Bass will become the 19th chief master sergeant of the Air Force, the service said Friday. She will be the first woman to serve as the highest-ranking noncommissioned officer in any of the United States military services, though a woman previously served as the chief enlisted advisor for the National Guard Bureau.
She will succeed current Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright, who is scheduled to retire Aug. 14.
“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 the 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.”
The Air Force’s next chief of staff, Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown, said he picked her because she has the right skills, temperament and experience, and because her leadership style matches his. Brown will also officially become chief of staff in August. The Air Force said Bass was the “consensus choice” out of more than a dozen finalists from across the service.
“I could not be more excited to work side-by-side with Chief Bass,” Brown said in a release. “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,” Brown continued. “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 will advise Brown and Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett on the welfare, morale, readiness, progression and how best to use the service’s more than 410,000 active, guard and reserve enlisted airmen.
When Brown, who will be the nation’s first black service chief, and Bass both assume their next positions, it will also be the first time in history that a branch of the military has had no white men in its top officer, enlisted and civilian leadership roles. Bass, whose mother is Korean, will also be the first chief master sergeant of the Air Force of Asian-American descent.
She and Brown will concentrate on continuing the Air Force’s shift away from fighting terrorism to preparing for an era of “great power competition,” countering major adversaries such as China and Russia, the Air Force said.
And Bass will continue Chief Wright’s work on improving resiliency, reducing suicide, and improving diversity and racial equality in the Air Force.
Chief Master Sgt. Lee Hoover, who has worked for and alongside Bass several times since 2016, said she is a smart chief who understands the issues affecting enlisted airmen. She’s also a compassionate person who cares for airmen and their families, genuinely listens when someone approaches her, and wants to know what she can do to help them, Hoover said.
“It’s never really about her,” Hoover said. “She’s a person of strong character.”
Hoover said her extensive background with training and development of enlisted airmen suggests that will be one of the areas she focuses on as CMSAF. Hoover was previously the spokesman and assistant for the 17th CMSAF, James Cody.
Bass is able to build relationships with senior NCOs, generals and other officers, Hoover said, and can stand up for enlisted airmen in a room full of general officers.
“She’s not afraid to speak her mind,” Hoover said. “Even if that’s different than what others may think, she’s going to make sure the enlisted voice is heard. … When you do speak your mind in a room full of [top] leaders, you have to do it in a way that they’ll hear it. They’re going to hear and understand her perspective, and know it’s coming from the right place.”
Bass has served as the command chief for the Second Air Force at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi since July 2018, advising commander Maj. Gen. Andrea Tullos on how to best use and develop the enlisted force there. The Second Air Force oversees a variety of training operations, including basic military training for more than 36,000 trainees annually, initial skills training and advanced technical training, and has more than 13,000 officer, enlisted, civilian and contract personnel.
She was previously chief of Air Force enlisted developmental education at the Pentagon from September 2016 to July 2018. Prior to that, Bass was command chief master sergeant for the 17th Training Wing at Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas from May 2015 to September 2016.
Bass enlisted in the Air Force in 1993 and first served as an operations system management journeyman at the former Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina. She also deployed in support of operations Southern Watch, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
In the release, Bass said that the Air Force’s chief of staff and top NCO need to have strong chemistry, and pointed to the partnership between Wright and Goldfein as the standard.
Gen. Brown is “the kind of leader we’ve all wanted to work with,” Bass said. “I’m excited for the opportunity to serve as his chief and his wingman. Together, we will do everything we can to ensure that every airman and their families are taken care of and feel like they are a part [of] our Air Force family.”
Bass was named Senior Noncommissioned Officer of the Year for the 86th Operations Group at Ramstein Air Base in Germany in 2011, and Distinguished Graduate from the Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy in 2009, among other achievements.
She came from an Army family, as does Gen. Brown. Bass’s father was a warrant officer in the Army, and she is originally from Mililani, Hawaii, though she lived in several overseas and stateside locations growing up.
Hoover also noted that unlike most CMSAFs, which are typically drawn from the ranks of MAJCOM chiefs, Bass is coming from a numbered Air Force. He said it’s exciting to see the Air Force make its selection from a larger pool than it has in the past.
Correction: This article originally incorrectly stated Bass' father’s rank in the Army.
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.