9 March 1948 - There is no documented official rationale for the design of the present USAF enlisted chevrons, except the minutes of a meeting held at the Pentagon on 9 March 1948, chaired by General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, Air Force Chief of Staff. These minutes reveal that chevron designs were sampled at Bolling Air Force Base and the style used today was selected by 55% of 150 airmen polled. General Vandenberg therefore approved the choice of the enlisted majority.
Whoever designed the stripes might have been trying to combine the shoulder patch worn by members of the Army Air Force (AAF) during World War II and the insignia used on aircraft. The patch featured wings with a pierced star in the center while the aircraft insignia was a star with two bars. The stripes might be the bars from the aircraft insignia slanted gracefully upward to suggest wings. The silver grey color contrasts with the blue uniform and might suggest clouds against blue sky.
At this time the size of the new chevrons are determined to be four inches wide for men, three-- inches--for-women-.--- This difference in size created the official term of "WAF (Women in the Air Force) chevrons" in reference to the three inch stripes.
The rank titles, at this time, from bottom to top, were: Private (no stripe), Private First Class (one stripe), Corporal (two stripes), Sergeant (three stripes), Staff Sergeant (four stripes), Technical Sergeant (five stripes), Master Sergeant (six stripes and tithe only rank approved for First Sergeant Duties).
20 FEBRUARY 1950 - General Vandenberg directed that from this day forth, enlisted personnel of the Air Force will be called "Airmen" to distinguish them from "Soldiers" and "Sailors." Formerly, Air Force enlisted personnel were still called "Soldiers.
24 April 1952 - Studies made in 1950 and 1951 proposed to change the enlisted grade structure and was adopted by the Air Council and Chief of Staff in March 1952. The change was embodied in Air Force Regulation 39-36 on 24 April 1952. The primary objective desired in changing the airman grade structure was the restriction of non-commissioned officer status to a group of higher grade airmen sufficiently small in number to permit them to function as non-commissioned officers. Plans for improving the quality of non-commissioned officer leadership hinged upon this change : now that the change was made, plans for investigating and improving the quality of this leadership began.
The titles of the ranks changed (although not the chevrons). The new titles, from bottom to top, were: Basic Airman (no stripe), Airman Third Class (one stripe), Airman Second Class (two stripes), Airman First Class (three stripes), Staff Sergeant (four stripes), Technical Sergent (five Stripes) and Master Sergeant (six stripes).
At that time, it was planned to develop new insignia for the three classes of Airmen (First, Second, and Third). Preliminary sketches of proposed insignia have the stripes at a horizontal level, reserving the angled stripes for the toop three ranks to differentiate Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs).
DECEMBER - 1952 - The proposed-new-chevrons for the three lower ---- airman grades are approved by General Vandenberg. However, the procurement action is deferred until existing stocks of the current chevrons are depleted. This is not expected to occur until June 1955.
22 SEPTEMBER 1954 - On this day the new Chief of Staff, General Nathan F. Twining, approves a new distinctive insignia for First Sergeants. It consists of a traditional diamond sewn in the "V" above the grade chevron. Recommendations for adoption of this distinctive insignia were advanced by two commands : Strategic Air Command (SAC) and Air Training Command (ATC). The suggestion from ATC was included in an appendix buried in a February 1954 ATC Personnel Planning Project, while the SAC NCO Academy, March AFB, CA, proposed the design on 30 April 1954 to the Air Council.
21 SEPTEMBER 1955 - The availability of the distinctive First Sergeant insignia is announced.
12 March 1956 - In 1952 General Vandenberg approved a new chevron for Airman, First, Second and Third Classes. The purpose of this change was to increase the prestige of the Staff, Technical and Master Sergeant chevrons. The stripes were to change from the angled design to horizontal. However, due to the supply of chevrons on hand, action was delayed until supply had been deleted, which happened in early 1956. The decision to change the design was resubmitted to General Twining on 12 March 1956. The Chief replied in a short informal memo stating "No change to be made in insignia."
