Senior Airman
Senior airman is the fourth enlisted rank
United States Air Force enlisted rank insignia
The chart below represents the current enlisted rank insignia of the United States Air Force.While all Air Force military personnel are referred to as Airmen, it can specifically refer to the pay grades of E-1 through E-4 which are below the level of non-commissioned officers...

 in the United States Air Force
United States Air Force
The United States Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the American uniformed services. Initially part of the United States Army, the USAF was formed as a separate branch of the military on September 18, 1947 under the National Security Act of...

, just above airman first class
Airman First Class
Airman first class is the third enlisted rank in the United States Air Force, just above airman and below senior airman. The rank of airman first class is considered a junior enlisted rank, with the non-commissioned officers and senior non-commissioned officers above it.Airman first class is a...

 and below staff sergeant
Staff Sergeant
Staff sergeant is a rank of non-commissioned officer used in several countries.The origin of the name is that they were part of the staff of a British army regiment and paid at that level rather than as a member of a battalion or company.-Australia:...

. It has a pay grade
Pay grade
Pay grades are used by the uniformed services of the United States to determine wages and benefits based on the corresponding military rank of a member of the services...

 of E-4. Between its approval on 30 December 1975 (with implementation 1 June 1976) and 19 March 1991, senior airmen wore sleeve chevrons with blue center stars instead of silver to distinguish them from the non-commissioned officer rank of "sergeant", also a pay grade of E-4. The latter was abolished in 1991 and the blue center star was changed to white to conform to all enlisted rank chevrons.

The Air Force promotes an airman first class
Airman First Class
Airman first class is the third enlisted rank in the United States Air Force, just above airman and below senior airman. The rank of airman first class is considered a junior enlisted rank, with the non-commissioned officers and senior non-commissioned officers above it.Airman first class is a...

 to senior airman upon a commander's recommendation after 36 months time in service and 20 months time as an airman first class, or 28 months time as an airman first class, whichever comes first. Outstanding airmen first class, limited to no more than 15 percent of the total, may be promoted to senior airmen six months early, in a competitive process called Below-the-Zone
Below the zone
Below the zone is a competitive early promotion program offered to enlisted U.S. Air Force personnel in the grade of Airman First Class/E-3. This early promotion opportunity is restricted to elite Airmen who stand out from their peers and perform duties at a level above their current rank...

 which normally involves going before a competitive board. Senior airmen are expected to be technically proficient and begin to develop leadership skills, and may be expected to supervise an airman of lesser rank.

Senior airmen must attend the six-week Airman Leadership School
Airman Leadership School
Airman Leadership School is a five week-long United States Air Force program designed to develop airmen into effective front-line supervisors. It is the first professional military education that enlisted Air Force members encounter...

, the first course of the Air Force's College of enlisted professional military education, before being promoted to staff sergeant.


Formerly, from 1976 to 1991, this grade was divided into ranks with separate titles: sergeant (referred to unofficially but almost universally within the USAF as "buck sergeant" or simply "buck"), a non-commissioned officer
Non-commissioned officer
A non-commissioned officer , called a sub-officer in some countries, is a military officer who has not been given a commission...

; and senior airman, which is the equivalent of specialist
Specialist (rank)
Specialist is one of the four junior enlisted ranks in the U.S. Army, just above Private First Class and equivalent in pay grade to Corporal. Unlike Corporals, Specialists are not considered junior non-commissioned officers...

, a non-supervisory rank. Senior airmen were promoted to sergeant after 12 months' time in grade and completion of the now-defunct non-commissioned officer preparatory course. This schism reflected a desire by the Air Force in 1976 to subdivide enlisted ranks into a three-tier organization, a move which was resisted by the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force
The Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force is a unique non-commissioned rank in the United States Air Force. The holder of this rank and post represents the highest enlisted level of leadership in the Air Force, and as such, provides direction for the enlisted corps and represents their interests,...

, resulting in the compromise dual-rank that lasted fifteen years. The last Air Force promotions to sergeant were effective 1 May 1991. Those personnel who had been promoted to sergeant prior to this cut off date retained the rank until being promoted to a higher rank or leaving the service. There are no longer any personnel on active duty who hold this rank. Due to high year of tenure rules in effect at the time, the last person hold the rank was forced out of the Air Force on 23 March 1998. Sergeants wore the same chevrons as present-day senior airmen. Senior airmen wore similar chevrons, but with a blue (green on the fatigue or battle dress uniform
Battle Dress Uniform
The Battle Dress Uniform were the fatigues that the armed forces of the United States used as their standard uniform for combat situations from September 1981 to April 2005. Since then, it has been replaced in every branch of the U.S. military. Only the U.S. Navy currently authorizes wear of the...

) subdued central star, as did all airmen in the lowest tier.

As with any change in policy, many airmen supported this change, while others protested. The grades of senior airman and sergeant held the same pay grade, but sergeants were expected to supervise other airmen as part of their duties as non-commissioned officers. Those against the change protested that the rank of sergeant prepared airmen for transition to staff sergeant, and that new staff sergeants would therefore be less well-trained for their new position. Supporters argued that proper leadership training eliminated the need for a separate rank within the pay grade; moreover, the rank created disparity between individuals earning the same pay and benefits and, often, performing the same duties, since often there were no additional junior airmen in a given duty section for a new buck sergeant to supervise. Today, senior airmen who complete Airman Leadership School may supervise lower-ranking airmen but are not considered non-commissioned officers.

Senior airmen are the lowest USAF rank eligible for selection as a military training instructor for USAF basic military training.

Today, the USAF is again the only United States military service that does not have an non-commissioned officer rank at the E-4 pay grade. Previously, from 1947 to 1952, and from 1967 to 1997, the rank of sergeant was an NCO rank in the USAF.
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