Fewer Air Force captains promoted to major as competition stiffens

by Vern Evans

Nearly 2,000 Air Force captains were chosen to rise to the rank of major in 2024, in a slightly tougher selection round for those who sought to climb the career ladder to O-4.

About 84% of airmen who were considered — 1,995 captains of the Air Force’s 2,367 captains — were tapped to advance, the service said Thursday. That’s a slight dip from 2023′s major selection board, which gave the nod to 86% of eligible airmen.

The 2024 majors-select include 84.3% of eligible captains in air operations and special warfare jobs; 74% in nuclear and missile operations; 87.7% in information warfare; 84.1% in combat support; and 81.4% in force modernization. Those fields comprise the bulk of Air Force careers under what was previously known as the “Line of the Air Force.”

Selection rates fell in 2024 for all captains except those in nuclear and missile operations, and information warfare, data provided to Air Force Times shows. About one-third of those selected in 2024 had been passed over for promotion to O-4 at least once before.

As the lowest-ranking field-grade officers, airmen typically spend about 10 years on active duty before attaining the rank of major and serve as senior staff officers in their squadrons. About 13,300 majors were serving in the Air Force as of the end of February, according to Pentagon data.

Thursday’s release also notes that 58 of 226 eligible majors who work in biomedical sciences will be promoted to lieutenant colonel, for a selection rate of 25.7%.

In 2023, the service began including advanced degrees as a factor in considering airmen for promotion to major or lieutenant colonel. While holding a master’s degree or doctorate doesn’t guarantee promotion, the Air Force said, it wants to assemble a senior officer corps with extra skills and knowledge that can give the U.S. an edge in future conflicts.

“We need leaders and supporting staff throughout the [Department of the Air Force] … who have deep expertise in emerging technologies and their applications to military operations. We must also have leaders with expertise in the cultures of our potential adversaries,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said in December 2023. “Such expertise and associated critical thinking skills are developed from many sources and experiences, including advanced academic degree programs.”

The full list of majors-select is available here.

Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.

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