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Happy Birthday Chief Master Sergeants

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Release No. 12-01-09

Dec. 2, 2009

Golden anniversary for chief master sergeant rank

by Bryan D. Carnes

Air Force Materiel Command Public Affairs

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFRNS) -- Chief master sergeants were not a part of the Air Force's enlisted structure when the service was formed in 1947. It took 11 years until the rank was created.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment by Air Force officials of the chief master sergeant rank, 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, officials in the United States, along with those of other countries, dedicated teams of scientists 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, U.S. researchers were 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 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, however, that Air Force officials realized that the enlisted corps suffered from stagnation in rank. Master sergeant, or 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 Air Force officials, and those from other uniformed services, to create two new ranks, senior master sergeant, or E-8, and chief master sergeant, or 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 to review records and look for demonstrated leadership and supervisory skills, evaluations and commander recommendations. Of those, 625 Airmen were selected to become chief master sergeants. 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, Air Staff officials made "chief" the official term of address for an E-9.

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." (Courtesy of Air Force Print News)

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I still remember the day my Line Chief sewed on the SMSGT stripes, and then on the next cycle, became one of the first USAF CMSGTs. That became my goal, and was attained in 1975 - before my 20th anniversary.

Will Tory, CMSGT, USAF, Ret

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