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CY03 Central Senior Master Sergeant Evaluation Board

Source: CMSgt, USAF
55th Communications Squadron Superintendent
Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska
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Serving on a selection panel at the recent CY03 Central Senior Master Sergeant Evaluation Board was one of the true highlights of my career! I came away from the experience more confident than ever in our Enlisted promotion system, and relieved that the feedback I’d heard from folks over many, many years about the Senior Master Sergeant selection process was indeed factual and true.

What follows are some observations I have about the board process. I have divided these observations into recommendations for anyone actually signing an Enlisted Performance Report (EPR), and feedback for those desiring to be promoted to the top two grades. I then share some questionable/humorous entries from EPRs I reviewed. Finally, I have attached a Power Point presentation (with Notes Pages) that fully explains the evaluation board process.

Please understand that what you read below represents my personal opinion, and in no way reflects, or is intended to represent the views of the Air Force. Other panel members may differ in their opinions of what is, or is not significant in a person’s record. I recommend you consider the below opinions, and weigh them with feedback from other panel members.

Recommendations for anyone actually signing an EPR

Understand that the 3-member panel reviewing the EPR you are signing is looking for the best eligibles to promote. In my opinion, the most outstanding duty performance in the Air Force cannot make up for a lack of Senior NCO Academy (SNCOA) completion, a lack of recognition, no pursuit of a Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) degree, or lack of a Meritorious Service Medal (MSM) when a person was eligible to receive one. Efforts to try and hide shortcomings in a record will not be successful, and waste your time!

The first product I saw in each selection folder was a Senior NCO Evaluation Brief. This sheet of paper lists the member’s SNCOA completion, education level, and decorations (other information includes duty AFSC and duty title, date of rank, total active federal military service date, etc.). Before I began reading the EPRs or decoration citations in the folder, I already saw whether or not the eligible’s folder had the potential to score “among the best.” If the eligible has not completed a CCAF in his/her current AFSC, SNCOA, or has failed to receive an MSM (if eligible), then the record stands little chance of receiving a score better than that given for a “slightly below average record.” Here are some statistics to help prove my point:

59% of eligibles had an Associates degree or higher (89% of selectees had at least an Associates degree, with another 9.25% having more than 2 years of college, but no degree yet).

67% of eligibles had completed SNCOA (99.9% of selects had completed SNCOA).

Though it is not written anywhere, it appears Senior Rater Indorsements (SRI) were not given to folks who had failed to complete the SNCOA (I did see 13 promotion folders containing SRI despite SNCOA not being completed, but in my opinion this only discredited the Senior Rater and detracted from my overall impression of the promotion folder). If lack of completing the SNCOA is the only reason a person didn’t get a SRI, say so! If you take this advice, future panel members will more readily “forgive” lack of a SRI on that EPR. If you don’t say why the member failed to get a SRI, panel members have to assume the person is just not of a high enough caliber…

We also have to ask if we should continue to offer strong SRI on folks who have never attended off-duty education, or pursued a CCAF! Again, 89% of this year’s selectees for SMSgt had at least an Associates degree. That number is rising every year (last year the number was 86%)… How long will it be before a CCAF degree is mandatory for SRI, just like SNCOA completion is today? Please convey to your folks how important that CCAF degree is!

If a MSgt was eligible for a MSM, but did not get one, this was seen as a negative indicator (I can only assume there was a clear reason for the MSgt not getting the decoration). To be eligible for an MSM, a MSgt would normally have to serve over 3 years at a current duty location, PCS as a MSgt, PCA as a MSgt after 3 years in the last position, etc. Unfortunately, one example promotion folder I’ll mention had an impressive SRI stating, “MSgt X is my #1 MSgt of 66, my SNCO of the Year.” This same MSgt had been on station over 5 years (two years as a MSgt), and yet had never received an extended tour medal (therefore, this MSgt had no MSM)! Some would say the panel members shouldn’t “penalize” such MSgts, yet as a panel member I can’t “read into why the MSgt did or didn’t get the medal.” I simply must take into account that a medal could have been awarded, but was not… Credit can’t be given for medals that have never been awarded!