JANUARY - JUNE 1958 - The Military Pay Act of 1958 (Public Law 85- 422), authorized the additional grade of E-8 and E-9. No promotions to the new grades were made during Fiscal Year 1958 (July 1957 through June 1958). However, 2,000 individuals were expected to be promoted to the grade of E-8 during Fiscal Year 1959. On the other hand, in accordance with Department of Defense instructions, no promotions to grade E-9 were to be made in Fiscal Year 1959. During May and June 1958, almost 45,000 Master Sergeants from all commands were tested with the Supervisory Examination as a first step in the final selection of 2,000 for eventual promotion to E-8. This test screened out approximately 15,000 applicants, permitting approximately 30,000 to be further screened- by command boards from which 2,000 would be selected initially.
JULY-DECEMBER 1958 - The two new grades (E-8 and E-9) were particularly welcome in that they would relieve the "compression" in the grade of Master Sergeant. However, because the numbers had to come out of the former Master Sergeant authorization, no improvement in promotion opportunity resulted to the overall enlisted structure.
It was, nevertheless, an excellent solution to the problem of differentiation in the levels of responsibility among Master Sergeants. For instance, in the maintenance Table of organization for a tactical fighter squadron, four flight chiefs, two inspectors, and the line chief all held the grade of Master Sergeant. The new grades would allow the top supervisor a grade superior to the others, each of whom had substantial responsibilities of his own.
Adding two new grades did present some problems. Most significant was the fact that of the total nine grades, five were to be at the "Sergeant" level. Up to 40% of the total enlisted structure would be in these five grades. For this reason, the older breakout of "Airmen" and "Sergeants" seemed outmoded. It was apparent that, with a near 1-to-1 ratio between Airmen and Sergeants, not all Sergeants could be supervisors. It was considered that the time had come to effect some differentiation between the less skilled Airmen, the more skilled at the Staff and Technical Sergeant level, and the supervisory level.
The speed with which it was necessary to implement the legislation did not permit a complete review of the enlisted structure. It was, therefore, determined that, for the present, the titles and insignia should blend into the system with the least possible change.
The comments of the major commands were solicited, and the titles of Senior Master Sergeant (E-8) and Chief Master Sergeant (E-9) were the most popular. They were considered to be the best in clearly indicating ascending grade and to have the advantage of not reflecting unfavorably on those long-time Master Sergeants who would not be selected for the new grades.
Since it had been decided to build on the existing insignia pattern rather than to revise the whole series, the problem of a satisfactory insignia became acute. Numbers of ideas were considered. Some of those discarded were : the use of the Master Sergeant insignia superimposing one and two stars (rejected because of the overlapping of general officer's insignia), and the same with lozenges (rejected out of confusion with the First Sergeant insignia). The choice was finally, and reluctantly, narrowed to a pattern which superimposed on the older Master Sergeant Insignia, one and two additional stripes pointing in the opposite direction (upward) leaving a field of blue between the lower Master Sergeant insignia and the stripes of the new grades. While this did not solve --the--problem--of --"zebra- stripes," the solution was- accompanied with the recommendation that the whole matter of revising the enlisted structure as to titles and insignia be studied. No complaints were voiced over the new rank insignia.
5 FEBRUARY 1959 - On this day the new regulation governing the titles of the various enlisted ranks is released. The only change concerns E-1s. Instead of the title "Basic Airman," the new regulation directs that "Airman Basic" is now the proper title.
15 MAY 1959 - A new edition of Air Force Manual 35-10 is published. It addresses an inequity to the enlisted force. At the time of the creation of the Air Force, formal evening uniforms were considered the provenance of the officer corps. At the time no one seriously believed enlisted personnel would have a need nor a desire for stately uniforms. Soon, however, enlisted people made their needs known and by 1959 the uniform manual caught up with the reality of the situation. While the black formal evening dress uniform was strictly for officers only, the dress white uniform was authorized for optional purchase and wear by all enlisted personnel. For the enlisted men, the insignia of grade was regulation size (four inches) with white chevrons on a white background. For the enlisted women, the same held true except the white chevrons were three inches wide. These white chevrons were used until the white dress uniform was discontinued in 1971.
