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Air Force Rank Structure Briefly Explained

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

The Air Force Ranks are simple yet provide distinction of authority and roles.

Ranking not only assures clear and concise job roles/responsibilities, it also creates accountability. It makes communication considerably easier, thereby ensuring efficiency in the entire operational process, cumulatively. The order of the enlisted ranking is:

  1. Airman Basic (E1)

  2. Airman (E2)

  3. Airman First Class (E3)

  4. Senior Airman (E4)

  5. Staff Sergeant (E5)

  6. Technical Sergeant (E6)

  7. Master Sergeant (E7)

  8. Senior Master Sergeant (E8)

  9. Chief Master Sergeant (E9)

  10. Command Chief Master Sergeant (E9)

  11. Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force (E9)

Where ‘E#’ refers to a given rank’s Pay grade

Notice the wording of each title. This clearly defines ‘who’s boss’. This is done for good reason – whom should one turn to when there’s a crisis. This is a system followed by militaries around the world. Interestingly, the level of strictness tends to vary, to an extent, from country to country, in the context of a given force. For example, the Indian Navy is stricter than the Indian Army which is stricter than the Indian Air Force. This goes back to several decades, if not centuries, of sheer tradition.

Unlike job titles in the corporate world, the Air Force standards are consistent. For instance, an ‘Associate Manager’ in a “3rd world country” cannot necessarily be compared to an ‘Associate Manager’ in a fully/highly developed country on the same level, due to a variety of factors. The level of credibility simply isn’t the same. However, in the Air Force, a Commanding Office (CO) of one country’s forces can well be compared to a CO of another. Fundamentally, this is almost certainly due to one key similarity in all forces around the world – discipline.

Each designation, apart from the name itself, can be differentiated by the Chevrons it possesses, and any given officer, earns. Of course, each designation of the Air Force has its equivalent in the other forces, i.e. in the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, and Marines.

In terms of the pay grades of each enlisted rank, E1 to E3 are typically in some sort of training or are on their preliminary assignments. This training enables recruits to divulge themselves into Military culture and values. Up until E4, the nature of the roles are typically to be ‘commanded’ and not to ‘command’. Soldiers are taught to take orders and not give them from an early stage – harsh as this may sound to a civilian, the fact is, when there’s War, there is no place for confusion, arguments, or arrogance. Ranks from E5 upwards begin to see a significant increase in leadership responsibilities – this is where they train them to be and to think strategically.  

It is the job of the Senior ranking membe to train their subordinate to one day replace them. This ranking system is not perfect but it has worked for many years and provides the structure necessary to protect our country so we can sleep soundly at night. 



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