There is still a false impression out there that the rank of the Senior Rater has some bearing on how well the promotion folder will score. This is not true. I saw several promotion folders containing SRI from very high-ranking military and civilian Senior Raters. Neither of these MSgts had completed the SNCOA, and therefore received the same low board scores as everyone else who failed to complete this final level of PME before the promotion eligibility cutoff date!

The bottom line here is that if you are trying to “polish up” a record on a person who hasn’t done the minimum things to be competitive, you only risk damaging your own credibility. Here are some examples from records I reviewed:

One record said, “my #3 of 249 Wing MSgts”. This EPR was time in grade eligible for a SRI, yet was capped at the Senior Rater Deputy level…

In another record, strong promotion statements were written by all three folks signing the EPRs, even though the member had not completed SNCOA and had been time in grade eligible for a SRI on 3 EPRS, all of which were capped at the Senior Rater’s Deputy…

I read an overall 4 EPR on a MSgt that was signed by the Senior Rater’s Deputy. The mandatory endorser requirement (Major or above) had been met at the Intermediate Level (Squadron Commander). Given that only 2% of all eligible MSgts received less than an over 5 EPR rating, why would the Senior Rater’s Deputy indorse a report on a MSgt in the lower 2% of the MSgt’s peer group?

Promotion statements on overall 4 EPRs… Given that the MSgt is in the bottom 2% of his/her peer group, are you sure you want this overall 4 MSgt promoted at this time?

I reviewed nearly 900 promotion folders. Consider that each folder contains 10 EPRs, and multiple decoration citations. Given this, please ensure you put the most significant duty accomplishments and recognition in the bottom block of EPRs. I read the reports from the bottom up, and by the time I get up to the Rater’s comments, I figure I’ve already read about the most impressive duty accomplishments and recognition for that rating period. I highly recommend you use this “formula” for the Rater’s comments section. There are 13 lines in this section, and the bottom 3 lines are the most critical. List community involvement in line 11, list self-improvement (i.e. college) in line 12, and use line 13 for a strong promotion statement. If I read one EPR after another, and they all show consistently strong duty performance and recognition in the two bottom blocks, and then show consistent community involvement and self-improvement at the end of the top block, I’m looking at a high scoring promotion folder!

Given that the bottom 3 lines of the rater’s comments are what really matters, you should ask yourselves if it’s the best use of your time spending hours and numerous re-writes on the top 10 lines! We certainly want to do the right things for our folks, but recognize that the majority of your time needs to be dedicated to the bottom 14 lines of the report, not the top 10 lines… Please also recognize that “white space” is not a bad thing, if the alternative is filling the lines with “fluff.” I wouldn’t waste your time expecting you to read lots of meaningless filler, and I ask for the same courtesy in return…

As for decoration citations, I didn’t spend a lot of time here…. What mattered was that a person received the level of decoration commensurate with their grade for any decoration based on “meritorious service” (i.e. extended tour, PCS, or PCA). The wording used in such citations had to come from the EPRs, and I am already reviewing the EPRs… I did review citations for medals based on “outstanding achievement” or “heroism!”

Many records contained statements of stratification that were very impressive, but there was nothing to support the stratifications. There was no recognition, no remarkable duty accomplishments, deployments, etc. Stratification is good, but is improved markedly when supported… How far down should we stratify MSgts? Some feel we should only stratify the top 3% since only 3% of the Enlisted force can serve in the top 2 grades. Others feel we should stratify only to about 10%, since that is the approximate promotion rate to SMSgt.

Imagine being a panel member and having 20 promotion folders in front of you. You are charged to avoid “central tendencies” in scoring the records, meaning that you are asked to use the entire rating scale (6 – 10 points in half point increments) rather than just scoring all records close to the same. Given that so many records are nearly the same (PME complete, CCAF done, MSM awarded, great duty performance, and “firewall 5” SRI reports), wouldn’t you appreciate Senior Raters who help you by stratifying their best folks? Suppose the Senior Rater tells you, “This MSgt is my #4 of 20 MSgts.” The stratification is 20% (which many believe is too large of a number to stratify), yet as a panel member you now know that a Senior Rater has told you this MSgt is among his/her best in a pool of 20 MSgts of varied AFSCs! You can see when you are a panel member reviewing records of 20 MSgts in the same AFSC, the stratification stated above may be a big help in sorting out someone who is just a bit above the rest of the crowd of similar records. For this reason, I would stratify to 10% within AFSCs, and as high as 20% when comparing folks across AFSCs… I found it helpful when stratification was in raw numbers, not percentages. Please say “#3 of 59” rather than “top 10%”

