Most U.S. Air Force Airmen hear about the possibility of being promoted to senior airman “Below the Zone” when they go through basic military training.
BTZ is a competitive early promotion program offered to those in the rank of airman first class who stand out from their peers and perform duties at a level above their current rank.
Selection opportunity is 15 percent of the total time-in-grade and time-in-service eligible Airmen. Those selected are promoted to senior airman effective six months prior to the fixed fully-qualified phase point.
“Earning BTZ comes from dedication beginning in basic training, and sustaining the standard of excellence through your technical training schools and at your duty station,” said Chief Master Sgt. Trae King, 633rd Air Base Wing command chief master sergeant. “In today’s Air Force, we are deliberately developing leaders, which gives us the opportunity to identify those who set themselves apart.”
For Airmen who strive for success early in their careers, achieving BTZ is an important goal, allowing them a chance to excel.
“[The program] gives leaders an opportunity to recognize those Airmen who go above and beyond,” said King. “When you make BTZ, you’re almost a noncommissioned officer so there are more responsibilities and opportunities available.”
To be eligible for BTZ, Airmen in the rank of airmen first class must have 36 months TIS and 20 months TIG, or 28 months TIG, whichever occurs first, and be recommended by their commander.
King said Airmen who make BTZ do more than concentrate on excelling in their career field. Airmen like Senior Airman Daniel Ramos, 633rd Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle fleet manager, push themselves in other areas, including community involvement, professional development and education.
“Making BTZ is about being a well-rounded Airman,” said Ramos. “You have to find what is important to you and make those things priority. For me, it was being the best I could be at my job, my volunteer work and going to school.”
Another important consideration for BTZ, depending on the time of year an Airman is eligible, if selected, they may get the chance to test for promotion to become an NCO early.
“I was originally supposed to be promoted to senior airman May 2013, which means I would have had to wait until 2014 to test for staff sergeant,” said Ramos. “Because I made BTZ, I ‘sewed on’ senior airman six months early, so I was able to meet the TIG requirement to test in 2013.”
For Ramos, the promotion served as motivation to continue pursuing excellence when it came time to test for promotion.
“It gave me a boost of confidence,” said Ramos. “I knew that I had proven myself in my unit, but I couldn’t stop there, so I pushed myself harder to study and I made staff sergeant the first time I tested.”
Making BTZ may serve as inspiration and motivation for Airmen to continue to seek leadership opportunities. However, King said those Airmen who are not nominated for BTZ, and those who are nominated, but don’t make it, should not consider it a negative impact to their career.
“I never made BTZ, but I used it to push myself harder to reach my goals,” said King. “You still have to pursue excellence. The race isn’t given to the swift; it’s given to the one who endures to the end.”