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The search is on for the Air Force's next enlisted leader, with as many as 20 chief master sergeants potentially in the running to replace Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Roy, who will retire Jan. 31.
Roy's retirement was expected; he is well into his third year on the job and reached 30 years of service this month. Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III announced Roy's retirement early last week.
"This guy is an unbelievable professional," said Welsh, who also praised Roy's wife, Paula, for her commitment to airmen and their families.
Roy said it has been "an incredible honor and privilege to serve" as the 16th chief master sergeant of the Air Force since June 2009.
"Airmen will always have our family's unwavering support," Roy told Air Force Times. "Ms. Paula and I treasure our many memories of our fantastic airmen and their families, as well as our joint and coalition partners."
Roy expressed confidence in his successor, who will be named after the window for submitting nominees closes Oct. 4.
"There is no doubt the next CMSAF will face many challenges as we all have but that chief will also have a distinct privilege. He or she will lead the strongest, smartest, most innovative and capable airmen in the world," Roy said. "That chief will also have the support and guidance of an exceptional leadership team our chief of staff, Gen. Mark Welsh, and Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley. I know Gen. Welsh will select the right person from the many qualified chiefs in our Air Force."
The search for Roy's replacement started Aug. 19. Over the next two weeks, commanders can nominate command chiefs who have held that position for at least 18 months and serve under at least a three-star, said Chief Master Sgt. Harold "Buddy" Hutchison, chief of the Chiefs' Group. The Chiefs' Group, which oversees the development of all of the service's E-9s, will compile the nominations and validate that they meet the requirements.
The nominees must be good communicators and have broad Air Force backgrounds, Hutchison said. Between 10 and 20 E-9s, including some reserve-component chiefs, might be eligible for nomination, he said.
Once the nominations are in, Welsh and Roy will vet the nominees, and Welsh will make the final decision.
Of the traits he will seek in the next CMSAF, Welsh said he is looking for someone who is credible with airmen, has a broad range of experience and can handle the rigorous pace for the next three to four years.
"I'm looking for a slate that includes diversity," he said. "It won't be the deciding factor, but I'd like to have a diverse group of candidates to select from. That diversity should include everything from gender to race to background to job skills."
The new chief is expected to be in place for at least a couple of weeks in January before Roy retires.