"Our ability to get things done [as Chiefs] is completely dependent on our ability to build relationships with people,” says Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force David Flosi. Andy Morataya/USAF
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WORLD: People

March 28, 2024

Meet the New CMSAF, David Flosi 

By David Roza


n his first day as the new top enlisted Airman, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force David Flosi urged Airmen not to waste a moment as the Air Force races to better prepare for possible conflict with China or Russia.

“Every day matters, and we must make every day count,” said Flosi at a change of responsibility ceremony at Joint Base Andrews, Md., where he took over for former CMSAF JoAnne Bass, the first woman to serve as a military service’s senior enlisted adviser. The ceremony took place on her 31st anniversary of joining the Air Force. 

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., who hired Bass as CMSAF in 2020 when he was Air Force Chief of Staff, praised her service.  “She blended vast experience, expertise, empathy, an impeccable moral character, and a resolute will to succeed,” he said. 

Bass’ relief brings his own wealth of experience to the role; but his road to CMSAF was hardly smooth. Flosi was 22, engaged to be married, studying finance, and working full time when it struck him there might be a better way. He was running low on money, and needed something to change.

“I had a friend who enlisted right out of high school and was coming to the end of his contract, and we went on like a two-hour drive and talked,” he told Air & Space Forces Magazine. Suddenly it was clear: “I saw the Air Force as a means to an end. Get the GI Bill, finish my degree debt-free, and support a new family.” 

“That’s why I enlisted,” Flosi said. “It’s not why I stayed.”

Now the 20th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, Flosi credits mentors who helped him grow and make a career of his Air Force tenure, earning a Legion of Merit and Bronze Star over the next 28 years. 

Flosi initially thought he’d apply his finance skills to his Air Force work, but wound up instead as a nuclear weapons specialist. “[Explosive ordnance disposal] was what I wanted to do initially and that scared” his then-fiancee, Katy. “Nuclear weapons did not. So that rose up on the list.”

It wasn’t easy. Flosi took a while to buy into living the Air Force core values 24 hours a day. “Like most chiefs, I did not walk this completely clean path,” he said. “There were a few moments where maybe I wasn’t as disciplined as I should have been. I had to grow up a little bit.”

Flosi asked a lot of questions. “I asked ‘why’ so much that [one boss] started making me pull out my [leave and earnings statement], and he’d look at it and say, ‘That’s what I thought Airman Flosi, you ain’t getting no thinking pay,’” he said. “So I grew up in that era. But my immediate supervisor was very patient. He was like, ‘All right, come here knucklehead,’ and he would walk me through the why, which I really needed. He figured me out and what I needed to be successful.”

That kind of support helped turn the Air Force from a job into a profession for Flosi. But he had a lot more to learn, especially as a brand-new staff sergeant leading other Airmen for the first time.

“Boy, do I feel bad for that first senior Airman, because I just smothered this poor guy with all of my new leadership skills,” he recalled. “I learned a lot from that: I learned that leadership isn’t taking the book and dumping it on them. I needed to connect with this person, meet them where they’re at, and hopefully bring them to the right.”

Flosi had another big break when a senior NCO told him about the Air Force Institute of Technology, which offers graduate degree programs for enlisted and commissioned service members and government civilians. Flosi earned a master’s degree in logistics and supply chain management, a move which he said changed the course of his career.

“I cannot believe I got the opportunity to go to graduate school and get paid to do it,” he said. “That would have never happened if I didn’t have these good leaders in place who actually were trying to take care of me.”

Flosi paid it forward by serving with distinction on deployments in support of Operations Southern Watch, Iraqi Freedom, Inherent Resolve, and Freedom’s Sentinel. He received the Bronze Star for his work during a tour in Afghanistan, and from 2017 to 2019, he was the command chief master sergeant of “DATA MASKED,” according to his resume, which drew interest on the unofficial Air Force subreddit.

“You can tell them that it was very cool,” he said when asked about the assignment.

Flosi’s latest post was as Command Chief Master Sergeant of Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Over the course of his years as command chief of various units, Flosi picked up a few lessons about executing commander’s intent.

“Commanders have statutory authority. Chiefs don’t,” he said. “This is about relationships for us. And so our ability to get things done on behalf of the command, or to implement the guidance and commander’s intent, no matter where you’re at in the organization, is completely dependent on our ability to build relationships with people.”

