Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass made her keynote address at the Air Force Association’s virtual Air, Space & Cyber Conference from AFA’s Doolittle Leadership Center on Sept. 16, 2020, speaking before a live audience of Airmen. She followed here talk with question-and-answer session moderated by AFA Chairman of the Board and former CMSAF Gerald R. Murray. This is a transcript of the event.
Bass: “All righty, good morning, ladies and gentlemen. So first off, I have to tell you, I woke up, like many of you, to the sheer devastation of what’s going on in the Gulf Coast and across California, Oregon, and Washington. And so to our Airmen and our families, I want to let you know, and to fellow Americans, that our thoughts and our prayers are with you all.
“What most people normally hear me say is, ‘It is a great day to be a United States Airman.’ And so I will say that that is a true statement, especially on the week of our 73rd birthday. So today, as some of you guys are joining us virtually, we also have with us a live audience of about 20 Airmen [from] the National Capital Region. So to the Airman in here with me, thank you all for joining me for the next few hours. I’ll tell you, our Air Force Association, as well as every leader that I’ve spoken to, would much rather be here together in person. Since we cannot, I have to applaud the AFA leadership team for fighting through our current environment and continuing to make this a premier professional development opportunity available to our Airmen.
“If you’ve been watching virtually over the last few days, and you’ve probably watched and heard our Secretary share our Air Force’s strategic priorities, and the things that we’ve been doing to get after it. You’ve probably also heard my boss and wingman, [Air Force Chief of Staff] Gen. [Charles] C.Q. Brown [Jr.], share what’s on his mind, and how we must accelerate change [or] lose. He spoke about our window of opportunity, where we must get after it, by moving out, and specifically moving out with purpose. Then yesterday, you got a chance to listen to the Chief of Space Operations, Gen. [John W. “Jay”] Raymond, and my wingman and teammate, the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Space Force, Chief [Master Sgt. Roger A.] Towberman, talking about building out the United States Space Force. What an exciting time it is to be a space professional. And for me today, since we cannot be together face to face, I chose to host my very first AFA speaking engagement in this room, the Doolittle Leadership Center here at AFA’s headquarters building. I had my first visit here the other week when this center was dedicated in honor of Gen. James Doolittle, an American Airman, a hero, and an important part of our Air Force history. I got a chance to learn more about him, the Doolittle Raiders, and their legacy, by meeting Col. Dick Cole’s son and grandson, and through the amazing storytelling of Marc Tang, the grandson of one of the Chinese generals who was responsible, along with his men, for rounding up the Raiders and escorting them to safety.
“It’s because of the innovative spirit, the sheer determination, and selflessness of that generation, and the courageous leadership of [Gen.] Doolittle that led to the naming of this particular room. And this center will live on in that legacy, as a place where Airmen can continue to innovate, create, and continue the charge of guaranteeing air power, anytime, in any place. It is quite the honor also, and so very humbling, to stand here in this room speaking to you all, as your 19th Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force. I’ve been to many AFA events, watched in awe as many former Secretaries, Chiefs of Staff, and Chief Master Sgts. of the Air Force have spoken on the big stage, and to be here with each of you to lead as your chief is humbling.
“I must also take a minute to thank our Secretary, [Air Force] Secretary [Barbara M.] Barrett and General Brown for their confidence in me. And I have to tell you, we had the opportunity to travel together a few weeks ago to [Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas] on our very first trip together. And we chose that location, specifically, because Lackland is our gateway to the Air Force. It is where we train civilians to become Airmen, and ultimately developing them to be the Airmen that we need. And honestly, I wish each of you could have been there with me, on the plane or in the car, so you could have seen and heard firsthand how much our Secretary and their Chief care for our Airmen and care for their families. I wish I had a GoPro on, so that you guys could have heard firsthand again, the discussions that were happening because you are always in their thoughts and in their minds. It was inspiring for me to hear as their Chief, as your Chief. And it was important for me that I share that with you today. Because with any organization as big as ours, we will have our set of challenges. However, I’m convinced that there is nothing that we cannot do, or get through, when you have leaders like them at the helm. And there is nothing that we cannot get through as an Air Force with each of you empowered to get after it, and to lead in your formations with that same care, drive, and passion.
“And speaking of formations, the reason we are the best Air Force in the world is because of the backbone of our Air Force. And that backbone is our people. Which is why it’s pretty important to me that we onboard, that we retain, that we cultivate, that we train and develop our Airmen and our talent. So for the next few years, in addition to the Air Force’s strategic priorities, my focus as your Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force will be on the people, our readiness, and our culture. General Brown spoke briefly about people and bureaucracy on Monday. And I told my boss that’s exactly where I will remain focused. Specifically, how do we effectively and deliberately manage our talent? How do we develop our Airmen, E-1 through O-10? How do we ensure that our process and policies address the changing dynamics associated with building the force that we need and getting rid of old, draconian policies that push our Airmen out? We cannot afford to lose Airmen that have the talent, passion, and commitment that will make us a better force. And we can afford to lose Airmen. Airmen like Staff Sgt. [Daniel] Reskey. And fortunately for us, we didn’t. I first met Airman Basic Reskey four years ago, when I was command chief at Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas. Now, most of my Airmen stories start with an Airman being recognized for excelling or receiving an award. In this case, I met Airman Reskey because he was being discharged from the Air Force while in technical training for things he had done prior to being in our Air Force. The life of Airman Reskey prior to joining was not an easy one. He grew up with[out] much, he grew up without much of a childhood. His mother had passed away while he was still a young child, and he grew up where drugs, gangs, violence, and an unstable living situation was the norm. He spent most of his childhood sleeping in cars, and in motels, yet was always looking out for his brother and his younger sister, and because of them, and in hopes to have a better life, he chose to join the Air Force. He didn’t join our Air Force with core values, already bleeding out of him, but he did gain them over time with exposure to our Air Force culture for both BMT [basic military training] and technical training.
“And it was because of that exposure, and the fear of jeopardizing his Air Force career that led him to come forward with things he had done in the past. And the very thing that he feared the most is exactly what happened when he came forward. Airman Reskey was served discharge papers for fraudulent enlistment. However, that’s not the end of the story. And the short period of time Airman Reskey was in, he had proven himself to be a strong fit for our Air Force. His leaders saw his potential, they fought to keep him in, starting with his military training leader, [Staff] Sgt. Amber Gagnon. Had leaders just accepted the black and white of policy, not seen his potential, not pushed for what they knew was right, and not brought Airman Reskey into my office four years ago, we would have lost out on such a strong Airman that simply needed an opportunity.
“Over the past four years, now-Staff Sgt. Reskey has proven that we made the right call. He earned senior Airman below the zone, [National Air and Space Intelligence Center] Airman of the Year, coached youth basketball, helped other troubled youths in his community, mentored three other Airmen to make below-the-zone promotions. And when I spoke to him last week, he was on his first deployment downrange. He went from an at-risk youth to mentoring at-risk youth, and most importantly, a strong NCO [noncommissioned officer] in our Air Force. And when I asked him about how his career has been going, he simply stated the Air Force has been the best thing that’s ever happened to him. We need more Airmen like Staff Sergeant Reskey. And we need more leaders like Sergeant Gagnon, who see the potential in Airman, the importance of the good of the enterprise, and does what needs to be done to help us retain strong Airmen. It is those strong Airmen that we need as we enter an era of contested domains.
“We must be ready for the high-end fight, and it will be our people that determine our readiness. The Airman of today will face challenges that none of us experienced. Our adversaries are quickly moving out, to gain an advantage and to compete. And we cannot afford to stand idly by. We must move out with a sense of urgency. We must be agile, and we must be ready. Echoing my boss’s sentiments, simply put, we must accelerate change or lose, which means we must modernize our Air Force to better compete, deter, and win. It will take a whole-of-nation approach with industry, with Congress, and with our communities. It will take our Total Force, all of our nearly 700,000 Airmen, to win the future. Part of making sure that our Airmen are ready for the fight is making sure that they are resilient. Yep, I said resilient. That is part of your personal readiness and a critical component of the readiness to our force. So let me share with you what one Airman did to step up to the plate and be part of the solution to some of the resiliency challenges we have today.
“Senior Airman Paolo Felicitas is an Air Force Reservist, a C-17 crew chief and a software coder when not in uniform. And in his spare time, he uses his talent to develop content in the form of slam poetry. Someone sent me his video where he took the time to share with his fellow Airmen a personal experience, a season of struggle, but more importantly, how he fought through. He shared his rhymes and spoke about taking care of self, about mental health, and most importantly, about mental wellness. His rhymes inspired me so much that I had to talk to him. I had to ask him why would he do something like this? Write slam poetry for his Airmen. And interesting enough, the day that my team finally linked us up together, it was a long day for me. I was running on empty. However, like in the video, Airman Felicitas has a magnetic personality and an amazing smile, and his love for passing on in his words, ‘good vibes and energy,’ is what filled this Chief up. It’s Airmen like Airman Felicitas that sets the example for all of us. He delivers readiness in the form of airpower on the flight line, and he delivers readiness through resiliency by giving back to his fellow Airmen. It’s Airmen like him that I’m honored to serve.
“2020 has been a challenging and difficult year to say the least. We have been tried, we have been tested, and we are still going through, which is why now more than ever, we’ve got to take care of us. We have got to take care of each other, mentally, physically, socially, spiritually. And now I will add fiscally. When you are resilient, ready, trained, and developed to perform and execute the things that our Air Force asks of you, our readiness as an Air Force is optimized. Readiness, resiliency is readiness, and readiness breeds culture. And speaking of culture, our culture is who we are, and our culture is who we want to be. It is what enables us to make, to be the best Air Force in the world. Our culture embraces the diversity of our Airmen, and it is a culture that cultivates an inclusive environment and an environment of belonging. It will take all of us, let me say that again. It will take all of us to continue building that culture, a culture that allows our Airmen to reach their full potential and to achieve greatness.
“Greatness, like Airmen such as my former exec., Lt. Blaise Muluh. Lieutenant Muluh was born in Cameroon and came to the Air Force on a Diversity Visa program through a lottery. After arriving [in] the United States, he joined the Air Force to give back and to better himself. He spent 10 years as an enlisted Airman, which is where I met him, and I hired him as my executive assistant. Shortly after, he was chosen to become an Air Force officer, an Air Force contracting officer, and has done that for the past three years. But most recently, he was also picked up for a fellowship with industry, working at Apple. Talk about the American dream. Talk about commitment, persistence, and devotion. Talk about diversity, and inclusion, and belonging. It’s Airmen like Lieutenant Muluh that embody our Air Force core values and embody our culture. He joined the Air Force to be part of something bigger than himself. He stayed to make the Air Force bigger for everyone. We need more Lieutenant Muluhs in our force, and we need leaders that our Airmen can look up to and that push them to be their very best. Leaders that include their Airmen, and leaders that help them chart a course for their future, and ours. You have heard it said before that the future successes are not preordained. We cannot rest on our laurels. It is all about the people, folks.
“And they will guarantee our readiness. And foundational to all of that is our culture. We have a lot of work to do; we will get after it together. And with that, I want to hear from you. Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Number 14, over to you.”
