OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. --
“You are, essentially, a part of Team 19.”
When I was initially informed I was assigned to document the first female chief master sergeant of the Air Force’s visit to my base, I shriveled into a tiny nervous ball.
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass flew into Lincoln Airport on one of Offutt Air Force Base’s aircraft, the E-4B National Airborne Operations Center, after spending a few hours learning about their day-to-day mission.
After a short drive on the tarmac, Chief Bass and Team 19 headed to the maintenance hangar for a comfort break. I followed behind and Chief Bass turned to me, spotted my camera gear in haul, and asked if I would be “hanging out” with her and her team.
Shakily, I affirmed her question, and then her eyebrows furrowed as she read my nametape.
“Montano… wait, are you married?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said.
“Oh! I just talked to your husband! ... Alright, let’s get after it.”
For some reason, at that moment, I no longer feel nervous or small. I felt valued.
Chief Bass represents the highest enlisted level of leadership, and she recognized my name and appreciated me documenting her visit.
In my career, I have documented many distinguished visitors, but Chief Bass’s visit was different.
As we navigated the maintenance hangars, Chief Bass spoke with many Airmen, to include civilian and contracted employees.
All the while, she just soaked in every word. She listened intently to the concerns of the Airmen, and provided genuine mentorship to all levels from an Airman 1st Class to the commander of the 55th Security Forces Squadron.
When visiting 55th Logistics Readiness Squadron Airmen, she noticed Airmen working on a generator and promptly went over to learn what they were doing and personally tell them she appreciates what they do.
After talking with Airmen for a few hours about upcoming policy changes and their concerns for the future, Team 19 headed out for a special stop and as an honorary member of Team 19, I was invited along, to meet retired Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James McCoy.
When we entered his home it had a delicate appearance. It was filled with many family photos and various trinkets, but when you walked into his “I love me” room, as he called it, the appearance shifted.
The room was filled with photos, awards, coins, other accolades and a large shadow box. There was so much history, and so much appreciation for his service.
As Chief Bass sat with “number six”, you could see the admiration in her eyes as she listened to stories about his career and the history of her predecessors.
In what felt like only a few minutes, you could feel their relationship evolve from strangers to family.
To keep with a busy schedule, the visit had to end earlier than desired.
A woman with a german accent greeted Chief McCoy as we navigated through the hallway, and as we got closer Chief Bass began to speak German with her.
“You didn’t know I could do that, did you?” Bass said.
As the first day came to an end, I rode the bus with Team 19 back to Offutt Air Force Base.
We talked about leadership, my goals and my family.
The biggest lesson I learned from the few hours I spent with Chief Bass was to slow down.
She never missed an opportunity to speak with an Airman, take a photo or tell someone she appreciated them.
In just a few short hours with the first female chief master sergeant of the Air Force, I learned I wasn’t temporarily a part of Team 19; I am always a part of Team 19.
We are all part of Team 19.