people.  Making a difference in the community is about quality:  How can I get involved in my community in a way which makes it better for everyone?  In what areas does my community need to improve?  In what ways can I use my specific set of skills to impact and improve my community?  Those are the questions you should be asking yourself.
At the beginning of my career I did a lot of volunteering for whatever was out there.  As a young Airman this included Airman Against Drunk Driving (AADD), Meals on Wheels, or helping out at the local fair.  After a while, I my volunteer efforts started to feel empty and hollow.  Sure, I was helping people and those are all great programs, but I wanted to have a larger impact.  As I began to ponder how to make this happen, I sought leadership positions in the same types of activities.  I became the treasurer for my squadron’s booster club.  I became the AADD scheduler instead of just a driver.  I was one of the few missile field food planning board members in my squadron and actively worked to improve food in the missile field.  Such positions had a slightly larger impact, but I still wanted more.
Time to Grow Up:  Education
Sewing on SSgt and PCSing gave me an opportunity to redirect my focus inward.  Instead of continuing to do the same types of volunteer work I did at my previous assignment, I considered how I could become a more effective person and what was holding me back from making the impact I wanted to.  As a “Whole Person”, what was I missing?  Eventually, I came to the realization that I needed to finish my Bachelor’s degree.  That became my goal for my four year tour overseas.
Working on my degree helped me do a lot of growing up.  I knew I wanted a degree in the IT field, but what major did I want to choose?  I spent hours researching the different types of IT jobs in the private sector and narrowed my degree choices down to Computer Science and Information System Management.  I discovered the difference between the two was one focused on the technical aspects of the field (CS) while the other focused on the use of technology in business (ISM).  I realized I didn’t like the technical side nearly as much as I thought I did, so I chose to pursue the business degree.  This ended up being a decision that has continued to help me, even today.  My coursework focused on leadership vs. management, so I learned how to apply both in my life as a supervisor and NCOIC.  I learned how everything revolves around money which helped me apply my prior Resource Advisor experience into achieving the current organizational goals.  My English classes helped me as I authored security regulations and edited publications in our Plans and Programs section.  My education literally rippled through every aspect of my life and helped me understand how I fit into the bigger picture of both my professional life and local community.
While I was working on my degree I continued to master my duties at work and volunteer, although my mindset for volunteering had changed.  I was invited into a long term volunteer commitment in which our small group sang the national anthems for almost all of the official ceremonies on the base.  This was great for my situation because it was high visibility, and had a limited time commitment.  I also felt like I was really making a difference because the local nationals were often in tears, and we received regular, heartfelt thanks from retirees or incoming/outgoing commanders.  I began to see how my efforts directly impacted the entire base and local community, not just me or my squadron.
Once I finished my overseas tour I had a fairly accomplished career and a wide range of experience/expertise.  Both my overseas tour and next assignment further developed my professional experience by giving me the opportunity to support Combatant Commands defending our homeland and contingency flying operations overseas.  This experience further broadened my professional experience.  I believe it was the final piece I needed before I was ready to pursue and obtain a commission.
I don’t want to gloss over the importance of diversity.  When I was a young Airman, I asked one of my mentors how to be successful in the Air Force.  We were actually sitting in an ice fishing hut, freezing cold, and NOT catching any fish, but the advice he gave me became the framework for which I structured the rest of my career.  He told me I should always seek to further diversify my career experience.  He told me of the five tiers of the Security Forces career field (Admin, Intel, Ops, Training, Plans and Programs), and told me I should seek jobs and be excellent in every tier.  I took this to heart and incorporated this concept into every major decision I made in both my personal and professional career.
Special duties can help you achieve this goal, but they are not the be-all end-all.  If you have done most of the jobs in your career field it may be time for a special duty.  If you have very limited experience in your career field, special duties may actually hurt you.  While you are out of your career field, you will no longer develop professionally in the field for which you will compete for most of your ranks.  The other thing to think about is most special duties are 3-4 year controlled tours.  During my career, I changed jobs every 1-2 years.  Changing jobs more often helps you more effectively diversify your experience  (look at the officer corps.)

