SAN ANTONIO, Texas –
A sea of multi-colored military uniforms and the sounds of several languages were the backdrops for the Senior Enlisted Leader International Summit, held in San Antonio Aug. 9-13.
The SELIS, co-hosted by Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass and the Inter-American Air Forces Academy, brought together approximately 120 top enlisted leaders from the U.S. and 44 partner nations. The summit is normally held bi-annually for international senior enlisted counterparts to the chief master sergeant of the Air Force to discuss issues affecting the international community of enlisted Airmen and to further build relationships. It was last held at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, in 2018.
This year’s theme was “Building an Airman.” Bass kicked off the conference expressing her enthusiasm for the gathering.
“In this room today we have 44 nations represented – 44 nations of friends, of partners, that all work hard at making our world a better place,” Bass said. “It’s our honor and privilege to spend this week with you talking about how we develop our United States Airmen ... you’re here on purpose in San Antonio, because this is where everything starts for the United States Air Force enlisted corps. Every single one of our enlisted Airmen comes here – to Military City USA.”
Bass, who marked one year as chief master sergeant of the Air Force Aug. 14, said that she’s been focused on three things since then.
“I’ve been focused on our people, on readiness, and the culture of the United States Air Force. Our Air Force is very different from when I joined it over 28 years ago,” Bass said, noting that the Air Force is almost half the size now than it was when she joined.
“If we’re half the size that we were, every single United States Airman counts, and that’s why we pay a whole lot of attention at making sure that we have a culture that our Airmen are thriving in and able to be their very best,” she added.
Attendees learned about topics relevant to the summit’s theme, including Enlisted Force Development and Professional Military Education. The group also had the opportunity to get viewpoints from several partner nations. Guest speakers included Kelli L. Seybolt, Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force, International Affairs, who offered her strategic perspective for the group.
“The enlisted corps is the driving force behind deepening ties with our allies and partners,” Seybolt said. “Enlisted Airmen and Guardians are the innovators who work side-by-side with partner nations to enable mission execution and strengthen our collective deterrence and defense.”
Attendees got a firsthand look at the mission of the 37th Training Wing, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, when they visited various elements of its four groups – the 737th Training Group, 37th Training Group, Defense Language Institute English Language Center, and IAAFA. They also traveled to JBSA-Randolph where they toured the 558th Flying Training Squadron.
“I work at NATO headquarters. I’ve worked there the past four years in a European bubble and didn’t realize how far our national partnership expands. As an enlisted person, it’s confirmation that enlisted development is just as important. NCOs are the backbone of the corps,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Theda Shaw, Support, NATO HQ AIRCom PME Lead.
Some of the locations the group was able to visit while at JBSA-Lackland included the Aviation Language Training Center at DLIELC, the Career Enlisted Aviator Center of Excellence at the 344th Training Squadron, Airfield Training Complex at IAAFA, and the Pfingston Reception Center, the site where all enlisted Airmen begin their Air Force careers.
SSWO Tomasz Bieniara, Poland’s Command Senior Enlisted Leader, said the conference provided “insights, contacts, and a visit at a school with a different system of learning.”
Botswana Defence Force Air Arm-MCSM Seboloko Mosimanyana, the Major Command Sergeant Major from Botswana, added that the U.S. Air Force is “more educated in the way you use computers and simulators … that really interested me. The conference is good because we share ideas and learn from others because we are from different regions.”
In an interview later in the week, Bass said she had been looking forward to SELIS and its opportunities.
“I looked forward to connecting with all of these leaders, to be able to crosstalk and to share the goals that we have, to be able to also talk about the challenges and compare the different unique ways in which we tackle those challenges,” she said, adding that those “relationships and connections can last a lifetime.”
While only the top enlisted leaders were able to attend SELIS, Bass said that all Airmen, no matter their rank or position, could make a difference in nurturing partnerships.
“I want them to think about how each of them is an ambassador of our United States Air Force,” Bass said. “Being an ambassador means that they represent our nation, they represent our Air Force, and that no matter where they are, they have an opportunity to connect with other people, whether it be from other services or from other partner nations.”