SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
In April 1960, Chief Master Sgt. Grace Peterson became the first woman chief in the Air Force 13 years after its stand-up.
Fast forward to present day, less than one year after the U.S. Space Force activation on Dec. 20, 2019, Chief Master Sgt. Taryn Stys, 4th Space Control Squadron superintendent, and Chief Master Sgt. Karmann-Monique Pogue, 4th Space Operations Squadron superintendent, are the first two USSF members to promote to the rank of chief master sergeant.
“By happenstance, we’re female,” Stys said. “We’re here because Chief Pogue and I did the same things our peers have done, we work hard and we’re both very capable. As long as we continue to demonstrate that and lead by example, I think that has more impact than anything else. The key for us is to normalize being here.”
Less than one percent of the enlisted force earns the rank of chief master sergeant, and they don’t get there overnight. Pogue began serving in the Air Force in May 1999. Stys joined shortly after in January 2001.
“I grew up in Tucson, Arizona near Davis-Monthan Air Force Base,” Pogue said. “You’d see planes flying around all of the time and I loved it. I remember telling my mom I wanted to do that one day.”
Yolanda Tovar, Pogue’s mom, said she remembers that moment as if it had just happened.
“She was four years old and we were driving down the street passing an Air National Guard base when she saw Airmen lining up, probably to do an exercise,” Tovar said. “She stared wide-eyed and looked at me and said, ‘Mommy, I am going to work there when I grow up and take you places.’ I recall telling her, ‘Yes, you can do it!’ Deep down in my heart, I knew it was going to eventually happen, and at age 19, it did.”
Stys made the decision to join the military after graduating high school. Stys mom, Millie Roman, knew her daughter would thrive in the military environment.
“From the beginning, I noticed she was very regimented and determined,” Roman said. “Something about the military really caught her interest and I knew she would excel in it. I encouraged her to follow her heart and what she wanted for her future, and right after high school, she joined the military.”
Stys began her career serving in the USAF as a computer systems operator.
“I had no clue space career fields existed until I was about six years in,” Stys said. “They had the [non-commissioned officer] retraining program and they needed to retrain a bunch of NCOs out of my career field. That’s the first time I actually read up on the [space systems operations] career field. I still had no idea what it was, but it sounded good on paper, so I took the leap.”
Pogue chose to be a space operator prior to leaving for basic training, but she also knew little about the career field prior to signing up for it.
“I remember the Air Force recruiter handing me a binder that listed all of these jobs, and told me to pick whatever job I wanted,” Pogue said. “I remember flipping through the binder and asking him, ‘What’s this space job?’ He replied, ‘I don’t know, you’ll probably go sit in a missile field somewhere and launch rockets, I’ve never met someone who had this job.’ So I said, ‘Okay, that’s what I want to do.’”
While both chiefs spent most or all of their careers in space operations, neither imagined one day they would actually be a part of a separate branch solely focused on space.
“I remember being a young Airman and talking with my team about how maybe one day we’d have our own branch,” Pogue said. “It’s crazy looking back on those conversations because it finally came to fruition. It’s surreal.”
Pogue transferred into the USSF Sep. 1, and Stys followed Sep. 3. About one month later, both women sewed on the rank of chief master sergeant.
“It is so humbling,” Pogue said. “I don’t think there are words that can surmise how I feel right now. When I walked in to work last week actually wearing this rank, it just made me realize I’m so fortunate, and that I have a lot of work to do. I’m not afraid to do the work.”
In order to earn the highest enlisted rank, both chiefs agreed it takes support from those around you, dedication, hard work, humility and most importantly, leaving things better than they were found.
“It takes a lot of selflessness, [will] to see the bigger picture, and work toward that picture versus your own gains,” Stys said. “For me, anytime I’ve found the greatest success is when, whether it’s a team of people or a program, I ask, ‘How do I make that better?’”
The chiefs have witnessed the USAF become more inclusive and equal for all Airmen, from increased suicide awareness to the repeal of, ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ throughout their time in the service.
Both Pogue and Stys remain dedicated to ensuring all service members are treated equally, regardless of who they are or where they came from.
“It should only be about what you bring to the table,” Pogue said. “What are you doing to continue to build and empower Airmen and leave the service better than how you found it?”
Even though the chiefs have reached the final enlisted rank, they’re still focused on the future and how they can improve the USAF and USSF for future generations.
“At 19, I told myself I would be a chief one day, and it happened,” Pogue said. “So then I’m thinking, ‘Now what?’ And the ‘now what’ is, what do I use all of these stripes for? I use them to take care of my Airmen and team. I use them to take down barriers.”