A word here on recognition…. A majority of the records I reviewed were very close to the same (impressive duty performance, Senior Rater Indorsed “firewall 5” EPRs, SNCOA complete, CCAF complete, and an MSM as a MSgt). What I needed to see was recognition (and hopefully stratification) to help set top performers apart from other MSgts eligible for this board. There are varying degrees of recognition, and here is my personal prioritization of the different types

Waste of space – personal comments with statements such as, “This is the best MSgt I’ve worked with in over 18 years of service”. Such comments may be very pleasing for the ratee to read, but are as close to useless for a promotion board as they can be. For all I know, this is the only MSgt you’ve ever worked with… It could also be that you’ve had the misfortune of working with lots of less-impressive MSgts. As such, the current one you’re so impressed with my not be so spectacular when compared across an AFSC. Since I have no idea how many MSgts you’ve ever worked with, or what caliber those MSgts were, I considered these statements to be a complete waste of one of the 24 available lines on a SNCO EPR….

Lowest level – no recognition of any kind to differentiate an eligible from all other eligibles

Next to lowest – Unit (work center, Flight, Squadron, Group, or Wing) level recognition. This type of recognition was reasonably common, and most statements would say something like, “Critical to my unit’s selection for the XXX award!” Unless the word picture made clear how the eligible was “critical” to the unit winning the award, I felt as though one of the available 24 EPR lines had been wasted…

Middle of the road – Functional recognition (singling a person out for accomplishments within his/her AFSC). It may confuse some as to why this form of recognition is not more meaningful. We must keep in mind that Functional recognition tends to award “technical performance”, while we are trying to promote folks with demonstrated potential to be managers. We don’t necessarily want to promote “super grade technicians.” Functional recognition is valuable to help sort out some of our very best, but we are looking to promote managers vice technicians… Some Functional recognition is divided into categories, including a “Supervisor/Manager” category. Winning this type of Functional recognition sorts out supervisors/managers from technicians… The last word on Functional recognition is that the pool you are competing with for this type of recognition is usually small, compared to the pool competing for Non-functional recognition described below. There may be only 10 or 20 MSgts competing on base for the Lt Gen Leo Marquez award in a given AFSC, but there may be over 600 MSgts competing for SNCO of the Quarter on that same base…

Highest level – Non-functional recognition (NCO/SNCO of the Quarter/Year, PME awards, Lance P. Sijan Leadership Awards, etc.) This type of recognition reaches across many AFSC’s and singles out the eligible as truly among the best, when compared to his/her peers. The higher the level of non-functional recognition the better, but even SNCO of the Quarter for a Squadron was impressive, given how competitive the Air Force has become today. For example, there are over 600 MSgts assigned to the 55th Wing at Offutt AFB. These MSgts (and the 110+ assigned SMSgts) have to compete for just four available Wing SNCO of the Quarter awards during each year. My squadron has nearly 30 MSgts and our Group has over 50, so SNCO of the Quarter at any level is impressive! PME awards help to further single out a person as impressive compared to his/her peers, and demonstrate initiative!

One last word about recognition… If a MSgt is not selected for promotion to SMSgt, yet gets a SNCOA in-residence class date, that MSgt has been identified as one of the very top non-selects in his/her AFSC (using the MSgt’s combined test score and board score). Please include selection for SNCOA in-residence attendance in the MSgt’s EPR!

