Air Force chooses woman as top enlisted leader for first time in US military history

Abbie Bennett
June 19, 2020 - 3:09 pm
Chief Master Sgt. JoAnne Bass, 2nd Air Force command chief, engages in conversation with Airmen at the Keesler Professional Development Center during an immersion tour on Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, Aug. 23, 2018.

U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue

In a first for the U.S. military, the Air Force has chosen a woman as its top enlisted leader. Chief Master Sgt. Joanne S. Bass is set to become the 19th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, the service announced Friday. 

Bass is the first woman ever chosen to serve as the highest-ranking noncommissioned member of any U.S. service branch. She will serve as the public face of more than 410,000 Air Force enlisted troops and a personal advisor to the chief of staff and Department of the Air Force Secretary. 

“I could not be more excited to work side-by-side with Chief Bass,” said incoming Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. C.Q. Brown, who is set to become the 22nd Chief of Staff in August. "She has unique skills that will help us both lead the total force and live up to the high expectations of our airmen. She is a proven leader who has performed with distinction at every step of her accomplished career. I have no doubt that Chief Bass will provide wise counsel as we pursue and implement initiatives to develop and empower airmen at all levels.”

Bass emerged as the "consensus choice" from more than 12 finalists from across the force, the service announced. 

“I’m honored and humbled to be selected as the 19th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, and follow in the footsteps of some of the best leaders our Air Force has ever known,” she said. “The history of the moment isn’t lost on me; I’m just ready to get after it. And I’m extremely grateful for and proud of my family and friends who helped me along the way.”

Outgoing Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth Wright endorsed Bass as well. 

"I've known Jo for many years and watched closely as she's guided Team 18 and led her own teams to great success,” he said. “This is a historic moment for our Air Force and she is a phenomenal leader who'll bring new ideas and her own style to the position. She'll do great things for our airmen and she'll blaze her own trail as our CMSAF."

Bass currently serves as command chief master sergeant, Second Air Force at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi where she is senior enlisted leader and advisor to command on professional development, utilization and readiness of enlisted troops. 

That command includes four training wings, 18 groups and 76 operating locations worldwide supporting 13,000 enlisted, officers, civilians, contractors and 36,000 trainees annually. 

Bass began her military career in 1993 at then-Pope Air Force Base near Fort Bragg in North Carolina, also serving at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, as command chief master sergeant for the 17th Training Wing at Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas and at the Pentagon as chief of Air Force enlisted development education. 

Her service awards include Distinguished Graduate” from the Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy in 2009 and the 2011 Senior Noncommissioned Officer of the Year Award for the 86th Operations Group. 

As she moves to her new assignment, Bass, along with Brown, will face a force in transition -- moving from a heavy focus on combatting terrorism to preparing to confront China, Russia nad "other peer adversaries," according to the service. They also will be responsible for addressing racial disparities in the force. 

The Air Force has been the most outspoken of the service branches on social issues recently. Wright was the first senior military leader to speak out after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police last month, and said he was concerned about black airmen, calling for change in the service and a review of the military justice system.

Airmen "are counting on leaders like me to make a positive impact in their lives," Bass said in a video Wright posted on social media. "I owe them my best."

"Gen. Brown knocked it out of the park with this selection," Wright said on Twitter. "Proud moment in history, Great to be an airman!"


Reach Abbie Bennett: or @AbbieRBennett.

Want to get more connected to the stories and resources Connecting Vets has to offer? Click here to sign up for our weekly newsletter.