Murray: “Chief Bass, thank you so much. It’s just, it’s an honor and a pleasure to be able to be here with you to have you addressing our Air Force as our newest Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force. We have questions that are coming in already out there in the field, since we’re a live feed. It is great to see this group of Airmen and to be with Airmen this morning, and I’m certain that they probably have questions, and we have a microphone here if anyone does, forward. And so, with some of the questions that are coming in, but let me start with this. And thanks for taking the time for questions here as well. You know, you’ve been in a seat for a month now. So the question is, is the job meeting your expectations? And what have been some of your biggest surprises? And the question that came in and says and challenges but you know, our president, Gen. [Bruce “Orville”] Wright, you know, says don’t look at challenges, opportunity. So what have been, you know, so what have been some of your biggest surprises and opportunities?”
Bass: “I feel like that’s a trick question. So I will be honest. Yes, I’ve been in for about five weeks now, and I don’t know, Gerald, that anything prepares you for serving at this level. The amazing opportunity that I have is that, you know, while even at Air Force, my focus is really on all Airman, all training within the Air Force. The amazing opportunity that I have sitting as Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force is that I have an opportunity to serve nearly 700,000 Airmen and their families. So with that, amazing. What probably, I don’t know, surprise is the word, though, but I don’t know that I fully understood the strategory, if you will, of how we serve. And so while, you know, one minute I might be focused on Russia and China, the next minute, I’m talking about things that matter to our Airmen such as evaluations and promotions. And so, sometimes it can be hard shifting gears, but…”
Murray: “I know, I see we’ve got a question here. But before that, I’ve got to pull on the string that you just said: Sometimes you’re focused on Russia and China. General Brown spoke to that yesterday, is that Russia and China are certainly, in many ways adversaries, or at least challenge, you know us and around the world. And he spoke to the importance of knowing, you know, more of their military, their capabilities and so to that, how important it is then to our enlisted members, that they also understand that?”
Bass: “I agree, you know, and that is something that is kind of my mantra, and, you know, which is why readiness is one of my focus areas, because I need all Airmen everywhere. I don’t care if you’re an Airman, NCO, senior NCO, field grade officer, civilian, we need to know the environment that we are in. and so when we know it, we will move out with purpose in our formations. When we know the true extent of our near-peer competitors, or in some cases, our competitors, we will move out with purpose, trying to make our organization better, trying to make our Air Force better, because our nation is counting on us.”
Murray: “I agree. A question here from our Airman here.”
Question: “Good morning, Chief. Thank you for being with us this morning. You spoke that one of your focus areas is going to be family. And so in this time, I think this question is particularly important. Before COVID, we were having a problem with our child care on and around bases. You know, when it comes to our mil families, our single parents, our folks that are working swing shift, night shift, and even our Reservists that are coming in over the weekend to serve, there’s definitely not enough child care opportunities on base or around, in the surrounding areas. So my question to you is kind of twofold. What do we as leaders need to really focus on and do right now to make sure that we are taking care of our military members when we’re having these child care issues? And then the second question would be, what are we doing as a big Air Force to ensure that we can meet these needs now and in the future, so our Airmen can focus on the future fight?”
Bass: “So, we’re talking about child care every day in my office as well. And I understand that, just like every other Airman out there. I was a dual military couple, two kiddos in school or in the CDCs [Child Development Centers]. And so I understand that plight. What I didn’t understand were the numbers of child care availability in our Air Force writ large. And so we are, you know, we just found out in fact, somebody briefed me, that we have about an 18 percent capacity on base to take care of children that are within the age of going to child care or, or school. And so that’s a challenge, right? 18 percent. So for expectation management, you know, we’ve got to be able to make sure that our leaders are aware of that, because we have to build a network within our communities. If we don’t have that capacity on base, which that’s another separate, you know, line item that we’ve got to address or get after, then we’ve got to build the networks in the communities that we have child care options for families. It is extremely hard for our single parents and our dual working parents, not just dual military, but dual working parents to be able to get after that. From a leadership perspective, on tactically what can we do, you know that there is nothing black and white, and my team hears me say that all the time. You know, leadership is not going to come out of an [Air Force Instruction], so I’m not gonna write an AFI that says, ‘Here’s what thou shalt do. If you’re a first line supervisor or leader in an organization.’ We’ve got to get to know our Airmen and got to know their challenges, and help figure out a way to, to allow them to be able to be purposeful in our military and be able to take care of their families. And it is different for everybody, depending on what squadron they’re in and where they sit.
