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By Erica Blanton, 21st Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 30, 2020
Senior Master Sgt. Canole (right), 21st Operations Group first sergeant, listens to Airman First Class Jocelyn Westling, 21st Health Care Operations Squadron aerospace medical technician, answer questions during her below-the-zone board at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado on March 12, 2020. Her supervisor Staff Sgt. Angel Turner, 21st HCOS maternal child flight chief, looks on. Supervisors at Peterson AFB are required to take part in the board so that they can receive immediate feedback on their airman’s performance. (U.S. Air Force photo by Erica Blanton)
For most military members, working up the ranks quickly can be a point of pride. And there’s a bit of incentive for those airmen looking to sew on that third stripe faster than usual: below-the-zone promoting.
Below-the-zone, or BTZ, is a competitive early promotion program that allows exceptionally performing Airman 1st Class’s to promote six months earlier than their peers. They are selected by their chain of command to appear before a board made up of base leadership to prove why they are deserving of the new stripe six months before their peers.
But preparing for a board takes time, work and a little bit of sacrifice. Not only for the nominated Airman, but their leadership as well.
That includes rehearsing a mock board; which is exactly what Staff Sgt. Angel Turner, 21st Health Care Operations Squadron maternal child flight chief, and her airman, A1C Jocelyn Westling, 21st HCOS aerospace medical technician, did to prepare for her unique virtual board experience.
“I’m surprised it got approved for her to Skype in,” Turner said. “She’s had this leave planned since December and we wanted to make sure she took it. But we also wanted to give her the opportunity to go before the board. All the nerves are still there, but I know she is going to do well.”
In order to do well, individuals need to know what steps, including literal ones like facing movements, make up the board. They must also be comfortable answering questions as if they were actually in front of leadership.
“Generally, you can’t win the board by sitting here,” said Senior Master Sgt Shawn Canole, 21st Operations Group first sergeant. “The package is weighted more than the board is. It’s about an 80/20 split. And some of it is just to get them in front of people they don’t know and make them nervous.”
And racking and stacking those eligible individuals is a process. A unit that wishes to nominate their Airman for the board must prepare a package, which the board scores on a six to ten-point scale, including half increments, where six is the lowest and ten is “absolutely superior”.
“The board members forward their scores to me for consolidation,” said Roxanne Brennan, 21st Force Support Squadron career development chief. “If any board members have a two-point difference, then they’re re-scored beforehand to resolve the split. During the board, individuals are awarded points for overall presentation, dress and appearance, and knowledge.”
The knowledge portion consists of a question that each board member asks in an area that they think is important. This can be how the individual inspires teamwork in their work centers, what they think about Air Force involvement in current global events, and even how they will use this additional responsibility.
“Everyone is looking for something different,” said Master Sgt Andrew Charter, 21st Comptroller Squadron first sergeant. “If it looks like they got told to do something and they did it, they don’t get a lot of points for that. They’re just doing their job. They’ve got to be coming in, seeing problems and suggesting solutions.”