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Meet the New Senior Enlisted Leader of the Space Force

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Chief Master Sgt. John F. Bentivegna, whose 30-year career started in the Air Force and led to him becoming a key player in the Space Force, will be taking over as that service’s top enlisted leader.

Bentivegna revealed the news, making him only the second chief master sergeant of the Space Force in the service’s history, in a Saturday interview with Military.com. He was selected from five finalists for the job.

“The reason I’m doing this, and I talked to Gen. Saltzman, is because I think I have an opportunity to still serve,” Bentivegna said, referring to Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman. “It’s an opportunity; it’s a challenge for me as well. I’m going to grow in this position.”

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Saltzman informed Bentivegna on Friday that he had been selected to replace current Chief Master Sergeant of the Space Force Roger Towberman in the coming months. Bentivegna will be in charge of helping shape service policy and customs that are tied to the health, morale and mission of all enlisted Guardians.

Towberman praised Saltzman’s pick in an interview with Military.com on Saturday, saying he’s run into Bentivegna several times throughout his career.

One of the qualities that struck him was Bentivegna’s ability to hold his fellow service members accountable.

“I think he’s a really good testament to the Space Force value of courage,” Towberman said. “He’s very comfortable kind of speaking truth to whomever it is, including me, and he’s always been good. I’ve always been able to count on him to point out blind spots and to hold me accountable.”

Bentivegna said that he did not begin his military service expecting to make a career out of it. When he was getting ready to ship off to basic military training in the late summer of 1994, he thought his career as a young airman would last four to six years max.

He was just two months married, and boot camp in Texas was far away from his native New Jersey. The way he saw it, being a veteran would look good on a resume and could help him get a job as a fireman or a police officer, like some of his friends back home.

“I was a kid in Jersey City. I didn’t do extremely well in high school. I didn’t push myself in my studies. I wasn’t disciplined,” Bentivegna said. “I was going to do four years and get out.”

Bentivegna transferred from the Air Force into the Space Force in September 2020. He currently serves as the senior enlisted adviser to the chief operations officer and is the enlisted space operations career field manager for space systems operators from the Air Force’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Prior to that role, Bentivegna was the senior enlisted leader for Space Operations Command at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado.

Bentivegna credits many of the stops in his career, ranging from being stationed as a top enlisted leader with various commands to working with the National Reconnaissance Office, as being instrumental in his development as a leader and a Guardian.

But in particular, he points to his job in 2017, when he worked as the chief of enlisted force development for the Air Force, as being one crucial moment. Chief Master Sgt. JoAnne Bass, the current top enlisted leader of the Air Force, had a neighboring cubicle to Bentivegna, and Towberman would often swing by.

“Chief Towberman, we’ve known each other for years, and that relationship started when I was initially in the Pentagon doing enlisted force development,” Bentivegna said. “And me, him and Chief Bass would spend many hours contemplating about the challenges of the enlisted force and what we can do to make a difference for them.”

Towberman said all of the candidates who were being vetted for the job were immensely qualified but that Bentivegna’s previous experience in Washington, D.C., was seen as a plus.

“Well, the one thing that I think stood out with [Bentivegna],” Towberman said. “Clearly time in the Pentagon is a relevant developmental opportunity.”

Towberman began the job with a completely new branch of the military, taking on the responsibility of developing a culture from scratch. In his three years as chief master sergeant of the Space Force, he oversaw the establishment of the service’s Noncommissioned Officers Academy, the beginnings of the Guardians’ health and wellness program, and the creation of the Space Force boot camp.

Bentivegna equates the creation of the Space Force to a rocket launch, a familiar mission for the service.

The initial years were like a rocket’s blast off from Cape Canaveral or Vandenberg Space Force Base, where “there’s anticipation, there’s anxiety” that everything goes right.

“All hopes and dreams are on this rocket and then it lifts off. It is violent, it is loud. You’re trying to break the bonds of Earth,” Bentivegna said. “It takes a lot of energy to get them into the atmosphere.”

But three years into being a service, the Space Force is where it needs to be, Bentivegna says. Now, he’s focused on where it’s going.

“Now we’re in the next phase; we’re in orbit now. We’ve got to start talking about the processes and procedures and capabilities, all of the normal things that our service does,” Bentivegna said. “That really now is the mission we have got to get on.”

— Thomas Novelly can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

Related: Here Are the 5 Candidates Who Could Be the Space Force’s Next Top Enlisted Leader

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