A lot of people also believe deployments are the be-all end-all to making the next rank.  To be clear, I have never deployed.  One of the things I believe deployments help you do is experience the operations side of the Air Force.  When I was overseas my base was tasked with enforcing a no fly zone in another country.  Fighter jets from all over the world used our base as a forward deployed location.  We had representation from almost every branch and several different countries.  When the fighters were ready to go MUNS would load them to the brim with munitions, they would drop their ordinance, and they would come back empty.  During that time the only thing that mattered was getting bombs on target.  Every squadron worked 24/7 and we all helped each other out so we could better support the mission.  We asked comm for another SIPR computer and they brought us a computer, a switch, and two extra computers.  Our guys were stuck on the flightline due to a structure vulnerability so FSS brought out a truckload of MREs.  It was incredible.  Based on my limited experience, deployments and contingencies are where it happens.  Experiencing a deployment or contingency will teach you the importance of the mission, and will realign your perspective toward the joint or combatant command environment.

Tying it All Together – Documentation

Having a diverse career and being excellent in every aspect of your life is how you build your foundation, but it all means nothing if you can’t convey yourself to the board.  How you do this will largely depend on the board you are competing in.  For OTS, the OTS Applicant Profile is hands down, the most important Whole Person Concept document.  The only other documents the board will see is your CC’s recommendation and the Letter of Recommendation.  How much does that really tell the board about who you are as a person?  Promotion and quarterly/annual award boards are much easier because everything is limited to specific forms and formats.

Here is my perception of diversity within my OTS Applicant Profile.  Reference my blog post here.

– Decent AFOQT scores, above average GPA.
– Degrees in both IT and criminal justice.
– More PME complete than the bare minimum.
– Awards ranging from squadron to NAF-level consistently awarded over ten years.
– Volunteers for non-profits, county, church, and base in multiple capacities while also graduating college with honors.
– Personal interests ranging from church, athletic, recreational, educational, and mentorship.
– Career experience in QA/Stan/Eval, combatant command operations, security, supervision, Security Forces operations, and Command and Control.
– “Craftsman” of two AFSCs.
– Excessive speeding tickets in early life.
– Career choices ranging from ops, intelligence, and finance (acquisitions and contracting).

In my opinion, that is how the board perceived me when they reviewed the first four pages of my application.  Page 5 (Page 6 of AF56) was my commander’s summary of my professional experience and how it could tie to the officer side, and Page 6 was my supervisor’s perspective of me from the whole person perspective (Letter of Recommendation).


Post Board Feedback Posted By HiFlyer, 27 Mar 15

More timeless advice posted by HiFlyer on 27 Mar 15 on the airforceots forum.  I can’t find the original post otherwise I would link it.

Posted: Fri Mar 27, 2015 10:50 pm    Post subject:
Found it: Here’s a post-board summary of the scoring process and some comments by one senior officer (from several years ago but still valid):