Flosi’s new boss, Chief of Staff Gen. David Allvin, wants to make a long list of sweeping changes fast in order to prepare the service for a possible conflict with China or Russia. Flosi was involved in the conversations leading to those changes and agrees that speed will be a key factor in the effort.

“We are out of time,” he said. “The department, both the Air and Space Force, are not optimized for great power competition. And we must get there.”

Flosi flagged readiness as an area he particularly looks forward to helping change. Allvin said at the AFA Warfare Symposium that the service has metrics for each squadron’s ability to execute mission essential tasks, but there is no overarching assessment showing how well the service can, for example, re-operate, which means “the fight to get outta town, and a fight to get into theater, and a fight to get airborne,” Allvin said.

“Only when you have assessments can you really find out the details and put resources against them,” he added. 

Quality of life, including pay and compensation, health care, and child care, is an underlying part of warfighting readiness, Flosi said.

“It’s a foundational item,” he explained. “Our quality-of-life issues impact all of the other things that we’re trying to do.”

While his predecessor, former Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass, was active on Facebook, Flosi is still working out his social media policy, acknowledging that the vast majority of service members use some form of the technology. 

“We’re not going to ignore that,” he said. “We might do it a bit differently.”

One thing that will carry over from CMSAF #19 is a love for the Kansas City Chiefs football team. Though he was born in Florida, Flosi grew up in Kansas City and picked up a knack for barbecue. 

“I tell people sometimes I have a smoking problem,” he said. “I’ll smoke vegetables, deviled eggs. It doesn’t have to just be pork.”

That skill set could prove a handy outlet over the next four years, which may be the most challenging of Flosi’s career. Part of a CMSAF’s job is to serve as the personal adviser to the Chief of Staff and the Secretary of the Air Force on the welfare, readiness, and morale of more than 600,000 Airmen across the force.

“I feel the enormity of the responsibility of the job: It’s important to not take for granted the opportunity that’s being presented,” he said. “Therefore I genuinely want to execute to the commander’s intent.”

He has a few guidelines to light the way. Flosi keeps a paper on leadership that he wrote for an assignment at the Senior NCO Academy back in 2011. Listed there are the values he holds dear, including integrity, accountability, direct feedback, transparency, fairness, and “seek first to understand.”

“I am constantly reminded that things are not always as they seem,” he wrote about that last value. “Sharpening this leadership trait sets the framework for trusting relationships focused on personal and professional success.”           


Fifth CMSAF, Robert D. Gaylor, Dies

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne Bass, center, with former Chief Master Sergeants of the Air Force behind her, renders a salute during the interment of the fifth Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force, Robert D. Gaylor, Feb. 10, 2024, at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, Texas. Fifth Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Robert D. Gaylor championed Air Force professional military education in the late ’60s and ’70s before he was promoted to Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force in 1977. He continued to educate and inspire service members for more than 40 years after his retirement from military service. Sarayuth Pinthong/USAF

By John A. Tirpak


obert D. Gaylor, who served from 1977 to 1979 as the fifth Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, died Jan. 17. He was 92.

Gaylor was appointed to the service’s top enlisted job by Chief of Staff Gen. David C. Jones—for whom he had served as senior enlisted adviser in U.S. Air Forces in Europe. He also advised Jones’ successor, Gen. Lew Allen Jr., and Air Force Secretary John C. Stetson.

During his tenure as CMSAF, Gaylor focused on leadership training and development in the noncommissioned officer corps—working to open 70 leadership schools across the Air Force—as well as reducing management levels, and bread-and-butter issues, such as assignment choice and travel for enlisted families.

He was also instrumental in bringing about uniforms for pregnant women, a nontrivial matter—the Air Force was suffering a brain drain of midcareer women in the mid-1970s because they had no way to serve in uniform. Retention of women rose significantly afterward.

After his retirement in 1979, Gaylor continued to talk to Airmen across the Air Force about leadership and his experiences in the service, until just a few months before his death. In retirement, he taught leadership and management at USAA, a private insurance firm that focuses on Active-duty and veteran customers.

