JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. – Chief Master Sgt. JoAnne S. Bass formally took the reins Aug. 14 as the Air Force’s 19th Chief Master Sergeant, in the process becoming the first woman and the first person of Asian American descent to be elevated to the service’s highest-ranking enlisted officer.
In remarks after the formal “Change of Responsibility” ceremony in which she assumed the job from retiring Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright, Bass marveled at the arc of her career and the moment in history.
“Twenty-seven years ago, I joined our United States Air Force with the plan of doing four quick years and figuring out what I wanted to do in life,” she said. “Never would I have imagined I would be standing before you today as your 19th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force.”
Bass’s claim to history followed by one week another major milestone, when Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., her new boss, was formally installed as the 22nd Air Force Chief of Staff. That act made Brown the first African-American in history to become the highest-ranking officer of a U.S. military service. Brown acknowledged the significance by noting the path created by “Tuskegee Airmen, Benjamin O. Davis Jr., Chappie James and African American leaders across our Air Force and military.”
“The same holds true today,” Bass said. “It is a moment that could not have taken place without the efforts of many women who have gone before me.
“Our Air Force today is on the right side of history. We are creating not only historic moments with the first African American service chief and the first female and Asian American Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, but we are focused on setting a foundation for all Americans to see themselves in this great institution,” she said.
“To anyone who never thought they could be a Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, a Chief of Staff, or a Secretary of the Air Force, or a commander or a first sergeant, this historic moment is for you,” she said.
Bass also paid tribute to Wright and to Gen. David L. Goldfein, the 21st Air Force Chief of Staff.
Wright and Goldfein, she said, “had a monumental impact on each of us. It’s been a true honor to watch and serve under you both.”
As for what comes next and how she plans to lead, Bass was direct, “We have much to get after.”
Bass said she would continue to adhere to leadership principles gleaned from her parents and from her husband, Rahn, a retired Army First Sergeant.
“What my parents did instill in me is the value of hard work and treating people well. That is something that I will continue on as your Chief – hard work and treating people well,” she said.
Her husband, Bass said, “taught me to always take the ‘hard right’ versus the ‘easy wrong.’ And my word to all Airmen is that we will always take the hard right; meaning, we will always do the right thing even when it’s not comfortable.”
Similar to the previous week when Brown became Chief of Staff and Goldfein officially retired, Friday’s ceremony took place in the same hangar at Joint Base Andrews and was equal parts a celebration of Bass and a heartfelt tribute to Wright’s service.
“Chief Wright epitomizes servant leadership. He’s a mentor, an inspiration and a leader,” said Department of the Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett.
“Chief Wright offered sage advice on issues ranging from welfare and morale to readiness and the resiliency of his more than 410,000 enlisted Airmen. His influence on Airmen will endure,” she said.
Then turning to Bass, Barrett said, “Today, the 19th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, JoAnne Bass, becomes a worthy successor to Chief Wright.”
“Chief Bass, your extraordinary record of service has prepared you well to serve as the 19th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force. I look forward to working with you as we lead the Air Force toward the future,” Barrett said.
Barrett also announced a new Air Force award, the “Goldfein-Wright Inclusive Leadership Award” that recognizes the legacy of both previous leaders on questions of diversity and inclusion across the Air Force.
“Recognizing the colossal impact of Gen. Goldfein and Chief Wright together on Department of the Air Force diversity and inclusion, today we are unveiling a new award – the Goldfein-Wright Inclusive Leadership Award,” she said.
The award, she said, will “recognize the command team that best fosters inclusion to achieve mission success.”
In his remarks, Brown honored both Bass and Wright. “It is a privilege to be part of this special ceremony marking the historic transfer of responsibility to honor two tremendous enlisted leaders and to give thanks to two phenomenal Air Force families,” he said.
As for Bass, Brown said after listing her career highlights, “What is more important to know about Chief Master Sergeant Bass is that she is ready and she is willing to serve. She has the passion, the skills and the strength of character we need to lead us, to face head on the demanding challenges of today and of the future.”
In the global search for the 19th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, Bass emerged as the consensus choice from a group of more than a dozen finalists from across the Air Force, officials said. The finalists were selected based on breadth of experience, recommendations from senior commanders and performance across each candidate’s Air Force career.
Prior to becoming Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, Bass served as command chief master sergeant, Second Air Force, at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi. In that assignment, Bass was the senior enlisted leader and advisor to the commander on all matters relating to the professional development, proper utilization, and the readiness of the enlisted corps.
In his farewell remarks, Wright thanked a long list of people who guided him throughout his career, including his wife Tonya, his family and a broad array of Air Force colleagues. Chief among them was Goldfein.
“The one thing I can say is, you always, always, always stood by me.… I cannot tell you how much I appreciate you as a boss and maybe more importantly, as a friend and as a brother,” Wright said of Goldfein, who attended the ceremony with his wife, Dawn.
Goldfein reciprocated earlier in the ceremony when he served to formally retire Wright.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Chief Kaleth Wright is an inspirational leader of Airmen and servant of Airman, and together with Tonya, a voice for their families,” Goldfein said.
“You have well and faithfully – well, and faithfully – discharged the duties of the office of the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force. Dawn and I and the rest of the Air Force family wish you and Tonya clear skies and fair winds as we start our next chapters.”