28 FEBRUARY 1961 - A lightweight all tan uniform (shade 505) was approved by the uniform board. However, only three inch "WAF chevrons" were to be worn on the shirt. This necessitated a change of name. Since men were now wearing the "WAF chevrons," the official name of the three inch wide stripes became "small size.
12 JUNE 1961 - A new edition of Air Force Manual 35-10 revealed a new optional uniform for the enlisted ranks : the black Mess Dress Uniform. Previously prohibited from wearing the black formal wear, the new black mess dress brought about the need for chevrons with aluminum metallic on black background. These embroidered stripes are still in use for the mess dress at the present time.
JANUARY 1967 - Creation of the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force (CMSAF) with its own distinctive insignia.
22 AUGUST 1967 - On this day the uniform board started to explore methods to affix enlisted rank insignia on the raincoat. This problem will perplex the board until 1974.
19 OCTOBER 1967 - Airman grades, titles and terms of address were revised.to make the following changes, and to restore NCO status to grade E-4 : Airman Basic (no stripes), Airman (one stripe), Airman First Class (two stripes), Sergeant (three stripes), Staff Sergeant through Chief Master Sergeant, and First Sergeants, no change.
The change of title for pay grade E-4 from Airman First Class to Sergeant restored the NCO status lost to this grade in 1952 when the Air Force adopted new titles. The elevation of E-4 to NCO status also aligned Air Force grades with the other services, and recognition of the level of qualification and performance required of airmen in grade E-4. Airmen could not be promoted to E-4 until qualified at the 5-skill level, exactly the qualification required for promotion to Staff Sergeant. As a side benefit, the prestige gained from restoring NCO status and privileges to the E-4 grade came at a time when airman were approaching their first reenlistment point. At the time the Air Force was experiencing drastic losses as many did not reenlist. It was thought that achieving NCO 26 status at the end of the first enlistment would aid in retention.
25 NOVEMBER 1969 - The uniform board met on this day and approved the wear of the black background chevrons with aluminum color stripes and star on the white mess jacket and the informal white uniform coat in lieu of the authorized white-on-white chevrons. The white-on-white chevrons were allowed to be worn until 1 January 1971, at which time the black chevrons on those uniforms would be mandatory. The white-on-white stripes had been in use since 1959.
11 AUGUST 1970 - The uniform board directed that enlisted personnel will wear three inch chevrons on the tan 1505 short sleeve shirts.
4 DECEMBER 1970 - In search of an appropriate chevron for enlisted personnel to wear on their raincoats, the uniform board approved the concept of allowing.a plastic rank insignia to be worn on the collar. In addition, the use of such a plastic chevron was developed for use on the lightweight blue jacket and utility shirt.
21 SEPTEMBER 1971 - After various reactions to the plastic chevrons, the uniform board recommended further field testing, using both plastic and metal collar chevrons on the men's and women's raincoat, lightweight blue jacket, topcoat, utility shirt and organizational white medical uniforms.
23 AUGUST 1974 - General David C. Jones, the USAF Chief of Staff, approved the wear of metal collar chevrons by enlisted personnel on the raincoats, men's optional topcoat, lightweight blue jacket, medical and dental whites and the food handler's coat. This ended a seven-year debate begun in 1967. However, General Jones stressed that the use of traditional sleeve chevrons on other uniforms be maintained to the maximum extent practical.
30 DECEMBER 1975 - The E-2 through E-4 rank chevrons were reviewed in December 1975 during a CORONA TOP meeting which examined a proposed three-tier enlisted force organization. A new criteria for advancement to NCO status was decided and announced to the major commands on 30 December 1975. A key aspect of the new program was a new insignia for Senior Airmen and below. The insignia would sport a blue star instead of a silver star in the center of the chevrons.
