Staff Sergeant: Making the grade
By Airman 1st Class Jarad A. Denton, 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 21, 2009
ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- Throughout the Air Force, Airmen devote a considerable amount of time and energy to promotions within the enlisted force structure.
Senior Airmen looking to promote to staff sergeant have already begun to develop supervisory and leadership skills through responsibilities given to them while on the job. As staff sergeants they will be expected to become proficient leaders, technical experts and mentors to other Airmen.
With high expectations placed on NCOs, Airmen are preparing their promotion package as early as possible.
"I started prepping for my test as soon as the new professional development guide was issued," said Senior Airman J. Christopher Mendiola, Air Force Financial Services Center debt management technician. "You can never start too early."
Though the PDG test is an integral part of the promotion system, the Air Force has developed and grown the staff sergeant selection process over the years.
Gone are the days when Airmen could simply walk into a room, take a test and wait for news on their possible promotion because Airmen are now encouraged to learn more about the promotion process and invest themselves in their careers.
"You want to know that you stand a shot at promoting before you take the test," said Tech. Sgt. Steven Bradley, 28th Force Support Squadron First Term Airman center NCO in charge. "Everything you do is factored into your chances for promotion."
An Airman's time in service, time in grade and enlisted performance report are some of the factors that help Airmen earn points toward a promotion to staff sergeant. Those points are tallied and then calculated through Weighted Airmen Promotion System.
WAPS is specifically designed to promote the best Airmen we have, said Sergeant Bradley. Understanding the system is the first step to securing a promotion to staff sergeant.
"If you want to promote, it's vital you do well at your job and study," said Sergeant Bradley.
If an Airman demonstrates proficiency within their career field and has a solid grasp on Airmen responsibilities within the enlisted force structure then they are eligible to score a five on their EPR. If an Airman scores fives in each area they will earn 135 points toward the WAPS score. Those EPR points earned are then combined with the points from the specialty knowledge test, which focuses on an Airman's career development course material. The next test focuses on the PDG, which covers general Air Force knowledge. Points earned from EPR's, SKT and PDG tests comprise most of the WAPS score.
Awards and decorations earned by Airmen also add points toward the WAPS score. Those points are added with the other categories to calculate the Airman's final score.
To obtain higher scores, Sergeant Bradley encourages Airmen interested in promoting to staff sergeant to study their CDC and PDG material 15 to 20 minutes a day to prepare for the test.
I read my PDG and CDCs about 20 minutes every day, said Airman Mendiola. A few months before I take the test I plan on purchasing some additional study tools that will help me improve my score.
"If you have to cram before a WAPS test then you're doing something wrong," said Sergeant Bradley.
Senior Airman Janie Ramsey, 28th Bomb Wing client support administrator and staff sergeant selectee, studied several months before taking the test.
I took good notes when I studied through the PDG, said Airman Ramsey. When I took the test, I scored second out of 853 Airmen that tested within my career field.
Adhering to regulations concerning promotion study before a WAPS test is also important.
Airmen studying for promotion to staff sergeant must adhere to regulations in Air Force Instruction 36-2502 and 36-2605. For example, Airmen are prohibited from studying in groups, they can't have access to test material prior to taking the test and they can't ask about material covered on the test prior to taking the test. If an Airman fails to adhere to these standards they can be prosecuted under Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, according to Tech. Sgt. Amber Martin, 28th Bomb Wing Staff Judge Advocate NCO in charge.
Along with ensuring adequate and appropriate study techniques, Airmen can also focus on service within their community.
Volunteering and becoming active within their local community adds to an Airman's promotion package. It demonstrates a personal investment in their career that supplements a solid work ethic and good study habits.
"Strive to be the best you can be. It ties back into the core value of excellence in all we do," said Sergeant Bradley. "What you do now as an Airman impacts the rest of your career."
Following these steps required for promotions ensures that an Airman's career is not completely based on their test-taking ability. Instead, their promotion is an overall review of the Airman as a complete individual: job performance, career and Air Force knowledge, awards and decorations, time in service and time in grade are all contributing factors that help the Air Force determine who its future leaders will be.