Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass spoke via live broadcast on Sept. 16 during the Air Force Association 2020 Virtual Air, Space & Cyber conference.
The 19th CMSAF discussed the importance of people, readiness and culture during her address.
She said the Air Force is the best in the world because of its people who are empowered to lead with care, drive and passion, and who need to be retained, cultivated and developed as the service builds the “Air Force we need.”
“We cannot afford to lose Airmen who have the talent, passion and commitment that will make us a better force … Airmen like Staff Sgt. Reskey-and fortunately for us, we didn’t,” she said.
Bass first met Airman Basic Daniel Reskey when she was the command chief of the 17th Training Wing at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas. According to Bass, she had stopped Resky from being discharged for things that happened prior to joining the service. She explained that he’d lost his mother at a young age and had grown up in a series of bad situations. He’d chosen to join the Air Force to better himself and better care for his younger siblings.
“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, through both BMT (basic military training) and technical training,” the CMSAF explained. “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.”
Reskey was served discharge papers for a fraudulent enlistment. However, his leadership saw what he’d been making of himself while wearing the uniform, she said.
“Had his 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 who simply needed an opportunity,” she said.
Since then, Reskey has earned Senior Airman Below the Zone, won awards, coached youth basketball, helped others in his community, mentored other Airmen to help them earn BTZ and deployed.
“He went from an at-risk youth to mentoring at-risk youth, and most importantly, a strong NCO (noncommisioned officer) in our Air Force,” she said. “And when I asked him how his career was going, he simply stated the Air Force has been the best thing that’s ever happened to him.”
Bass said the Air Force needs to retain more strong Airmen like Reskey to be ready for future challenges in an era of contested domains.
“We must be ready for the high-end fight, and it will be our people who determine our readiness,” she said. “The Airmen 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.”
Bass echoed guidance from Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., as she said the Air Force must accelerate change, or lose. She added that to do that, the Air Force must modernize to better compete, deter and win.
“It will take our Total Force, with our nearly 700,000 Airmen, to win the future,” she said.
She acknowledged this has been a challenging year, and added it’s important to stay mentally, physically, socially, spiritually and fiscally fit.
“When you are resilient, ready, trained and developed to perform and execute the things our Air Force asks of you, our readiness as an Air Force is optimized,” she said. “Resiliency is readiness and readiness breeds culture.”
That culture embraces diversity and forges an inclusive environment of belonging, allowing Airmen to reach their full potential and achieve greatness, she said.
She went on to tell the story of one of her executive assistants, 1st Lt. Blaise Muluh, who was born in Cameroon and joined the Air Force to give back and better himself. After seeing his commitment as an enlisted member, she hired him as her executive assistant. He later commissioned and became a contracting officer. Most recently, she said, he was picked up for a fellowship with industry.
“Talk about the American dream,” she said. “Talk about commitment, persistence and devotion. Talk about diversity and inclusion and belonging. It’s Airmen like Lt. Muluh who embody our Air Force’s core values, and embody our culture. He joined the Air Force to be part of something bigger than himself, and he stayed to make the Air Force bigger for everyone.”
The Air Force needs leaders like Muluh to prepare for the future, who Airmen can look up to, who push them to be their very best, Bass explained.
“You have heard it said before that the future successes are not preordained,” she said. “We cannot rest on our laurels. It is all about the people, folks, and they will guarantee our readiness, and are foundational to all of that is our culture. We have a lot of work to do. We will get after it together.”