Chief Master Sgt. JoAnne Bass on Friday became the 19th chief master sergeant of the Air Force at a ceremony at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.
Bass is the first woman to serve as the highest-ranking noncommissioned officer in any of the military services. She is also the first person of Asian-American descent to be the Air Force’s top enlisted leader. She succeeded Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright, who served in that role since February 2017 and retired at the ceremony.
Bass was previously the command chief of the Second Air Force. Her husband, Rahn, and their daughters, Jasmine and Jada, were present at the ceremony.
In her remarks, Bass noted the historic nature of her appointment as chief master sergeant of the Air Force, which followed the Aug. 6 swearing in of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown as the first Black service chief in U.S. military history.
“It is a moment that could not have taken place without the efforts of many women who have gone before me,” Bass said. She saluted Esther Blake, who in 1948 became the first woman to enlist in the Air Force, “on the first minute of the first hour of the first day when women were authorized to join the United States Air Force.
“Our Air Force today is on the right side of history,” Bass said. “We are focused on setting a foundation for all Americans to see themselves in this great institution. Everyone has a place in our Air Force.”
Bass pledged to create an inclusive culture in the Air Force that allows all airmen to reach their full potential. And she said the Air Force has to modernize and change to better compete and win against adversaries.
“It’s our airmen that are the competitive edge that we possess,” Bass said. “We cannot rest on our laurels while the future is still unwritten. We have a lot to do, folks, and a lot to get after. But the good news is, what we do is a team sport.”
Brown said that Bass has been preparing to lead since she first enlisted.
“She is ready, and she is willing to serve,” Brown said. “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 the future.
“Without a doubt, Chief Master Sgt. Bass is the right chief — definitely the right chief to accelerate change and to grow airmen and leaders we need for the future,” Brown said.
Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett said Bass is well-prepared and a “worthy successor” to Wright. Barrett cited Bass’s work to improve airmen development by improving training programs such as basic training, technical training and distance learning.
Barrett saluted Wright for the changes he helped put in place for the 410,000 enlisted active, Guard and Reserve airmen. She highlighted his reforms to the enlisted evaluation system, elimination of junior enlisted performance reports, expanding high year of tenure, upgrading of developmental special duty assignments, simplifying base selections and eliminating promotion testing for senior noncommissioned officers.
“Chief Wright, in a word, your tenure was consequential,” Barrett said.
Barrett recalled Wright’s well-known post in June about racial inequality following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died at the hands of Minneapolis police, and said that afterward, he and Gen. Dave Goldfein, the now retired former chief of staff, “united their voices to set an inspired tone for the Defense Department’s response to racial inequality.”
“In his powerful reaction to the murder of George Floyd, Chief Wright encouraged everyone to fight, not just for freedom, justice and equality, but to fight for understanding,” Barrett said.
Barrett unveiled a new award, the Goldfein-Wright Inclusive Leadership Award, which will recognize the command team that best fosters an inclusive environment to achieve mission success.
Goldfein, wearing a civilian suit, paid tribute to Wright as his “wingman.”
“Of all the personnel decisions I made as the 21st chief [of staff], none was more important than the choice of my wingman for the journey,” Goldfein said. “Chief, we didn’t get everything done we set out to do. But we got a heck of a lot done together. And we always found a way to make it fun along the way.”
Goldfein also saluted Wright’s wife, Tonya, and their family.
“You’ve been an incredible leader and an advocate for airmen and their families, and a true voice to ensure they get the top cover they deserve,” Goldfein said.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.