April 3 marks the 50th anniversary of the position of Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, the top enlisted leader of the service. The history of the position dates back to the years following the Korean War, when Air Force and Air Force Association leadership convened to discuss ways to strengthen the service’s enlisted ranks and avoid a drain of talent as the nation moved away from war. In the mid-1950s, a council made up of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Thomas White, Air Force Secretary James Douglas Jr., along with Air Force Association leadership including executive director James Straubel met and formed four major recommendations, which included creating the two top E-8 and E-9 enlisted ranks, along with increasing pay, adding college credit for military education, and increasing the publicity of the contributions of the enlisted force. Those recommendations made their way into legislation, in the form of the Kilday Bill passed in 1958. While the two top enlisted positions were created, it wasn’t until April 3, 1967, and the peak of the Vietnam War that Chief of Staff Gen. John McConnell created the top position of Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force to present enlisted concerns directly to senior leadership. The first pick, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Paul Wesley Airey, was picked from 21 major commands and served for two years in the position. Today, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright is the 18th airman to hold the position.
This article was updated April 4 to correctly identify Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright.