Air Force senior-tier NCOs (E-7 and above) typically enjoy the prestige and perks of senior NCO, or Non-Commissioned Officer, status. That status comes with heightened military responsibilities for technical excellence in their chosen fields, as well as expectations for leadership and training the junior airmen assigned to them.
Here is a rundown of the rank structure for the senior NCO tier and how you can identify them through their array of stripes worn on their uniforms.
Master Sergeant (E-7)
Look for one upper chevron (in an inverted V position) above the five lower stripes. Master Sergeants are the craftsmen and senior supervisors in their technical specialties. At this NCO level, Master Sergeants can expect to perform duties from more of a managerial perspective and with significantly increased responsibilities. Master Sergeants have served a little over 16 years to earn that additional upper chevron.
Senior Master Sergeant (E-8)
Senior Master Sergeants wear two upper chevrons above the lower five stripes and center star. They perform duties as superintendents as well as managers, holding the highest skill level in their particular specialties. Senior Master Sergeants have been in the Air Force almost 20 years (19.1 is the average) to earn the Air Force’s second highest enlisted rank.
Chief Master Sergeant (E-9)
Chief Master Sergeants wear three upper and five lower stripes. They hold the highest Air Force enlisted rank, except for the chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force. They provide the senior enlisted leadership and can fill any managerial-level position in their specialties. Chief Master Sergeants have been around the longest, typically serving at least 22.6 years before being eligible for promotion.
Special Air Force Rank Insignias
The Air Force has the rank of First Sergeant, who can be in pay grades E-7, E-8 or E-9. First Sergeants wear a special diamond insignia between their upper and lower stripes. They exercise authority over all enlisted personnel assigned to their unit and work directly for the unit commander in all matters that affect assigned enlisted personnel. They are technically senior in status and authority to their E-7, E-8 or E-9 counterparts.
Command Chief Master Sergeant
Command Chief Master Sergeants are at pay grade E-9 and perform First Sergeant-type duties at upper command echelons – Wing and higher. They wear a single-star insignia in the blue field between the upper and lower chevrons. They serve as senior enlisted advisers to high ranking Air Force commanders for all matters relating to enlisted personnel.
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force
The CMSAF is the senior enlisted man or woman in the entire U.S. Air Force and serves as senior enlisted adviser to the Chief of Staff and the Secretary of the Air Force. The rank insignia is five lower and three upper stripes. Where a Command Chief Master Sergeant wears a star, the CMSAF wears the great seal of the United States with a star on either side. Also, instead of the single star between the lower five stripes, the CMSAF wears a laurel wreath around the Air Force star in the middle.
So the next time you see that veteran Air Force senior NCO with a blue uniform sleeve full of blue-bordered silver stripes you’ll know that you are in the presence of a true professional and leader in our outstanding Air Force. Look for that one upper chevron – or two, or three – and don’t forget to thank any service member that crosses your path for all his or her years of service.
If you’re looking to find a special gift of thanks or recognition for an Air Force veteran that you know, check out our Stainless Steel Air Force Branch Tag Bracelet — it’s a big hit!
At *your* service,