“And so what I would challenge every first line supervisor, is to get to know your Airmen, their challenges, and just like Sergeant Gagnon and that I spoke about, fight the good fight for what needs to happen. You know, we could go on and on for that for about an hour. But I will say that’s, what I would [want], I want everybody to know and get out of this is, it is being looked at, at our most senior levels in the Air Force. From a supervisor standpoint, know your people, help find some solutions for them, teleworking is actually working. So COVID has taught us that a lot of folks can work from home and be effective. So maybe that can free up some of the spaces in our CDC. But it will take, you know, I talked about the whole- of-nation approach? It will take a whole-of-Air-Force approach to check, to get after the challenges that COVID has shown us.”
Murray: “All right, from our virtual audience, a question that comes in, and the question kind of reminds me to your predecessor, Number 18, Chief [Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O.] Wright. I of course highlighted, of course if we fight today, then we go fight with the force that we have today, the Airmen that we have today. But is that the Airmen that we need for the future? And he was all about, you know, the force we need, you know, as we go forward. So the question that comes in, it has to do with maybe programs or the things that are set today. What legacy programs need to be examined for retirement or challenged, to be able to have the force that we need?”
Bass: “All of them. You know, I’m just going to be real. And first of all, I have to give a shout out to number 18, and to all the former Chief Masters [of] the Air Force for all the work that you all have done. But I will tell you, as I mentioned, you know, speaking to you all earlier, the challenges we will have today and going forward are different than any other challenges that we’ve had. We have, there is not a program that we have today that we shouldn’t look at, do we need to change it? Does it need to be tweaked? Do we even need to do it? And so I think that’s, you know, where my boss is going with this, which is, it is a time to accelerate change. We have to get creative about stuff across the Air Force, we cannot think constrained. That’s a hard thing for some of our Airmen to do. Because we came into an Air Force where everybody is a little bit constrained in their thinking. We have phenomenal leaders, and I call them sometimes the middle. We have, we have phenomenal leaders in the middle who you know, retired as a master sergeant or retired as you know, a major, and now they’re serving, you know, still. We need every Airman to know this is a different Air Force, we have different challenges, we are in different domains. We will be challenged in the digital domain, the cyber domain, space, you know, we could go on and on. You know, and the fight that we fight today will look very different than it looked in the 90s. And so, every program that we have has to be looked at. Every policy when it comes to Airmen and being able to retain the best Airmen that we have has to be looked at. So I can’t even say, ‘These are them,’ I say all of them. And all of them do not have to come to our level to get things. Many of the policies that can be fixed are within your sections, and you need to be empowered to change them and get after it. Don’t send the Chief Master of the Air Force your personal process fixes, you know, in your section. Do it. I promise you, your commanders want you to do it. We’ve got to get back to a place where our Airmen are empowered.”
Murray: “All right, I think the other question I just rolled in. … the middle, and how too unfree, because change is not easy. So I think you just answered that Airman’s question right there. So, great. How about another question right here from the audience?”
Question: “Good morning, Chief Bass. First, congratulations on being selected as the 19th Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force and thanks for coming to speak with us this morning. I’m Capt. Russ LeMay, I’m a special tactics officer. Prior enlisted Air National Guardsman currently serving at the Air National Guard Readiness Center. I saw in your bio, you spent some time in the 24th [Special Tactics Squadron], which is awesome, that we have somebody from that community in such a key leadership role. I’d argue that we need more of that in the Air Force, considering that in the last few decades, our Special Warfare Airmen think in the fight to our nation’s enemies, on the ground, up close, and even hand-to-hand at times. They’ve done amazing things, bringing air power to bear on our foes, but they’ve paid a tremendous price in the process. Perhaps disproportionately to the rest of our forces with regards to personal injury and mental health. Your priorities are people, readiness, and culture. And the Air Force often speaks about resiliency and suicide prevention. But with respect to mental health, our current system seems to punish our people if they make mention of any potential mental health issue. I know multiple Airman removed from duty status for six months, immediately upon any mention of mental health issues. In the Air Force when a jet needs fixed, we fix it, and get it back in the fight. These Airmen are often taken off duty status and treated as pariahs at times. What can the Air Force do to change our culture surrounding mental health, and do a better job of taking care of these Airmen than we do have taking care of our jets?”