Gaylor entered the Air Force in 1948, just a year after the service was created, and after graduation from basic training, chose to be a security policeman. In his early career he was assigned to bases in Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and South Korea. In a 2017 interview, Gaylor said that only a small handful of those in his basic training class had a high school diploma, and having one helped him excel in his early career.

He attained the rank of master sergeant in 1956 at the age of 25, after just seven years in the service. In the interview, Gaylor said he never had any formal professional military education before becoming a senior master sergeant, and observed that in those days, if a command had no NCO academy, its NCOs went without. He was later determined that Airmen have equal access to PME.  

In 1958, master sergeant was the highest enlisted rank in the service, and Gaylor wanted to advance, so he applied to become a warrant officer. His application was returned without action, but he was encouraged to stay in service because the Air Force would be creating two further enlisted ranks: senior master sergeant and chief master sergeant. He reached the new highest enlisted rank in 1968.

When NCO academies were created, Gaylor was invited to be among the first instructors.

During the Vietnam War, Gaylor served in Thailand, back in the military police field, after which he went to Strategic Air Command and helped re-establish its NCO academy.

At USAFE, starting in 1971, he traveled around European bases teaching management techniques. The following year he established the USAFE Command Management and Leadership Center, an in-residence 60-hour NCO course. The year after that, Jones chose him as the USAFE Senior Enlisted Adviser.

At the highest ranks, he often had to invent his own duties. While at the Personnel Center, he assigned himself the job of being a leadership mentor and evangelist for the Air Force, traveling widely across the service, and creating NCO academies in as many organizations as possible.  

Speaking at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, in August 2023, Gaylor told Airmen that the “three words” that are key to an Air Force career are “‘aptitude’ and ‘attitude’ …which leads to ‘opportunity.’”

His formula for success, he said, was “every day, every day, every day: attitude, aptitude, head on straight, team player. There is no magic formula. It is a simple process.”

Gerald R. Murray, the 14th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force from 2002 to 2006, said Gaylor was “the most beloved” among the former CMSAFs and had an unrivaled “love for our Airmen and Guardians, and families.”

Gaylor was “a gifted orator” who, with “ever-refreshing messages and delightful humor always uplifted the spirit of all who were in his company, or had the opportunity to hear him speak, whether individually or in a large audience,” Murray said.

Gaylor “remained an active Airman … leader, advocate, supporter, mentor and dear friend to the very last day of his life, leaving a legacy like no other before or after. A legend among us, he was truly one of a kind,” Murray added.

In 2006, the NCO Leadership Academy at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, was named in Gaylor’s honor.

Tom Stafford, Apollo Astronaut, Dies at 93

Astronaut Thomas Stafford in 1971. NASA

By John A. Tirpak

Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Stafford, a U.S. Air Force test pilot, an astronaut on two Gemini and two Apollo missions, and an important figure in the development of stealth technology, died on March 18 at the age of 93.

Stafford “wrote the book” on basic test-flight techniques still taught today, and his space flights were all highly significant. As commander of Apollo 10 in 1969, Stafford led the dress rehearsal for Apollo 11’s moon landing, taking his lunar module within nine miles of the moon’s surface, and proving out nearly all other flight aspects of the landing missions that followed. As commander of the July 1975 Apollo-Soyuz Test Program, Stafford pioneered international cooperation in space with the Soviet Union, laying a foundation for the two countries to later jointly build and inhabit the International Space Station.

After leaving NASA in 1975, Stafford returned to USAF, commanding the Experimental Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., where he supervised testing of the A-10, F-15 and F-16 fighters, and the B-1B bomber. He also oversaw secret aircraft activities at Groom Lake, including development and test of the Have Blue experimental stealth aircraft, and later wrote the requirements for the F-117 attack plane, which resulted from it. While at Edwards, Stafford continued to fly, including surreptitiously acquired Soviet fighters. Having learned Russian for the Apollo-Soyuz program, he was also a key debriefer of Russian pilot Viktor Byelenko, who defected to the West with a then-new MiG-25 in 1976.

In his last Air Force job, Stafford was deputy chief of staff for research, development, and acquisition. He drafted the requirements for the F-117, as well as the AGM-129 stealth cruise missile and the B-2 bomber. He also outlined the Advanced Tactical Fighter, which eventually became the F-22. He retired from the Air Force in 1979.

