Chief Master Sergeant JoAnne S. Bass: A trailblazer’s farewell

  • Published
  • By Jonathan Cotto 
  • 37th Training Wing Public Affairs

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass is a name etched into Air Force history. She stands not only as the first woman, but also the first Asian American to hold the highest enlisted level of leadership.  

CMSAF Bass's path in the Air Force mirrors that of thousands of Airmen who answered the call to serve, but what began as a four-year commitment, soon evolved into a lifelong dedication. 

“It was about 31 years ago -- to a week -- where I came off of a flight at the airport, I jumped on a bus never thinking that the rest of my world was going to change,” Bass said.  

Like many, Chief Bass initially enlisted with modest intentions. 

“I only stayed in because I had a Honda Civic, I had to pay for,” Bass said.  

Four years stretched into decades of tireless service. 

“It was around the eight-year mark that I really learned what it meant to wear our nation's cloth, to wear this uniform, and that it was way more than a G.I. Bill, way more than a Honda Civic but an opportunity to serve and be part of something greater than myself, and be part of a higher calling,” she said.  

Despite holding various leadership positions and navigating diverse challenges, Chief Bass chose to spend her final temporary duty travel at the 737th Training Group, Basic Military Training, on Feb. 29. In a heartfelt gesture, she revisited the 322nd Training Squadron and the dormitory where her Air Force journey began.  

“It’s funny how the nostalgia does come back, this is my alma matter, this is where I call home, this is where I first met people that were not part of my blood family that became my Air Force family,” Bass said. “Coming here and seeing the beds that almost look exactly the same, seeing the uniforms hung up, the laundry bag hung … is such a reminder of an Air Force journey and how far one has come.”  

For the CMSAF, basic training was more than just physical endurance - it was a crucible of discipline, grit, and resilience.  

“From the minute you get off the bus, you are learning life lessons, and life lessons on discipline and life lessons on grit, and resiliency and how to persevere through all of the challenges that are going to come your way.”  

As Chief Bass ascended the ranks, she shattered ceilings, becoming the 19th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force in 2020. 

“To be able to do so has been the highest honor and just an opportunity of a lifetime, to help change the trajectory of the force,” she said.  

With a bittersweet visit to BMT, she attended graduation for the last time in her official capacity before retiring, on March 8. Addressing graduating Airmen and Guardians, she emphasized the importance of their future leadership roles. 

“I have immense pride in knowing that within the graduates today, we have future leaders in our Air and Space Force to include future leaders that are going to make a huge impact when they take the uniform off, and go do great things in their hometowns,” she said.  

Reflecting on her legacy, Chief Bass remains humble, acknowledging that it's still unfolding. 

“Nobody joins the Air Force and says, ‘What's my legacy going to be’ -- again as I mentioned -- we are just trying to be our very best, but I hope my legacy is in the lives of our Airmen,” the Chief said.