History of the rank, top one percent

  • Published
  • By Andrea Jenkins
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs

It has been 57 years since the first Airmen earned the rank of chief master sergeant. Chiefs weren't a part of the enlisted structure when the Air Force was created in 1947.

In fact, it took 11 years and an act of Congress before the rank even existed and Jan. 28, Moody added seven of their own to the long lineage.

“The chief master sergeant rank is limited to one percent of the enlisted force and was intended to be a rank with leadership and education above what was formally expected from a master sergeant,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jody Cooper, one of Moody’s recent chief inductees. 

Senior leaders felt the enlisted force suffered from stagnation in the ranks because master sergeant was the highest enlisted rank, so to alleviate congestion, Congress enacted the Career Compensation Act of 1958. This act allowed the Air Force to create the ranks of senior master sergeant and chief master sergeant, for its technical career fields.

This is still somewhat true today, as only one percent of the enlisted force at any given time, reach the rank of chief master sergeant.

“A chief is the pinnacle of the enlisted force and it is what we strive to become,” said Cooper. “I am humbled to have made chief. A chief has the pleasure of knowing everyone is watching, listening and has the burden not to fail at anything. A chief has to have the courage to take on the things that matter to his folks, no matter what the cost.”


The Enlisted Force Structure or “little brown book,” states: Airmen in the grade of chief master sergeant will serve as key leaders at all levels in the Air Force and epitomize the finest qualities of a military leader.

“We are expected to provide leadership to the enlisted, while advising commanders,” said Chief Master Sgt. Jarrod Sebastian, 23d Wing command chief. “The role continues to evolve as time goes on in my opinion.”

Now that they have made it to the top, the expectation of these seven promotees will be to teach Airmen balance, Sebastian added.

“The AF is asking a lot of our Airmen, these leaders need to recognize the changes and demands Airmen are going through - everything from upgrade training, professional development to deployments.” said Sebastian. “They need to be able to live and explain balance as much as possible to our Airmen.

“Leaders need to take care of our Airmen, they truly are the most important asset we have. Finally, they need to help develop leaders,” said Sebastian.  “We must be deliberate in our efforts to develop the next generation of Airmen; we have no higher calling.”

Since the first 1700 Airmen pinned on the stripe in 1960, the rank of chief has evolved to hold a very distinctive role in the force and has grown to earn the respect of all other services and ranks.

 “I will do my best to be a good example and ambassador for the Air Force,” said Senior Master Sgt. Brendan Deligio, another Moody chief inductee.

“I worked in the joint arena for 10 years before coming to Moody.  A common theme among the services is, quality leadership is recognized regardless of branch of service, sometimes regardless of rank.  I hope to epitomize the leaders I respect and learned from as I progressed in my career, and pass some of that knowledge to future leaders.”