Bass: “Capt. LeMay, great question and something that I’m passionate about. And my team will tell you, I don’t think there’s been a day that’s gone by in the seat that we have not talked about that very thing, mental health. But the reality is, so, we get tired of talking about it, you know, we have got to come up with some strategic and operational tactical-level lines of effort on how we are going to tackle mental health issues and suicides in our Air Force. And just real quick, so there are two of us serving and leading from the 24 Special Tactics Squadron [STS]. A shout out to those folks, your [Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] Number 4, Chief [Ramon Colon-Lopez]. I knew him when he was a young staff sergeant, he knew me as a senior Airman. So, 24 STS builds leaders. But anyway, I digress. So, when it comes to the mental health situation, you know, I’ve been pretty vocal about that on my social media, on how do we get after this, because there is not one simple solution when it comes to mental health. Every single one of our Airmen has a unique challenge, or something that happens. And even if we fix policies and processes within the mental health system, there will still be challenges within our Air Force. This isn’t just a service thing, either. When you look and actually research and do the statistics on what is happening across our nation, you will see that our nation is struggling with mental health, mental wellness, and depression, anxiety, all of that. So, so we are a byproduct of, you know, what’s going on in our nation. To that end, what can I control? What can General Brown and the Secretary or the Air Force work on?
“What can our leaders in the DOD get after? We can get after the policies that have pushed the stigma of when you go get help, you’re going to be coded. Now, here’s a hard truth, and I know for some people this may not be wholly satisfying, but there are some people who have gone through so much trauma or have mental health challenges that service may not be where they need to be. But to those people, we own them, you know, we owe them service. We owe them something to help get them back on the right track, to help get them in a place where they are healthy and OK. And that’s OK. To the ones that we can bring them back and get them into an OK place holistically as a community, through mental health, chaplains, other helping agencies, and we can bring them back to return to service, that that’s a great win, right? But again, there is a, there is a population that won’t. We can love them through that, you know, even as they are serving as a civilian.
“But we have work to do on our end. I have asked my team to get with the ST community, to get with our resiliency folks, to start to have those working groups to quit talking about it and actually get to some action, you know, on what do we need to do? What are our Air Force policies that we can fix? And what things do we need to take to [Office of the Secretary of Defense] so that we can fix some of the DOD policies, which is then where we can partner with those who fight on the cap, you know, and on the Hill for our Airmen. You know, again, whole-of-Air-Force approach to get after this problem, but I can assure you that we are looking at it. What are the lines of effort that we can get through from a policy perspective for mental health? And then more importantly, I’m concerned we don’t have enough mental health professionals to help in our Air Force. And so we’re putting all of this on our mental health Airmen, but we don’t have enough of them. So big, big challenge that we’ve got to get after, but like General Wright says, big opportunities all in the name of our Airmen. You can join a working group if you want to. So, Captain LeMay. Absolutely.”
Murray: “All right, Chief, I have a question right now that is coming in from one of our journalists of our Air Force Magazine. What steps is the Air Force currently taking and/or planning to pursue in order to boost inclusion among our Total Force?”
