Learn from my mistake: Get your CCAF done Published March 27, 2012 By Master Sgt. Bill Fortenberry 8th Civil Engineer Squadron first sergeant KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- I want to first start off by saying that I absolutely love the Air Force. This July will be 23 years I have served in the greatest Air Force this world has ever seen. I have loved my jobs both on the aircraft maintenance side as well as the first sergeant side. However, there is one regret I have based on a mistake that I think many can learn from. When the first sergeants were asked to write a commentary for our Kunsan website, I jumped at the chance to share my story in hopes of keeping someone from making the same mistake I did. My mistake is pretty simple, but I can tell you without a doubt it has set me back at least four years from making senior master sergeant. That mistake is not having my Community College of the Air Force degree when I was time-in-grade eligible to test for senior master sergeant. I did have my Senior NCO Academy Course 12 (now Course 14) completed, but you can safely interchange these two while reading this, because not having either of them complete when TIG eligible will prevent you from receiving a senior rater endorsement on your enlisted performance report. This basically eliminates your chance of reaching the top two enlisted grades for not only that cycle, but for the next three to five cycles in most career fields. I could make a million excuses for why I didn't have my CCAF completed. None of them are good. The fact is through CLEP, DANTES and college classes that are paid for 100 percent, it is very easy to get your associate's degree through the CCAF program. Every base has an education centers to help you through this simple process. I took two CLEPs and two classes and I was done. Why did I put this off for so long? It was so easy! I graduated from the CCAF in February 2009 and now have a second CCAF associate's degree. Also thanks to the outstanding military education benefits we have, I am two classes from my bachelor's degree. This is all great, except for the major blemish that is on my promotion records because of an EPR that is not senior rater endorsed because I didn't have my CCAF when I was supposed to. That EPR is great in all other aspects, as are all of my EPRs. To show you how much it has affected me, since that EPR I have three more on top that are all fantastic EPRs that are senior rater endorsed. My last two EPRs have major awards, wing stratifications in the top 3 percent, and outstanding accomplishments and leadership bullets. I have great medals to include two Meritorious Service Medals and my progression in job titles is exactly how it should be. My only blemish is not having my CCAF which caused my EPR to close out at the deputy commander more than three years ago. Despite the stellar stuff before and after that EPR, I was only able to garner two average and slightly above average rating on this promotion board. Even if I had scored a 100 percent on the Professional Development Guide test, I wouldn't have made it. That is because your board score makes up more than 50 percent of your overall score. So please don't think that a good test score will make up for blemishes in your records - it won't! I stand a very good chance of making senior master sergeant next year with another good score on my PDG. This is enhanced mostly by my TIG and time in service. Blemishes are recoverable: it just takes time and a lot of effort to bury them. Not having my squares filled when I should has set me back at least four years from making senior master sergeant. I ask you to learn from my mistakes. Get your CCAF and Course 14 done early. If your goal is senior master sergeant and chief master sergeant, those are awesome goals! Competition is tight enough as it is to make the top 3 percent. Get your stuff done early and make sure the Airmen you supervise get their stuff done early! I have a saying: "The best mistake to learn from is someone else's." Please learn from mine and set yourself up for success instead of playing catch up for three to five years. The Air Force needs the best of the best in the top two grades. Don't eliminate yourself or delay your promotion for years because of something so simple.