Bass Tapped as Air Force’s First Female Enlisted Leader

Chief Master Sgt. JoAnne Bass will become the 19th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, and the first  woman to serve as the highest ranking non-commissioned officer of any U.S. military service.

Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., who will take over as Chief of Staff later this summer, picked Bass to follow outgoing CMSAF Kaleth Wright. Bass’s selection sets up a historic leadership slate for the Air Force: It will become the first military branch run by a Black CSAF and a female enlisted Chief. 

Bass is the first Asian American to serve as the highest-ranking non-commissioned member of a U.S. military service as well.

“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,” Bass said in a June 19 press release. “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.”

In a June 19 press release, Brown said Bass brings the right skills, temperament, and experience to the job, plus “an outlook on leadership that meshes with his own.”

“She has unique skills that will help us both lead the Total Force and live up to the high expectations of our Airmen,” he said. “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 is scheduled to take over the CMSAF post in an Aug. 14 ceremony, according to an Air Force spokesman. She beat out more than a dozen other candidates based on her experience, recommendations, and career performance. As CMSAF, she will oversee more than 410,000 enlisted Airmen.

“Gen. Brown knocked it out of the park with this selection,” Wright posted on Twitter. “Proud moment in history, great to be an Airman!”

Bass currently serves as command chief master sergeant for Second Air Force at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. She is the top non-commissioned adviser for Air Force-run training courses that graduate 150,000 military personnel each year. Second AF encompasses four training wings and 18 groups across 76 locations worldwide, and manages 13,000 enlisted, officers, civilians, contractors and 36,000 basic military trainees annually.

“Throughout her career, she has held a variety of leadership positions serving at the squadron, group, wing, and major command levels,” according to her 2AF biography. “She has significant joint service and special operations experience and has participated in several operations and exercises as well as deployments in direct support of Operations Southern Watch, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom.”

The decorated leader most recently served as chief of Air Force enlisted developmental education at the Pentagon.

With Bass and Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett in two of the service’s top three leadership positions, women will occupy seven of the 49 highest posts across the Air Staff, Secretariat, and major commands.

Brown, Bass, and Barrett—who became Secretary in November—are taking the helm as the Department of the Air Force pivots toward potential conflict with Russia and China while continuing to suppress extremist groups in the Middle East and Africa. The service must also navigate the challenges posed by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic while balancing an expensive slate of modernization programs, building a more equitable and diverse workforce, and standing up the new Space Force.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 9:24 a.m. on June 22, to note that Bass is the first woman to serve as the highest ranking non-commissioned officer of any U.S. military service.