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Are you in the 5%: What you need to know about Enlisted Performance Reports

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- In 2015, the Air Force executed the new enlisted evaluation and promotion systems with the goal of ensuring performance as the key element when promoting and evaluating Airmen.

With the influx of awards and recognition Peterson Air Force Base Airmen are receiving, combined with the new enlisted promotion system, enlisted performance reports carry increased importance when promotion testing comes around.

Transitioning from the old enlisted promotion system that came with a five-point numerical rating system and no limits on how many Airmen could get the maximum five out of five points, the new system now mandates quotas for top ratings.

The new system doesn’t include numerical ratings but it similarly has five rating levels to categorize Airmen (or Airmen performance). The five levels of the new rating system, from best to worst include: promote now, must promote, promote, not ready now and do not promote. Having five ratings, like the previous system had, has caused some confusion amongst supervisors or Airmen looking over EPRs.

“Airmen and Noncommissioned officers need to wash the old system out of their mind,” said Master Sgt. Matthew Heenan, 21st Force Support Squadron career assistance advisor. “A ‘three’ in the old system and a ‘promote’ in the new system are not the same.”

According to “Air Force Instruction 36-2406: Officer and Enlisted Evaluation Systems” promotion recommendation explanations are as follows:

“Promote Now: Recommended for immediate promotion based on exemplary performance that far exceeds established AF standards and expectations. Reserved for elite performers who perform well above other Airmen in their peer group.”

Must Promote: Recommended for accelerated promotion based on stellar performance well above established AF standards and expectations. Designated for outstanding performers who perform at a level higher than their peers.

Promote: Recommended for promotion based on performance at or above established AF standards and expectations. Performs with the majority of Airmen and at a level commensurate with peers.

Not Ready Now: Not considered ready for promotion at this time based on the need for additional grooming in the current grade, or where Airmen may require specific attention with regard to performance of established AF standards and expectations.

Do Not Promote: Not recommended for promotion based on unacceptable performance, failure to adhere to established AF standards and expectations, or actions that may be incompatible with continued AF service.”

The AFI continues to describe the quotas for each rating. Coined by the term “forced distribution”, only the top 5 percent, at most, of senior airmen, staff sergeants and technical sergeants who are up for promotion to the next rank will be deemed "promote now.”

The quotas for the next tier of airmen, who will be deemed "must promote", will differ based on rank. Up to 15 percent of senior airmen who are eligible for promotion to staff sergeant can receive a "must promote" rating, and up to 10 percent of staff sergeants and technical sergeants up for promotion can get that rating.

Lastly, the AFI states there will be no limit on how many airmen can acquire the next three ratings, "promote," "not ready now" and "do not promote."

“With this new system in place, Air Force leaders and supervisors now have a better grasp on which Airmen are excelling beyond the level of expectation and standards,” said Heenan. “This also give the commander an opportunity to identify who the top performers are and lets them indicate an Airman’s promotion potential to the boards.”

Alongside hard work and dedication to mission success, there is one more thing Airmen should do to stay competitive and ahead of their peers.

“Study!” says Heenan. “Every Airman should always be studying for their next promotion test because even if you get a ‘promote now,’ that doesn’t mean you are guaranteed a promotion. Just keep studying and working hard and the promotion will happen.”

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