A day in the life: Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force visits Robins (commentary)

  • Published
  • By Staff Sergeant Terrell McWilliams
  • 78th Comptroller Squadron

Is a day in the life of the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force everything you thought it would be?” Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass asked me at the end of her visit to Robins Air Force Base, Georgia.

My simple answer to her question was, “That and more.”

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force represents the highest enlisted level of leadership, and I was afforded the unique opportunity to shadow CMSAF Bass’s visit to Robins April 28-29. As an Airman with the 78th Comptroller Squadron, I was excited at the chance to see what the CMSAF and her team do for our Air Force mission first hand.

At 8 p.m. April 28, CMSAF Bass and Team 19 arrived on base. I anxiously stood on the flight line awaiting the chance to meet the first female Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force. Before I could meet her, though, I was introduced to the rest of Team 19, which included: Chief Master Sergeant Nathaniel Perry, Air Force First Sergeant Special Duty Manager, Chief Master Sergeant Megan Parrott, Executive Special Assistant to the CMSAF, and Senior Master Sergeant Laura Griswold, the CMSAF’s events coordinator. They all greeted me with handshakes and smiles.

Shortly after, CMSAF Bass approached me.

“How are you doing, Staff Sergeant McWilliams?” she enthusiastically said.

“I’m doing great, ma’am,” I said. “I’ll be following you and your team to create a ‘day-in-the-life’ story.”  

“So, this means you’ll PT with us at 0445 tomorrow morning?” she asked. “If you’re going to capture ‘a day in the life,’ you’ve got to capture the WHOLE day.”

“Yes, ma’am. I’ll be there,” I said, laughing.

“We’re going do a 10-mile run!” CMSgt Perry jokingly said as we boarded the surrey to drop them off for the night.

At 5 a.m. the next morning, I met Team 19 in the fitness center. I asked CMSAF Bass how important a good morning workout is, especially with such a busy day ahead.

“How I start my mornings is very important, and PT is a huge part of that. Plus, how much of a hypocrite would I be, if didn’t do PT? I have to set a good example for the Airmen,” she answered.

About an hour later, we reunited in the lobby and took a post workout selfie.

By 7 a.m., we were traveling to 78th Air Base Wing headquarters where CMSAF Bass met with the major mission partner senior enlisted leaders around Robins, to include Air Force Reserve Command, 461st and 116th Air Control Wings, 5th Combat Communications Group.

After the hour-long meeting, we took a short walk to the base theatre for one of two all-calls CMSAF Bass had on her itinerary. As we walked in, I could feel the excitement from the crowd, and they immediately erupted into applause after she was introduced.

After recognizing five outstanding performers, she addressed the crowd and made sure to acknowledge as many career fields as she could, thanking them for what they do.

During her speaking engagement, CMSAF Bass spoke about “Accelerate, Change, or Lose” and encouraged everyone to educate themselves on the strategic approach, developed by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr. 

Other points of emphasis included keeping pace with our adversaries, building resilient Airmen, and both improving quality of life for our Airmen and our talent management processes.

“People don’t quit their jobs,” she said to the crowd. “They quit their bosses. Airmen need to feel valued. We need to create an environment where the Airmen feel respected, valued and heard. We need to make sure that Airmen know that they matter."

Throughout the all-call, I observed the room and constantly saw Airmen nodding in agreement and engaging with every word she said.

After her closing remarks, CMSAF Bass then opened the floor for questions. To my surprise, the crowd seemed hesitant.

“Don’t be shy now, y’all have a lot of opinions online,” CMSAF Bass said with a laugh. “I know y’all have something that you want to say. Let’s hear it.”

This seemed to break the ice as the crowd laughed and the questions began to flow. I watched CMSAF Bass carefully listen to each question and answer them genuinely.

Some of the popular questions included: shaving waivers, diversity/racial disparity and retention rates. All of these questions generated great conversation, but the question that stood out to me was from an Airman who expressed concerns about her family.

“For those of us who have kids, how do we help them adjust to moving?” she asked. “How do we explain that to them? What are some tips you have?” The Airman began to get emotional as she finished her question.

CMSAF Bass provided her with some encouraging words and offered to speak with her after the all-call.

“I always say that our families make the most sacrifices when it comes to the military” CMSAF Bass said. “Everyone always talks about us as the members, but it’s really our families who make the biggest sacrifices. A tip I suggest is always including your family in your plans. If you have a (permanent change of station) coming up, try to include them and ask what they think about the move. We can talk about it more offline."

After the all-call, I watched Airmen line up to take pictures with CMSAF Bass. She greeted everyone by name and then posed for each picture with her signature hand gesture. I noticed several Airmen excitedly calling their spouses, family and friends to let them know they had just taken a picture with the CMSAF.

After the photo op, I saw CMSAF Bass speaking with the Airman from earlier. As busy as her schedule was, she still made time to provide comfort and reassurance. 

At the end of all that, it was still only 9:45 a.m. and there was still a lot of the day left. We headed to the Air Force Reserve Command headquarters, where CMSAF Bass met with more senior enlisted leadership and recognized several outstanding performers.

Once that was done, our next stop was the Total Force luncheon at the Winn Dining Facility. CMSAF Bass ate lunch and spent time talking to 25 Airmen, learning about their mission and listening to their concerns.

We were at the mid-point of the very busy day and CMSAF Bass wasn’t showing any signs of fatigue. She was still very sharp and ready for her next speaking engagement, which was the Air Force Reserve Command all-call.  

During the AFRC all-call, CMSAF Bass brought the same level of intensity and enthusiasm she had earlier that morning. She never missed an opportunity to engage with Airmen, and she made sure that everyone left with a photo.

Our last stop of the day consisted of a visit to the SSgt Felicia Rivers Airman Leadership School Class 22-D where CMSAF Bass met with the future leaders of the Air Force.  

During the Q&A portion, an Airman asked CMSAF Bass a great question, but in an interesting way.

“I have a three-part question, ma’am,” he stated. “How long have you been in the Air Force?”

“Twenty nine years,” she responded.

“Is it true that a general makes more than the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force?” he asked.

“Yes,” she responded.

“So knowing that a general makes more than you, what has kept you enlisted and serving in the military for so long?” he followed up.

CMSAF Bass laughed and simply stated, “The people. Taking care of people is what keeps me going. Anybody that has served for this long will tell you that’s why they continue to serve. If I was in this to be rich, I would have left the military a long time ago.”

After all of this, we reached the end of the day and her visit around 4 p.m. As we headed to the flight line, CMSAF Bass finally had time to reflect and unwind after a long day. She talked and shared some laughs with her team before engaging in a brief conversation with me.

“Staff Sergeant McWilliams, is a day in the life of the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force everything you thought it would be?” she curiously asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” I responded. “It’s everything I imagined and more. Thank you for the opportunity. I don’t know how you do this day in and day out."

She and I said our goodbyes and then we took one last selfie before she and Team 19 departed for Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.  

Aside from seeing how she was the busiest woman in the Air Force, my biggest takeaway from my time with CMSAF Bass and Team 19 is that everyone matters. It doesn’t matter what rank you hold, your job, whether you’re military or civilian, everybody is important. She genuinely cares about people and I saw that during our time together, through both her actions and her words.


Editor’s Note: Staff Sgt. Terrell McWilliams is the noncommissioned officer in charge of the 78th Comptroller Squadron Commander Support Staff at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia. He serves as the liaison between the commander, first sergeant and director, providing direct administrative support for the 78th CPTS and 78th Air Base Wing Staff Agencies.