There are only two ways to receive a SNCOA in-residence class date. One is to receive a Promotion Sequence Number (Line Number) for promotion to SMSgt. The other way (as explained above) is to be among the few non-selects in each AFSC with the highest combined board and test scores. Given these facts, when I read statements in EPRs recommending MSgt X for selection to attend the SNCOA, I am seeing comments that prove the person signing that report does not understand the process for Enlisted PME selection. I was amazed to see such recommendations in many, many MSgt EPRs.
Please don’t include such recommendations in an Enlisted report. Doing so wastes a line, and may discredit other things you say about the ratee! The Officer PME selection process is different than the Enlisted process and we must keep those differences from detracting from SNCO EPRs…

If a promotion folder contained numerous EPRs from the same duty location, I looked hard to see that the ratee moved to different jobs at that duty location. If you want to take care of your MSgts, don’t set them in the same job for more than 3 reporting periods (2 reporting periods is probably best). We’ve all heard it before, homesteading isn’t so bad so long as there is job rotation at that same duty location.

The Senior NCO Evaluation Brief showed whether a person was approaching their high year of tenure, or had projected for retirement. This meant nothing to me. I scored what was in the promotion folder. If the person received promotion to SMSgt, their high year of tenure date as a MSgt would no longer apply. If they received a promotion and decided to retire anyway, that is within their right. As a panel member, you cannot read into what a person may or may not choose to do. I have known many folks who applied for retirement, but intended to retire only if they didn’t get promoted… Rather than second-guessing intentions, I just scored what was in the promotion folders.

Recommendations for anyone desiring to be promoted to the top two grades

The folder reviewed by panel members contains all reports for the ten years preceding the promotion eligibility cutoff date (PECD). Since the PECD for this panel was 30 Sep 02, each selection folder contained EPRs closing out after 1 Oct 92. Some of the EPRs I was reading were on SrA! Given this, I ask you the following questions. Do your ten most recent EPRs show you have:

Moved to various duty positions to gain “breadth of experience” in your AFSC (moving to various duty locations is the absolute best way to establish your talents/abilities while facing diverse challenges)? “Breadth of experience” means you have tackled many different jobs within your AFSC. If you are the best in one area of your AFSC, and are therefore inclined to stay only in that area, know that you are hurting your chances to be promoted. Move to the desirable and undesirable duty positions across your AFSC…

Excelled at whatever you’ve been asked to do in those duty positions?

Been involved in the base/local communities (leadership positions are the best)?

Continued to pursue self-improvement (i.e. CCAF in current AFSC, certification courses, pursued a Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree related to management, computer based training, etc.)?

Volunteered for special duty assignments or positions to prove your leadership talents in diverse situations (examples might include First Sergeant, Military Training Instructor, Recruiter, Career Assistance Advisor, or special duty positions related to your AFSC)?

Retrained and excelled in a whole new career field?

Completed all PME you are eligible for?

Earned consistent recognition (see types of recognition above)?

The more of the above questions you can answer “yes” to, the better your record will fare at the Central Selection Board. Still, answering yes to every question except the one on PME is a “show stopper” for you. If you have not completed the SNCOA, you would be among only two people in the Air Force promoted to SMSgt in the past 4 years without it! The statistics prove we are headed in the same direction for a CCAF degree. In 2002, over 86% of SMSgt selects had completed at least an Associates degree. This year, 89% of selects had done the same. In my opinion, it won’t be long before lack of a CCAF degree will be just as damaging to promotion as lack of SNCOA completion is today. I would argue that in most AFSCs, a lack of a CCAF is already close to “the kiss of death” for promotion to SMSgt! Be aware that having a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree, while not having a CCAF degree, signals to me that you are far more worried about your post-Air Force life than being promoted to SMSgt…

We still suffer from a sentiment in our SNCO corps that truly outstanding duty performance will compensate for shortcomings in other areas (i.e. PME and CCAF completion). This is not true! Truly outstanding duty performance can compensate for some shortcomings in our Stripes for Exceptional Performers (STEP) program, but even under STEP, required PME must be complete and the whole person concept is used by boards to select nominees. Remember that STEP only applies for promotion to SSgt – MSgt. You cannot be STEP promoted to SMSgt…

If you work 12 hours per day at your job, thinking your dedication will compensate for other shortcomings in your record, you are wrong! You would serve yourself far better by dedicating 8 – 9 hours to your job, and then completing PME, your CCAF, getting involved in leadership positions in the base/local community, earning recognition, etc.