JANUARY-FEBRUARY 1976 - To institute the change by 1 March 1976, liaison with the Institute of Heraldry and the Army and Air Force Exchange Service began to insure that the new insignia would be readily available. However, there was difficulty in obtaining the new blue-star chevrons because of normal lead time required by the garment industry to change to the new insignia. On 27 January 1976, the Institute of Heraldry advised the garment industry of the new Air Force requirements, and by 12 February 1976 Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) Pentagon Liaison office advised the Air Force that the insignia sources would be ready to supply by 1 March as desired.
However, late in February it was obvious that the garment industry could not support the 1 March date. Therefore, major commands were notified by Headquarters Air Force to postpone the implementation of the new rank until 1 June 1976.
1 JUNE 1976 - Because of the difficulty encountered in obtaining the new insignia at all bases throughout the Air Force, Consolidated Base Personnel offices were requested to insure that Base Clothing Stores and Base Exchanges were taking action to insure availability of the new insignia to meet requirements at their installation. The situation was complicated by the transfer of responsibility for Military Clothing Sales to the Army and Air Force Exchange Service during this period. The final result was a decision for AAFES to "force-feed" the requirements for each base directly to the Defense Personnel Service Center for the first 90 days following implementation on 1 June 1976.
Information courtesy of U.S. Air Force News Service, and the Air Force Historical Research Agency
The U.S. military has specific terms to denote authority and responsibility, and these terms vary depending on the branch. In the Army, Air Force and Marines, a member's rank determines his or her status and authority relative to other members. For instance, in the Army, a general outranks a private.
In the Navy and Coast Guard, the term "rate" is used for enlisted sailors instead of "rank." There are three main categories of rank and rate: Enlisted personnel, warrant officers, and commissioned officers.
The stripes and bars worn on the shoulders of the military uniform denote a person's rank or rate and are called insignia.
Enlisted members are trained to perform specialties within the military. As an enlisted member moves up the ranks, he or she assumes more responsibility. Enlisted personnel in certain grades have a special status known as non-commissioned officer status, or NCO. In the Navy and Coast Guard, such enlisted are called petty officers. In the Marine Corps, NCO status begins at the grade of E-4, which has the rank of corporal.
Warrant officers are highly-trained specialists who have an area of technical expertise, such as helicopter pilot. Warrant officers are found in each branch in the military except the Air Force, which discontinued appointing warrant officers in 1959. Unlike commissioned officers, warrant officers remain in their primary specialty to provide specialized knowledge and instruction to enlisted members and commissioned officers.
The highest-ranking members of the military are the commissioned officers. While some of them specialize in a given area, many rise through the ranks. A bachelor's degree and in some cases a master's degree is required before an enlisted member can become a commissioned officer.
The term "grade" describes personnel and pay functions. Military personnel across the services receive the same base pay, based on their rank or rate and time-in-service. Ranks and rates are named differently in different services, but grades are a universal descriptor across the branches of the military.
The lowest enlisted rank in the Air Force is the airman basic. That person is in the grade of E-1, and receives the same basic pay as an E-1 in the Army, who has the rank of private. The "E" pay grade indicates the member is enlisted. For officers, the pay grade begins with an "O." So an ensign in the Navy is an O-1 pay grade, the same grade as a second lieutenant in the Army.
For warrant officers, the pay grade designation begins with a "W."
The higher the number within the pay grade, the higher the salary. So an E-4 earns a bigger salary than an E-1.
Commissioned officers outrank enlisted members and warrant officers. Warrant officers outrank enlisted members. So a commissioned officer in the grade of O-1 would outrank an Army sergeant major in the grade of E-9.
And a W-2 grade would outrank an E-9, but also would be outranked by an O-1
Air Force Instruction 36-2903 addresses the wear of Air Force uniforms by Air Force retirees and Air Force veterans.
Retirees. Air Force retirees may wear the uniform under the following circumstances:
(1) military funerals, weddings, memorial services, and inaugurals
(2) patriotic parades on national holidays, other military parades or ceremonies in which any active or Reserve US military unit is taking part
(3) at educational institutions when engaged in giving military instructions or responsible for military discipline
(4) at social or other functions when the invitation has been influenced by the member's active military service
(5) when traveling to and from any function listed above, when travel in uniform is within 24 hours of the scheduled function.
