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The Golden Anniversary of the Rank of Chief Master Sergeant

  • Published
  • By Bryan D. Carnes
  • Air Force Materiel Command Public Affairs
Chief master sergeants weren't a part of the Air Force's enlisted structure when the service was formed in 1947. In fact, it took 11 more years until the rank even existed.

This year marks the 50th anniversary that the United States Air Force created the rank of chief master sergeant, adding another important chapter to the Air Force's Enlisted Heritage.

The need to create the chief master sergeant rank was forged from the technology that World War II produced. In the attempt to end the war as quickly as possible, the United States, along with other countries, dedicated teams of scientist and engineers to create the most advanced war-winning capabilities possible.

While the U.S. military was fighting the war in Africa, Europe and Asia, the United States was producing the most advanced technology ever seen. The emergence of faster aircraft, bombers, advanced electronics, radar systems and missiles were on the rise.

With the growth of aviation during the war, President Harry S. Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947 creating the U.S. Air Force. It was on Sept. 18, 1947, that the Air Force became a separate entity which "shall include aviation forces both combat and service not otherwise assigned."

It was not until after the Korean War that the Air Force realized that the enlisted corps suffered from stagnation in rank. Master sergeant (E-7) was the highest enlisted rank a person could achieve. It was then that Congress enacted the Career Compensation Act of 1958.

The act allowed the Air Force to create two new ranks, senior master sergeant (E-8) and chief master sergeant (E-9). Air force personnel officials conducted an in-depth study of all Air Force specialty codes and organized the career fields into highly technical, technical and non-technical fields.

It was decided that 1 percent of the master sergeants from the highly technical fields would be promoted to chief master sergeant. This is still true today, as only 1 percent of the enlisted force at any given time, reach the rank of chief master sergeant.

There were 58,000 master sergeants which qualified for promotion to either of the two grades. A promotion board was held consisting of demonstrated leadership and supervisory skills, evaluations and commander recommendation. Six hundred and twenty-five people were selected to the rank chief master sergeant. Since there were no line numbers at the time, they all were promoted on the same day, Dec. 1, 1959, becoming the Air Force's Charter Chiefs.

The rank has flourished since 1959, earning the respect of all other services and ranks. During the 1970s the Air Staff made the official term of address for an E-9 as Chief.

One of the original Charter Chiefs, retired Chief Master Sgt. James J. Flaschenriem wrote, "the Chief does not manage by fear or intimidation as the old First Sergeant did but by knowledge, training and great leadership ability."