Moving up the enlisted career ladder? Big Air Force wants to celebrate

by Tommy Grant

It’s a big deal when a senior airman transitions to staff sergeant.

To show how the Air Force values that milestone and reinforce the importance of entering enlisted leadership, the service will put in writing its traditions for induction ceremonies and similar events in the coming weeks, the top enlisted airman said Thursday.

“Even though everybody hears me say, ‘What got you here won’t get you there,’ there are some traditions that we’ve got to hold near and dear,” Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass said in a virtual fireside chat hosted by the Air and Space Forces Association.

It’s the latest move from a chief who has sought to strengthen the enlisted force through an emphasis on values, standards and traditions as the Air Force repositions itself to combat emerging threats from China and other technologically advanced adversaries.

While the service looks to codify its induction ceremonies for noncommissioned and senior noncommissioned officers — enlisted airmen at the rank of staff sergeant (E-5) and above — it is also working to provide a framework for change-in-responsibility ceremonies for senior enlisted leaders across the force.

“The Air Force typically hasn’t done a lot of changes of responsibilities,” Bass said. “Our joint sister services do. I think that we’ve we haven’t capitalized on those opportunities, and so now, we will roll that out.”

In a statement to Air Force Times, Bass said the guidelines are neither directive or prescriptive and are meant to allow airmen to honor milestones. Providing a framework for the change-of-responsibility ceremony, which is reserved for units at or above the squadron level, “demonstrates to a unit the significance of the charge to uphold the discipline, readiness and welfare of an organization’s enlisted force,” Bass said.

Bass’s comments come as she winds down her final weeks as the Air Force’s senior enlisted adviser after more than three years in the role. She plans to hand over the top enlisted job to Chief Master Sgt. David Flosi on March 8.

Flosi will inherit a slate of priorities topped by a push for better pay and benefits, as well as improved health care and child care options. In the last two decades, companies like the outsized convenience store chain Buc-ee’s and In-N-Out Burger have begun offering compensation packages that allow them to compete with the public sector for talent, Bass noted.

“The things that we ask our service members to do, you can’t compare that to Buc-ee’s, Home Depot or In-N-Out Burger,” she said. “This is a profession of arms. … We hold this institution sacred. We’ve got to be able to take care of them.”

She plans to meet with lawmakers about quality-of-life issues in the Air Force later this month.

Bass also reiterated her support for the Air Force’s still-developing plans for sweeping structural change as it looks to compete for military supremacy and influence with China.

The future force will require modernized processes and policies to attract and retain airmen, Bass said, including new opportunities for former airmen to rejoin the military after working in private industry, and opportunities for those with advanced credentials in fields like cybersecurity to enter at higher enlisted ranks.

“The Department of the Air Force has to have pathways to allow that service,” she said. “It’s going to look different than it did 20 years ago and 30 years ago. … We have to think unconstrained.”

And Bass, whose online stream of motivational posts and selfies with airmen around the world has punctuated her journey through leadership, offered her successor another piece of parting advice: Don’t get “caught up in the comments.”

Courtney Mabeus-Brown is the senior reporter at Air Force Times. She is an award winning journalist who previously covered the military for Navy Times and The Virginian-Pilot, in Norfolk, Va., where she first set foot on an aircraft carrier. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy and more.

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