Easily over half of the records I reviewed had received “firewall 5” Senior Rater Indorsed EPRs whenever the members were time in grade eligible. This should make clear where you stand if you have not received “firewall 5” Senior Rater Indorsed EPRs when eligible! There were many records containing less than “firewall 5” EPRs, or lacking SRI on some EPRs where eligible. The older these reports were, the less significant they were to me. Still, when these reports existed, they had to be considered. We were charged to use the entire promotion folder to determine a board score, and we were also charged to use the entire rating scale (6 – 10 points in half point increments). Given this, a record with markdowns anywhere, or lack of SRI would not likely score as high as a record with no such “blemishes.” The more impressive reports you can put on top of a “blemished report,” the better…

There has always been discussion concerning duty titles and duty AFSCs held by MSgts. The theory is that a MSgt must be in at least a 7-level duty position and have an impressive duty title (i.e. Superintendent or Branch Chief). I contend that with the current glut of MSgts in the Air Force (we have nearly 3,500 more MSgts than MSgt authorizations), many MSgts are being asked to perform in duty positions traditionally held by lower ranking folks. What matters is how well your EPRs make clear you have done what you’ve been asked to do, not what duty title you hold, or what duty position you are in on the Unit Personnel Management Roster. As proof of this, I awarded one of my highest scores to an individual in a 5-level duty position, serving as an NCOIC. The record was full of impressive duty performance, recognition, stratification, community involvement, all PME and CCAF complete, and the person had an Extended Tour MSM recently awarded! Concentrate on excelling in your current role, and fill in your record with the above accomplishments…

The last point I want to make here is how critical it is to study for the United States Air Force Supervisory Examination (USAFSE). Panel members assigning board scores have no idea what the weighted factor scores (including the USAFSE) are for any of the eligibles. For many years now I have had very deserving eligibles come to me and complain about how they failed to get promoted because they got a low board score. I ask, “How did you do on the test?” Most often I am told, “My test score doesn’t matter, because my board score is what kept me from getting promoted.” In most cases, after reviewing the member’s score sheet with them, the member ends up admitting that had he/she just earned the average test score for his/her AFSC, he/she would have been promoted. Yes, there are a few (very few) records I saw that were strong enough to help a person get promoted with a lower test score. However, the norm is that your board score will make you competitive, and your test score will determine if you are promoted or not! If you spend year after year doing the right things to make yourself competitive for promotion, how can you cheat yourself by not studying for the test? In my opinion, effective studying takes place over a period of months…

Questionable/Humorous Entries from EPRs  <below Ad>

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The below entries are taken directly from EPRs, and I found myself questioning why they were used. In some cases, the ratings were “firewall” and the word picture either seemed to tell another story, or was confusing as to whether we were being complimentary. Examples included:

“Ready to promote among his peers”

“Displays high potential for increased leadership responsibilities and continued military service”

“Charging ahead and leaving behind a stellar record of success”

“Skills led to selection as Dorm Manager…selection produced necessary results”

“We need to capitalize on MSgt X’s unique set of skills”

“Promote next board” What about this board?

“If I could give a #1 to another SNCO, MSgt X would be the one” Does this mean he’s #2?

“#1 of 3 NCOs.” OK, but he’s a MSgt. How does he compare to other SNCOs?

“Split decision runner-up for SNCO of the year.” This a pretty fancy way to say he was nominated but didn’t win!

Rater’s comments said, “among top 2 of 5 SNCOs in my unit.” Senior Rater said “#1 of 115 SNCOs…” Which is the truth? If he’s not clearly #1 in the unit, how can he be #1 in the Wing?

“Most improved SNCO”

“A rising star in the SNCO ranks—keep ready for a tough Superintendent job”

“Capable SNCO whose performance and contributions to CCAF have improved operations.” Huh?

Poor stratification included a few gems like… “Top 3% of 8 MSgts”

“Blossoms were planted; confident he can do any job; need him as a Superintendent—promote to SMSgt now.” I have no idea what this Senior Rater was really trying to tell me….

