DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – Some Airmen need help or direction that is beyond what their immediate supervisor can provide. When a situation like this arises, there is one person in particular an Airman can go to.
The first sergeant, also referred to as “first shirt”, wears a diamond in the middle of their rank for a reason.
“Typically, shirts are pretty experienced and tend to be pretty solid senior NCOs with a lot of experience,” said Master Sgt. Brandy Wess, 7th Operations Group first sergeant. “Our job is the health, morale and welfare of our people, so anytime someone is having a problem and their first line supervisor doesn’t know how to help, the first sergeant will.”
First sergeants can assist Airmen in a number of ways. They usually have many resources available to them acquired through their years of networking as well as sound advice built up during their life and career. These can be the biggest assets to an Airman needing assistance.
“First sergeants can spend the whole day talking with people, building rapport with different agencies getting to know who point of contacts and subject matter experts are so that when an Airman comes to us with an issue, we know exactly who can help them, so then we can refer them appropriately,” Wess said.
As Airmen and wingmen, we should all be looking out for and helping one another, but first sergeants specialize in this. There are certain character traits that separate first shirts from other senior NCOs.
“You have to be very organized because the part of our job that a lot of people don’t see is the administrative side,” Wess said. “On top of that, you still have to be passionate and empathetic when someone comes to you with an issue. Sometimes even if I think its minor, to that person it’s not. To that person it’s the biggest thing bugging them and distracting them from completing the mission.”
Airmen aren’t the only ones who benefit from a first sergeant’s guidance. Even spouses can go to the shirts should they have an issue that needs addressing.
“In my unit, spouses get an equal amount of help as our Airmen, and if a spouse has a problem, I’m going to do everything I can to help,” Wess said. “One way we do that is to stay engaged with our Key Spouse Program. Whenever my squadrons have key spouse programs, I like to attend and mingle with the spouses. It’s important that I get to know them so that they know I’m there to help.”
When asked, many shirts will say their job is their people. Between Airmen and their spouses, first sergeants are the cornerstones of a unit, providing relief for any problems that are presented to them. This help is for anybody, not just those assigned to their particular unit. A first sergeant’s advice is available to anyone looking for it.
“My personal motto is, ‘I’m everyone’s first sergeant,’” Wess said. “If I come across an Airman having a hard time, I don’t care where that Airman works, if they are in my unit or what rank they are wearing, I’m going to stop and ask if they are okay. I don’t mind asking the hard personal questions that may dig into their business a little bit because if it helps them out, then it’s worth it.”