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):

Air Force Rank Structure

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:

Tongue & Quill Ranks