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Administrative Demotion Appeals

Few things are more demoralizing to a service member than an involuntary demotion. Administrative demotions are intended to be a force management tool to help commanders ensure a quality enlisted force and place service members at a rank commensurate with their skills and abilities. Unfortunately, administrative demotions are often misused to punish service members for alleged misconduct.

Military Justice Attorneys has helped service members appeal administrative demotions. Contact us today for your free consultation.


Administrative demotions can result in the loss of one or more ranks and cause service members to lose thousands of dollars in pay and allowances, not to mention severely damaging their military career and retirement.

While administrative demotions are supposed to occur only in rare circumstances, Air Force commanders frequently use administrative demotions as a way to punish service members suspected of misconduct. This improper demotion not only deprives service members of important due process rights, but often results in multiple rank reductions—a severe punishment that is otherwise reserved only for courts-martial.

Demotion Authority

AFI36-2502, Enlisted Airman Promotion/Demotion Programs, provides guidance and procedures on demoting enlisted Airmen. Under this instruction, a group commander, or equivalent level commander (e.g. senior Air Force officer in the grade of colonel), may demote MSgts and below.

The Major Command (MAJCOM) commander, Field Operating Agency (FOA) commander, and Direct Reporting Unit (DRU) commander may demote those in the grades of SMSgt and CMSgt, or delegate the authority to equivalent level commanders.

Commanders have broad discretion and can demote Airmen multiple grades—the equivalent of a special court-martial conviction. Airmen can be demoted as follows:

  • Demote a Senior Airman or higher (E-4 and above) no lower than Airman First Class (E-3) (with exceptions);
  • Demote an Airman First Class (E-3) no lower than Airman (E-2); and
  • Demote an Airman (E-2) to Airman Basic (E-1).

Commanders can even demote by “three or more grades when no reasonable hope exists that the Airman will ever show the proficiency, leadership, or fitness that earned the initial promotion.”

Reasons to Demote

Administrative demotions of active-duty Airmen are intended to be a force management tool to help commanders ensure a quality enlisted force and place service members at a rank commensurate with their skills and abilities. Common examples of proper reasons to demote include:

  • Student Status Termination (6.3.1.);
  • Demotion Based on Skill Levels (6.3.3.);
  • Failure to Fulfill Responsibilities (6.3.4.);
  • Failure to Keep Fit (6.3.5.);
  • Failure to Perform (6.3.6.);
  • Voluntary Reassignment or Reclassification (6.3.7.); and
  • If a member is promoted to SSgt, TSgt, or SMSgt with an approved EPME waiver and later is dismissed for cause, declines DL or in residence PME (6.3.2.).

Administrative demotions are NOT supposed to be used “when it is more appropriate to take actions specified by the Uniform Code Military Justice (UCMJ).” Unfortunately, this is often the exact reason why demotion is used by Air Force commanders.

Service Member’s Rights

A service member has limited rights during the administrative demotion process. This begins with the Unit Commander notifying the Airman in writing of their intent to demote. The notification must cite to AFI36-2502, the demotion authority, the recommended grade for demotion, the specific reasons for demotion, and include a summary of the facts.

Upon receiving the notification, the Airman can “not concur” with the proposed demotion and submit written matters on their behalf. The Airman can also request a personal before the initiating commander. If eligible, the Airman can apply for retirement in lieu of a demotion, effective no later than the first day of the fourth month following the initial notification of demotion. The Airman must apply for retirement within 3 working days of receipt of demotion notification memorandum.

Airmen are advised to seek legal counsel in making these determinations. Practically speaking, this is the Airman’s best opportunity to rebut and terminate the demotion action. If a persuasive rebuttal is received, a commander can immediately terminate the demotion process. The commander is only required to inform the Airman of what occurred.

Appealing a Demotion

After being processed by the initiating commander, the demotion is presented to the “demotion authority” for action. The demotion authority can not only approve the recommendation but has the power to take additional grade reductions other than the initiation commander’s recommendation.

However, an approved demotion decision can be appealed. Once informed of the grade to which he or she is demoted, an Airman can appeal the demotion to the appellate authority within 3 working days. The demotion authority can reverse the previous decision and restore the airman’s original grade, or forward the case to the appellate authority without comment. If the appellate authority approves the appeal, the appellate authority can direct that the Airman’s previous grade be restored and the demotion orders revoked.


The Air Force’s use of administrative demotions is a devastating tool which can result in the loss of multiple grades—the equivalent of a special court-martial punishment. Unfortunately, this process is often misused to punish Airmen for alleged misconduct, thereby depriving them of important due process rights at nonjudicial punishment or court-martial. Airmen facing demotion can fight demotion through effective rebuttals and appeals.

Contact MJA Today

If you are facing administrative demotion, contact one of our military defense lawyers today to learn more about your rights.

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