Board Score. A candidate’s board score, based on the Whole Person
Concept, was composed of three factors:
a. Education/Aptitude: Degree area of study, GPA, advanced degrees,
technical training, AFOQT score.
b. Experience: Employment, level of responsibility, letters of reference,
community and volunteer involvement, and athletics.
c. Potential/Adaptability: Evaluation of interviewing officer, personal
experiences, communication skills, and law violations/involvement.
3. Resume. Candidates need to ensure that all of their “goodness” is
captured in their resume. Board members scored around a hundred records per day; a member might have 5-7 minutes to consider a record. For Active Duty Airmen , include BTZ promotions, BMT Honor Graduate, technical training honors, and ALS and NCOA honors.
4. AF Form 56, Page 6, Section III, Interview.
a. Treat the Interview as if it is a promotion recommendation . As with the
resume, the interviewer should capture all key nuggets from LORs, record , etc.
b. Some white space in Block K is OK, but a lot is a negative indicator; it
is especially inconsistent if the candidate’s Evaluation Factors are
“firewalled .” For a quality applicant, Block K should have a minimum amount of white space.
c. Board members found stratification, even “negative” stratification, VERY
helpful (#3/13, #3 of 3 EE, middle third, top 25%, bottom 50%, etc.), as are
comments such as “do not recommend selection .” Stratification is OK for CGO interviewers (it is assumed that they are speaking for the RCS commander), but is better if documented in Section IV by the commander (removes any doubt).
d. If candidate is interviewed by other than RCS commander, recommend that
Section IV contain comments, even if interviewer is an FGO, especially if
interviewed by other than RCS personnel. Again, for a candidate interviewed by someone outside of a recruiting squadron, adding stratification comments in Section IV is very helpful to the board.
5. Letters of Reference.
a. Variety: A package is stronger if LORs are from a variety of sources
(e.g. school, employer, coach, former military member). If all are from college
professors/high school teachers, they generally fail to provide an adequate view of the applicant’s capabilities.
b. Quantity: Civilian packages with the minimum three LORs, unless they are
strong, paints a picture that the applicant didn’t try hard enough.
c. Active/Retired Veteran: One or more LORs from current or former service
members tend to be helpful.
d. Highlighting Accomplishments/Attributes: Letters where the author bolded
key words/phrases help paint a better picture for the board.
e. Active Duty Applicants: The one LOR allowed for an active duty applicant
is generally more compelling if from an 0-6 or FO/GO/SES. Also, there is little
value added if interviewer is also the LOR author.
f. Poor LORs: LORs are of little value if they do not cite any accomplishments or virtues or if they give a weak recommendation to select the applicant. LORs
where it is clear that the author does NOT know the applicant (e .g. U.S. Senator for one of his/her constituents) are likewise not helpful.
6. Inconsistencies.
a. Applicant firewalled in Evaluation Factors, but Block K comments are
lackluster, and/or there is no stratification. Example of seemingly lackluster comments:”great potential” … “solid candidate” … “select”.
b. Strange: Block K comments with pen and ink changes (e.g. “Outstanding”
struck out, “Excellent” written over it); provides a negative image (perhaps

Hope this helps. This is the text from the feedback memo from the board.


Overall Board Feedback from 15OT02 Board

This is GREAT feedback.  All applicants should review this if you are considering submitting an application.

Applicant’s leadership needs to do a better job of screening applicants before submitting to the board. Competition is extremely tough and candidates with mark downs, no awards, no stratifications, low GPAs, and lackluster push from their command chain does not work out well for the individual and lessens the credibility of the endorser’s signature.
Encourage truthful feedback to ensure applicant understands the likelihood of selection. If the member is not competitive for the upper tier of our enlisted corps, why would he or she be competitive for the officer corps. The college degree is only the invitation to apply but proven leadership, performance and potential makes the applicant highly competitive.
Board members spent too much time doing the commander’s or supervisor’s job. That took away from truly assessing our best and brightest.
1.) Make the tough call at your level. This is a very competitive board. Applicants with mark downs on EPRs, little/no achievements or awards will not fare well. If the member is not competitive, give them feedback on why you will not submit them. Don’t take the easy road out.
2.) If you are taking the time to submit an applicant, stratify them on the Form 56. “My #1 OTS/BOT applicant” is nebulous comment to the board (Do you have only one applicant?). If they would not receive a stratification within rank in your squadron, why should they be an officer in our Air Force?
3.) The words you use on a Form 56 or Endorsement Letter matter to the board just like they would on an EPR or OPR. Don’t confuse the message with poorly chosen words.
4.) Ensure applicants are capturing their significant achievements in the package or on the Form 56. Several times, I found NCOYs or Amn OTY awards in the EPRs which were not listed earlier on. Leave no chance of a significant award being missed.
Commanders need to do a better job of screening applicants prior to submission. The competition is fierce! Help your Airman understand the environment and please don’t pass mediocre records to the board. Develop your Airman through thoughtful feedback. Not everyone with a degree should be an officer. The applicant should d SQ/CC recommendations are great and certainly you need the SQ/CC endorsement BUT if this is the #1 Amn in the Wing, then it should be easy to get the Wing/CCs endorsement. Stratification is important in the memos. IF you send 5 letters from a Wing then please tell us your #1/5 through your #5/5. Recommend all forms 56 go through the SQ/CC and endorsed by the first O-6 in the chain of command.
Recommend getting the highest recommendation letter for the applicant. Not all should go to the Wing/CC or GO but those that should will resonate with the board. Suggest brevity in the letter of recommendation. NO more than 1 page