Discharged Veterans. Veterans who served honorably (this includes honorable and general discharges) in the Air Force (including service with an air component of the Army before the Air Force was established), during a declared or undeclared war, may wear the uniform:
(1) at military funerals, memorial services, and inaugurals
(2) patriotic parades on national holidays; military parades or ceremonies in which any active or Reserve US military unit is taking part
(3) on any other occasion when authorized by law
Separated Airmen (regardless of whether or not they served during a time of war) may wear the uniform from place of discharge to home, within 3 months after discharge.
Medal of Honor Recipients. Medal of Honor recipients may wear the uniform at any time except:
(1) participating in public speeches, interviews, picket lines, marches or rallies, or in any public demonstration when the Air Force sanction of the cause for which the activity is conducted may be implied.
(2) furthering political activities, private employment, or commercial interests.
(3) working in an off-duty civilian capacity.
(4) participating in civilian court proceedings when the conviction would bring discredit
Note: Any individual wearing a US Military uniform is expected to reflect the high personal appearance standards and esprit de corps that the US Military in uniform represent. To this end, particular attention will be paid not only to the correct and military wear of uniform components, but also to the individualís personal and physical appearance. All personnel exercising the privilege of wearing a US Military service or dress uniform will comply fully with their service's grooming and weight control standards.
In the Army & Marines, an enlisted job is called an "MOS" (Military Occupation Specialty). In the Navy & Coast Guard, an enlisted job is called a "Rating." In the Air Force, and enlisted job is known as an "AFSC" (Air Force Specialty Code.
The 1st number in the AFSC is the career group. There are 9 Air Force Career Groups: 1-Operations; 2-Maintenance/Logistics; 3-Support; 4- Medical/Dental; 5-Legal/Chaplain; 6-Finance/Contracting; 7-Special Investigations; 8- Special Duty Assignments; 9-Special Reporting Identifiers.
The 2nd digit (letter) identifies the career field. The 3rd digit (numeral) indicates the career field subdivision (ie, job functional area). The 4th number in the AFSC indicates a person's skill-level. For example, someone with the AFSC "1A051" has a five-skill level. An individual receives the "1" (helper) skill-level when they enter technical school for the AFSC. Upon graduation from technical school, they receive the "3" (apprentice) skill level. Individuals are normally awarded the "5" (journeyman) skill level after a period of on-the-job training (OJT) and correspondence courses (Called "CDCs"). Depending on the job, this process can last anywhere between 12 and 18 months. Upon promotion to Staff Sergeant, individuals enter training for the "7" (craftsman) Skill Level. "7" level training consists of more CDCs, more OJT, and (for some jobs) a 7-level technical school. Upon promotion to E-8, the person receives a "9" (superintendent) skill level.
The final digit (numeral) indicates further job division within the same functional area. Specific skills (such as type of aircraft) are designated by suffixes, such as "A" or "B."
The origins of the military salute are not entirely clear. Some say it started with the Romans, and others believe it grew out of a tradition with medieval knights. However it came to be, there are specific rules about how and when to salute within the U.S. military.
U.S. military personnel in uniform are required to salute when they encounter someone entitled by grade or rank to a salute, such as a superior officer.
There are some exceptions: When in a moving vehicle it may be impractical to salute. And when in a combat situation, a salute is forbidden, since it could signal to a watching enemy who the officers are. They're more likely to be considered valuable targets.
The salute is considered a courteous exchange of greetings, with the junior military member always saluting first. When returning or rendering an individual salute, the head and eyes are turned toward the Colors or person saluted. When in ranks, the position of attention is maintained unless otherwise directed. All military personnel are required to salute the president, in his role as commander in chief.
When Saluting Is Not Required
Salutes are not rendered indoors, except in cases of formal reporting. When in formation, members don't return a salute unless commanded to do so. The usual procedure calls for the person in charge of the formation to salute on its behalf.
