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Air Force Military Ranks

Understanding Air Force military ranks, is essential to understanding how the U.S. Air Force is structured. Like all branches of the military, commissioned and enlisted U.S. Air Force airmen are assigned a ranking commiserate with their education, background, performance and experience. Rank plays a major role in the life of that airman, impacting the jobs and assignments he receives as well as the compensation afforded to him. Following is a list of the enlisted and officer rankings along with their pay levels.

Air Force Military Ranks

This list of Air Force military ranks includes ranks for enlisted personnel as well as for officers. Listed first is the rank, followed by the abbreviation and the pay grade.


  • Airman Basic, AB, E-1
  • Airman, Amn, E-2
  • Airman First Class, A1C, E-3
  • Senior Airman or Sergeant, SrA, E-4
  • Staff Sergeant SSgt, E-5
  • Technical Sergeant TSgt, E-6
  • Master Sergeant MSgt, E-7
  • Senior Master Sergeant, SMSgt, E-8
  • Chief Master Sergeant, CMSgt, E-9
  • Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, CMSAF, E-10


  • Second Lieutenant, 2d Lt, O-1
  • First Lieutenant, 1st Lt, O-2
  • Captain, Capt, O-3
  • Major, Maj, O-4
  • Lieutenant Colonel, Lt Col, O-5
  • Colonel, Col, O-6
  • Brigadier Genera, Brig Gen, O-7
  • Major General, Maj Gen, O-8
  • Lieutenant General, Lt Gen, O-9
  • General, Gen, O-10
  • General of the Air Force (wartime rank), GOAF, O-10

Benefits and Promotions in the Air Force

Once you know about the Air Force military ranks, it is interesting to see how pay raises and benefits are affected by rank. The Air Force pays its personnel twice a month on the 1st and 15th. Airmen can receive promotions based on performance, knowledge of the job, and the amount of time they have remained at their pay grade. Vacation time is awarded at the rate of 2 ½ days for every month up to 60 days a year.

Other benefits of being in the Air Force include medical and dental health care, inexpensive life insurance, tax-free Basic Allowance for Housing if government housing is not available, and Basic Allowance for Subsistence if there are no food facilities. As a member of the Air Force, only the federal and state governments tax your basic monthly pay. You may also qualify for tuition assistance for college and may qualify for a VA home loan.

How to Become an Officer

To be an officer in the Air Force you have to be a United States citizen and hold a bachelor's degree. You also need to have high moral standards and be physically fit. There are several ways to become an officer in the Air Force. These include AFROTC (Air Force Reserve Officers' Training Corps), the United States Air Force Academy, OTS (Officer Training School), the Airmen Education and Commissioning Program.

Air Force Reserve Officers' Training Corps

This is a two or four year program offered at colleges and universities. It enables a college student to earn a commission while completing their degree. You can enroll at the beginning of your freshman year or during your sophomore year. A requirement is enrolling in the aerospace studies course. During the final two years of the program, participants receive 150 dollars a month tax-free and they may also apply for scholarships that can help with tuition, textbooks, and other expenses.

United States Air Force Academy

The Academy is located in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and trains officers during four years of education that leads to a Bachelor of Science degree. Cadets study science, engineering, humanities, and social science. Attention is also given to physical conditioning, military training, and moral development. Cadets may specialize in one of 25 academic majors.

Airmen Education and Commissioning Program

This is a program for active duty personnel who already have 45 college credits. Fields of study include computer science, computer engineering, meteorology, electronic engineering, and nursing. After enrolling in this program, airmen are promoted to Staff Sergeant, which is an E-5 pay grade, and receive full pay, benefits, and extra money for tuition and textbooks.

Officer Training School

To attend OTS, you need to be a US citizen between 18 and 35 years of age, take the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test (AFOQT) and the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or the American College Test (ACT), pass the Air Force Physical Fitness Test, and have a physical exam six months before you apply. If you are currently enlisted, you need to have at least 90 college credits. If you are a pilot, the maximum age is 28½.

Understanding Military Ranks

It is essential that everyone fully understand their role in the chain of command so decisions can be made rapidly in the line of fire. These military air force ranks help to provide the clear delineation necessary for a military operation to run successfully.

For more information or to explore opportunities with the U.S. Air Force, visit their website.