“Highest caliber SNCO destined for greater leadership challenges.” Is this good or bad?

I reviewed two different EPRs that were capped at the Senior Rater’s Deputy, but both of those Group Commanders chose to stratify their MSgts in the “Top 3% of the wings 380/251 MSgts/SNCOs.” I wonder if the Senior Raters at these bases knew their Group Commanders were giving away wing-level stratification?

Another Senior Rater Indorsed EPR concluded with, “Tremendous potential; a positive attitude would round out this otherwise super Senior NCO”

“Exceptional potential—phenomenal skill set—let’s invest in this outstanding SNCO—SMSgt first time eligible”

“Extraordinary individual who truly lives by his SNCO Creed.” I wonder if his creed matches the Air Force SNCO Creed?

“Knife-in-the-teeth leadership style that produced results on-time, on target—make him a SMSgt now.” I didn’t necessarily take this as a positive comment…

“If I was going to war, I would bring him.” Doesn’t sound very impressive… What do you bring him to do? What do you do with him if you aren’t going to war?

A report capped at Senior Rater Deputy stated, “This is just the type of person the Air Force needs as a SMSgt.” Problem was, this same MSgt had been relieved from his previous position and had received a very negative overall 3 EPR (referral report with 4 areas on the front marked in the far left blocks). I felt bad that the Senior Rater Deputy was made to look a bit foolish because he obviously had no knowledge of the preceding report….

“Stronger in person.” I guess this meant we should have ignored the weak record and awarded a high board score…

“Only assign to tough, technically challenging positions.” Would you really say this about someone we are looking to make a SMSgt?

In other cases, the ratings weren’t so good, but the word pictures seemed to tell another story. Examples included:

“MSgt X is a top-notch professional; he’s already filling SMSgt shoes; formalize it—promote!” This was the final line on a report containing a mark down on the front (communication skills). The report was time in grade eligible for SRI, but was closed out at the “Lower Level”…

“Well-rounded SNCO.” This comment appeared as the final line of what were 3 consecutive EPRs marked down two blocks each in adherence to standards. Other wording in the reports referred to problems with the weight program…

“Group’s Gold Knight twice.” I have to assume this was good…?

“I wish I could clone him”

“Oozes leadership, tenacity and talent.” I think I’m going to be sick…

“Midas touch.” I think this is meant to be positive, but I hate Midas because my last visit there was not a good one… avoid analogies and metaphors…the intended meaning can have a whole different outcome! Other bad examples: “A tiger of a SNCO.” This could be positive or negative! “Hat trick achiever.” Does this mean he only does three good things?

I actually reviewed one EPR (the top one) where the MSgt was marked down in managerial skills, yet received a strong SRI!

Some final thoughts…

One MSgt had received an Extended Tour Air Force Commendation Medal as a MSgt, yet the EPRs were all “firewall 5” for the decoration period. Nothing but bad can come of this… the 3 points the MSgt gained in weighted factor points were likely far overshadowed by board score points lost…

On the impressive side, I saw promotion folders that included MSMs awarded to SSgts and TSgts, and numerous references to eligibles being STEP promoted!

It was heartbreaking to see a DUI reflected in the top EPR of an otherwise tremendous record…

One promotion folder showed CCAF complete, multiple MSMs (one as a TSgt) and 4 straight EPRs containing impressive recognition (i.e. Sijan, Marquez, and SNCO of the Year). This same MSgt had failed to do SNCOA, so he didn’t get SRI and received the same low score as everyone else who didn’t do SNCOA! If you ever doubted how important completing the SNCOA is, all doubt should now be removed…

Attached below is an informative Power Point presentation explaining the selection board process. I hope I have offered information of some value. I have been reading feedback from panel members since 1983 when I first took an interest in what it would take to someday be a SMSgt or CMSgt. The feedback I’ve offered above differs only slightly from what I read all those years ago. Today there is slightly more emphasis on college and recognition (which likely requires folks to be involved in the community). The biggest change is in PME. In 1983, PME completion earned you more weighted factor points, and presumably more points in your board score, but completion was not mandatory…

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Page Added on: 10 October 2005