If a senior officer approaches, while military personnel are gathered in a group (but not in formation), whoever notices the officer first calls the group to attention. Then, all members salute the officer, and remain at attention until they're given permission to stand at ease, or when the officer departs.
Veterans and Saluting Out of Uniform
A provision of the 2009 Defense Authorization Act changed federal law to allow U.S. veterans and military personnel not in uniform to render the military hand-salute when the national anthem is played.
This change adds to a provision which was passed in the 2008 Defense Bill, which authorized veterans and military personnel in civilian clothes to render the military salute during the raising, lowering or passing of the flag.
Traditionally, veteransí service organizations rendered the hand-salute during the national anthem and at events involving the national flag while wearing their organizationís headgear, although this wasn't actually spelled out in federal law.
History of the Hand Salute
While its exact history is unknown, the practice of a hand salute probably began in ancient Rome. A citizen who wanted to meet with a senator or other public official had to demonstrate he didn't have a weapon, and would approach with his right hand visible or raised.
Another theory suggests the practice stems from knights in armor, who traditionally raised the visors on their helmets with their right hands. Whatever its origins, the salute eventually came to be seen as a sign of respect.
It's interesting to note that the traditional right-handed salute looks a little different in the Navy. The palm is turned downward, the thinking goes, because sailors' gloves and hands would be dirty from working on the deck of a ship, for instance. It was perceived as insulting to show a dirty palm to a superior officer.
Senior service members frequently address juniors by their first names, but this practice does not give juniors the privilege of addressing seniors in any way other than by proper titles. If airmen are present, senior service members should address junior service members by their titles.
Service members of the same grade, when among themselves, may address one another by their given names. Junior service members should always be conservative until they can sense what is appropriate. It's always better to err on the side of being too formal rather than too familiar.
The Army and Marine Corps call their enlisted jobs "MOS's," or "Military Occupation Specialties." The Navy and Coast Guard call their enlisted jobs "ratings." But, in the Air Force, enlisted jobs are known as "AFSCs," or "Air Force Specialty Codes."
The Air Force divides their AFSCs (enlisted jobs) into the following overall categories: Operations, Maintenance & Logistics, Support, Medical & Dental, Legal & Chaplain, Finance & Contracting, and Special Investigations.
Withing these categories, AFSCs are further assigned to "career fields." A career field may have one AFSC assigned to it, or it may have several. AFSCs with similar functions are grouped together in the same career field.
1A - Aircrew Operations
1B - Cyberspoace Career Field
1C - Command & Control Sytems Operations
1N - Intelligence
1P - Aircrew Equipment
1S - Safety
1T - Aircrew Protection
1U - Unmanned Aerospace Systems
1W - Weather
MAINTENANCE & LOGISTICS
2A - Aerospace Maintenance
2E - Comm-Elec/WireSystems Maintenance
2F - Fuels
2G - Logistics Plans
2M - Missile & Space Systems Maintenance
2P - Precision Measurement
2R - Maintenance Management Systems
2S - Material Management
2T - Transportation & Vehicle Maintenance
2W - Munitions & Weapons
3A - Information Management
3C - Communication-Computer Systems
3D - Cyberspace Support
3E - Civil Engineering
3H - Historian
3M - Services
3N - Public Affairs
3P - Security Forces (Military Police)
3S - Mission Support
3U - Manpower
3V - Multimedia
MEDICAL & DENTAL
4X - Medical
4Y - Dental
5J - Paralegal
5R - Chaplain Assistant
6C - Contracting
6F - Financial
7S - Special Investigations (OSI)
SPECIAL DUTY ASSIGNMENTS
Assignments are usually jobs that a member performs temporarily, working outside of their normal AFSC. When the special duty tour is completed, members usually return to their primary AFSC (enlisted job). Examples would be recruiter, first sergeant, or military training instructor.
8X - Special Duty Identifiers
9X - Special Reporting Identifiers