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Feature | Jan. 21, 2014

'Below the Zone' program promotes exemplary Airmen

By Senior Airman Teresa Aber 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Many Airman hear about the possibility of being promoted to Senior Airman "Below The Zone" when they go through basic military training.

For Airmen who strive for success early in their careers, making BTZ is an important goal they set for themselves. It is a chance for them to excel ahead of their peers.

"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 633rd Air Base Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. Trae King. "In today's Air Force, we are deliberately developing leaders, which gives us the opportunity to identify those who set themselves apart."

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 population. Those selected are promoted to senior airman, effective six months prior to the fixed fully-qualified phase point..

"It 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."

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, such as involvement in the local community, professional development organizations and continuing education.

"Making BTZ was 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."

Depending on the time of year an Airman is eligible for BTZ, if promoted, they may get the chance to test for promotion to become an NCO early. 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 the commander.

"I was originally supposed to be promoted to Senior Airman in May of 2013, which means I would have to wait until 2014 to test for staff sergeant," said Ramos. "Because I made BTZ, I sewed on Senior Airman six months early in November of 2012 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 lead and seek leadership opportunities. However, those Airmen who are not nominated for BTZ, and those who are nominated, but don't make it, should not consider it an end-all, be-all 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."