Born in Oklahoma, Stafford served with the Oklahoma National Guard in high school. In 1952, he graduated near the top of his class from the U.S. Naval Academy with honors in engineering. To get access to the hottest airplanes, however, he opted for an Air Force commission.

He earned his wings in 1953 and went into fighters, flying the F-86D in Florida, South Dakota, and Germany. Sent to  test pilot school, he graduated first in his class in 1959. Soon he co-wrote the manuals “Pilot’s Handbook for Performance Flight Testing” and “Aerodynamics Handbook for Performance Flight Testing,” which are still assigned today.

Stafford was a finalist for the Mercury program but was an inch too tall to fit in the cramped capsule. He re-applied to be an astronaut, but while waiting, was accepted at Harvard Business School. When he got word he’d been chosen for the “New Nine” astronaut group, he accepted the assignment with NASA. That group would earn their space spurs in the two-man Gemini craft, and those who survived all went on to command Apollo moon missions.

Gemini 6, in December 1965, was Stafford’s first space mission. He and mission commander Wally Schirra made the first rendezvous—but not a docking—with another crewed spacecraft, Gemini 7. Rendezvous was the critical element in the plan to go to the moon.

Six months later, in May 1966, Stafford commanded Gemini 9, flying into space with pilot Gene Cernan. They replaced the prime crew after astronauts Elliot See and Charles Basset were killed in a T-38 crash.

The mission was fraught with problems, with the loss of their Agena target vehicle in a launch pad explosion, and the substitute vehicle unable to jettison its launch shroud in orbit. Stafford aborted the rest. When the guidance computer failed, Stafford calculated re-entry with paper and pencil. The difficulties pushed NASA to create an underwater spacewalk rehearsal capability.

Three years later, in May 1969, Stafford commanded Apollo 10, and, reunited with Cernan, was the first to pilot the lunar module, nicknamed “Snoopy,” in lunar orbit. The two mapped landing sites in the Sea of Tranquility for Apollo 11, and contended with a faulty guidance system, but safely re-docked with the command module, nicknamed “Charlie Brown.” On the return, along with command module pilot John Young, the crew set a reentry speed record of nearly 25,000 miles per hour. Together, they had performed all elements of the moon landing, which took place two months later in July 1969.

After Apollo 10, Stafford served as head of the astronaut office, managing astronaut assignments and specialties for the Apollo and Skylab programs. He then served as deputy director of Flight Crew Operations at Johnson Space Center, Texas, bearing the rank of brigadier general, the first astronaut to serve at that rank.

Stafford was the co-commander of the Apollo-Soyuz program in 1975, learning Russian and helping develop the adapter that made it possible for the two highly dissimilar craft to dock. Along with astronauts Deke Slayton and Vance Brand, Stafford docked with a Soyuz bearing cosmonauts Alexei Leonov—first man to make a spacewalk—and Valeriy Kubasov, who shared mementos and conducted experiments for 44 hours before undocking and making their separate ways back to Earth. The mission lasted nine days and Stafford was the first U.S. general officer to make a space flight.

The mission helped lay the diplomatic foundation for the ISS 20 years later.

Stafford and Leonov became close friends over the ensuing decades, and Stafford delivered the eulogy, in Russian, at Leonov’s 2019 funeral.

Stafford returned to the Air Force from NASA and was promoted to major general at Edwards. In 1978, he became deputy chief of staff assignment for research, development, and acquisition. He retired from the Air Force in 1979.

During his years with NASA and the Air Force, Stafford amassed nearly 7,000 flying hours and more than 507 hours of spaceflight, flying more than 100 types of aircraft and spacecraft.

In retirement, Stafford was an aviation consultant for many companies, and served on the board of Gulfstream Aerospace, as well as others. He headed many blue-ribbon commissions for NASA to map out future human space exploration, and advised NASA on the Shuttle-Mir program, during which space shuttle missions STS-63 and STS-71 docked with the Russian Mir space station. He also served on the Return to Flight Task Force after the 2003 loss of the Columbia shuttle.

He published an autobiography, co-written with Michael Casutt, titled “We Have Capture: Tom Stafford and the Space Race,” in 2002.

The Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Stafford Air & Space Museum, a National Air and Space Museum affiliate, opened in Oklahoma in 1981, and today exhibits many of the artifacts from Stafford’s space and USAF career.