U.S. Air Force ranks are divided into three major categories within the chain of command: Enlisted (E-1 through E-4), Non-Commissioned Officers (E-5 through E-9), and Commissioned Officers (O-1 through O-10). The letter and number in parentheses represent the corresponding title and pay grade of the Airman. Rank is not synonymous with pay grade. It encompasses job duties and leadership duties, as represented by the respective insignia. Airmen admitted to carry out core missions in air and space authority have diverse opportunities for career development.
Enlisted Airmen (E-1 through E-4)
Airman Basic (E-1)
Airman Basic represents the entry-level rank for newly enlisted members. Airmen enrolled in this stage undergo basic training to become familiarized with the culture of the Air Force. The primary obligation of the airman is to learn the customs and procedures during this stage, while working under the tutelage of more experienced enlisted members.
AMN is the next entry-level rank directly above Airman Basic. This is a period of adjustment where the Airman graduates from basic training and orients themselves to the Air Force.
This rank is regarded as a junior rank called Airman First Class. It is expected of the A1C to have fully adjusted to the Air Force life and is well-suited to engage in activities demanding leadership, which also includes being a mentor to younger Airmen.
Senior Airman (SrA/E-4)
SrA is the highest enlisted rank before advancing to a non-commissioned officer (NCO). The role of SrA requires advanced efficacy and performance when it comes to their speciality area. Most Senior Airmen are required to undergo a period of supervisory duty to prepare themselves for the role as NCO. Their duties consist of recruiting and basic instruction at foundational training.
Non-Commissioned Officer (E-5 through E-9)
NCOs are considered senior enlisted officers. Their roles demand a skillset which demonstrates effective leadership skills with mentorship, continuing education, and training.
Staff Sergeant (SSgt/E-5)
This rank entails professionalism and expertise as an effective mentor to other members. Staff Sergeants may take the role of supervising subordinates within their own department, cooperate with other officers, and write performance reports and prepare other professional documents.
Technical Sergeant (TSgt/E-6)
As the title suggests, these Airmen are highly-skilled and apt in completing several responsibilities to assist in the operation of their department. The TSgt is given to members who have served for over ten years in the USAF.
Master Sergeant (MSgt/E-7)
The MSgt advance toward more prominent leadership roles as superintendents, flight chiefs and section chiefs. They are assigned with the tasks of composing memorandums and reports, writing professional documents and support the welfare of the unit.
First Sergeant (E-7 to E-9)
This position is not considered a rank, rather a special assignment role for a senior-NCO. The First Sergeant is typically assigned to a flight unit and reports directly to the deputy commander.
Senior Master Sergeant (SMSgt/E-8)
This rank is placed in an operational position in their unit. A SMSgt is expected to fulfill managerial roles and mentor younger members in training.
Chief Master Sergeant (CMSgt/E-9)
A CMSgt is a senior NCO and works in the capacity of the director within the unit. Their major duty is to implement policies to create a functional and professional environment.
Command Chief Master Sergeant (E-9)
Their responsibilities are similar to Chief Master Sergeants, which include mentoring junior officers and assuming leadership of all personnel in their unit.
Commissioned officers are appointed by the Senate and have a long-term military career.
Second Lieutenant (2d LT/O-1)
A Second Lieutenant is the lowest rank given to newly commissioned officers. 2d LTs can expect to invest time in training as a pilot, combat system officer, or air battle managers.
First Lieutenant (1st Lt/O-2)
This is a junior rank officer directly above Second Lieutenant. The difference between these two is the difference in experience.
A Captain in the Air Force typically achieves rank within four years as CO. The Captain is the highest rank as a company-grade officer. A Capt is highly-qualified and may serve as a flight commander or head of the department. All personnel rely on the guidance from the Captain to carry out military operations.
This position is the lowest field grade officer rank. Their roles comprise of fulfilling administrative roles at a squadron or wing level under the direction of their superior. In flying units, a Major may be considered a flight commander or director of operations, or a squadron commander in non-flying units. Their focus is more on the managerial aspects, serving as a mentor to young lieutenants and captains.
Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col/O-5)
This rank is earned after a member has completed twenty years of service and is near the end of their military career. They are expected to serve as a squadron commander in a group.
A Colonel is the highest field grade officer rank, directly below the General. Colonels demonstrate strong leadership abilities throughout their military careers. They are capable of the prodigious task as wing commander, roughly between 1,000 to 4,000 airmen. Their role is to make decisions for the betterment of the missions and conditions of the base.
Brigadier General (Brig Gen/O-7)
A Brigadier General is the lowest general officer rank. They typically serve as a wing or base commander. Their duties may extend beyond base duty.
Major General (Maj Gen/O-8)
Major General in the USAF is a two-star general officer rank. The vetting process for general officers becomes selective as the officer progresses. A Major General can serve as senior directors on joint staffs or the vice commander to a lieutenant general.
Lieutenant General (Lt Ge/O-9)
The Lieutenant General in the Air Force holds three-stars and is directly under the General. Their duties involve administrative and operational decisions. Some job roles may include command of a management headquarter known as MAJCOM or serving the Pentagon.
A General is the highest-ranked officer in the USAF and holds four stars. They are the principal leaders of NAF or assigned other duties such as treaty organizations such as NATO, and as the Chief of Staff.