Bass: “That is a great question. Boost inclusion. So I will tell you, the the Air Force pushed out some surveys on diversity and inclusion. We got hundreds of thousands of responses back on, here are some of the challenges that our Airmen are experiencing with respects to it, here’s what we need to do to get better. Those results will be coming out in the next few weeks. And from the, from the results of those surveys that came from our Airmen, we’ve got lines of effort that we will get after. And so I don’t want to get ahead of that, because we really have to take a look at it at it. And then more than take a look at it, it’s, you know, looking at the second- and third-order effects on that. But, aside from the efforts that we’ll do to bring us to a place where there is more diversity, inclusion, and belonging, we can do that culturally within our formations. And that’s where I get to, you know, the culture that matters to me most as an Airman is a culture that I have to experience every day. So when I’m not, when I’m in my duty section or my flight, or my squadron, that’s the culture that matters most to me. So every Airman has a role and responsibility in being part of the inclusiveness, in making sure that our Airmen are heard, making sure that we understand their stories of things that they’ve gone through, and making sure that we are including our Airmen. So yeah.”
Murray: “All right, great. Looks like we have one more question here. Please.”
Question: “Thank you for holding this occasion. My question which I have prepared, well, I will just ask and I would like to see if you can open it up. My question, what are some measurable goals in which the evidence can be assured that the proposed programs to promote diversity and inclusion are working?”
Bass: “So you asked for measurable goals for diversity and inclusion, and I’ll tell you, just like I did for the previous question, the results for those surveys, I haven’t even seen them. They’re compiling them right now, and we will reveal those results to the American public in a few weeks. Once we have that, we have got to determine what, what are the lines of efforts that we can do with it as an Air Force from, you know, the headquarters staff, to each major command, to each wing, to each leader. What are those lines of effort that we can do to get after that? What’s actionable, and then we will determine, you know, here’s our, here’s how we measure those things if we do that. I will tell you a goal. I mean, right off the bat, a goal is that we have a culture where we are including people. When I talk about diversity and inclusion often, and now we’ve added belonging. Diversity is a matter of fact, we have diversity among our ranks. We have diversity within our Air Force. Inclusion is a choice. So we have to have Airmen that make that choice that we will include people. So diversity you ask somebody to the dance, inclusion is you actually ask them to dance. And so we need to have people who are actually asking people to dance, and be part of that culture, that organization, that mission, and that sense of belonging.”
Murray: “Chief, the next question to come in has to do with our weighted Airman promotion system. Long-standing, you know, with that. Both of your predecessors, two of your predecessors have made, you know, and been a part of a pretty substantial change to our promotion, you know, system. And performance, focused on performance. So, this is a simple question, can we bring back promotional points for time-in-grade?”
Bass: “I knew this question was going to come up. Here’s what I will tell you, and most of you all who follow my social media feed already have heard me say it. I value experience. I think there is goodness to have Airmen that have experience in it. I think that we also have to be able to identify those sharp Airmen who are trucking along, and they can get promoted faster, that’s fine. We’ve got identify that potential, but I for one value experience. Whether we bring back points, or whether we bring back that experience another way, I’m not sure where we’re gonna go. That was one of the first talking points I had with our HAP A1 regarding, you know, some changes that we need to make to our enlisted evaluation system. So the changes are coming. I cannot tell you what they’re going to be, because we’re looking at the second-order and third-order effects. We don’t want to start adding points and then we have an effect two years down the road that does this. What we’ve got to do is figure out how do we show that we value experience within the force, and so, I think sooner than later that’s going to come out. But it’s, it may or may not come out in the sense of points. And you know, you also hear my boss talking about moving fast. This isn’t something that in a year from now we’re going to get after, I would suspect, and don’t tweet this out, people, but I suspect we’ll probably have an answer within the next few months.”
Murray: “All right. We’ll look forward to it. All right, speaking of your boss, General Brown has spoken about, you know, accelerating change and the need to take more risks. And so the question that has come in is, how do you incentivize risk taking, but also hold people accountable when they take risks that they shouldn’t? What does risk taking in the Air Force look like to you?
Bass: “So, so we do have to take smart risks.
And here, here’s just, you know, matter of fact of life, so we are going to make mistakes. Holding people accountable looks different depending on what that mistake is. And so when we as Airmen, and let me tell you, I’ve made my share of mistakes in the past, you know. We are going to make mistakes, we are going to fail. But we’ve got to learn from those mistakes and we’ve got to move on. Depending on the level of degree that that risk, or that mistake, or that fail was, you know, will determine how we hold somebody accountable. So some of the time, we’re gonna have our Airmen fail, and that’s OK because we’re telling them to fail. That doesn’t mean that we hold them accountable and like, you know, crucify them and, you know, write them up, and now you know, so that sends a message across the force and through culture that I just won’t take any risks and I won’t fail. So, you know, again, that’s leadership. And I don’t know, Chairman, that I can put that kind of stuff in writing on, ‘Here’s how to be a good leader.’ But we need leaders to hone their own sense of leadership skills, their own emotional intelligence, so that they can understand when, when, you know, risk is acceptable, when it’s not, how to hold somebody accountable, how to not. And there is going to be times where, from a frontline supervisor, you’re not going to hold somebody accountable because they made a mistake and they learned from it and they’re good. And, guess what? Somebody above you is going to want you to hold them accountable. So again, that’s part of leadership. And that’s on that frontline supervisor to fight the good fight, just like Sergeant Gagnon, to be able to make the right decision. It’s called learning. It’s called being on this leadership journey. I know that might not be satisfying for everybody, but you know, it’s too broad of a question to answer, you know, singularly.”
Murray: “Well, let’s narrow that down. You are a risk-taker in an area that I probably am not, because of our age difference, and it has to do with social media.”
Bass: “Oh, yeah.”
Murray: “This question comes in from an Airman. It says, Chief Bass, I see that you’re active on social media. Do you have any advice for newer Airmen on how to use social media professionally?”
Bass: “I feel like we need a mark this day, where a young Airman is asking me about how do I stay relevant. So I have a whole lot of street credibility. (Laughs) I will tell you, probably because I have teenagers in the house. I have a 14-year-old, and then, of course, you know, I have a college student. And they keep me up on my social media, but I can’t take all credit. I will prior to second, you know, prior to this job, but in this job, we had to professionalize my social media a little bit. So I have two PAs that work with me and keep me straight. And we go back and forth on that. So, I will tell you, for my social media that I’ve been pretty active on for the past few years, I’ve just learned to just be me, and be a little bit vulnerable. And what’s interesting is, you’re right, that was a big risk. So when I first started being me on a broader social media platform, I didn’t know how it was going to turn out. I didn’t know, you know, what would happen. But what I learned is that most of our fellow Airmen just appreciate somebody being real, and appreciate somebody who doesn’t necessarily know all the answers, but will help use their position to get those answers. And so, vulnerability, you know. Brene Brown talks about it all the time. And so I think that we need leaders in today’s Air Force, who will be a bit vulnerable, you know, be a bit humble to be able to say, ‘Hey, I don’t know all the answers, but we’ll get there.’ And be able to just figure out ways to be able to connect with their Airmen on different ways and means. I will tell you, you know, we do Instagram, I’m actually getting excited at that. And the 19th Air Force commander’s the one who said, ‘Chief, you don’t have an Instagram?’ You know, like what’s going on? So I got on that. I do not tweet, don’t know how to tweet, you know, it would be a wreck. So my [public affairs] folks do my tweeting for me.”
Murray: Well, now we know. Chief, I’ll tell you, you’re spurring so much interest out there, the questions are rolling in, but we have run out of time. And I think it is because of your focus on our readiness, our people, our culture. I will tell you that, again, I am honored, that we are honored in the Air Force Association, just as I know these and all Airmen are to follow your lead, our 19th Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force, Chief Bass. Thanks so much for joining us.”
Bass: “Thank you, it’s been an honor.”