Commentary

August 9, 2013

I am an Air Force first sergeant

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Master Sgt. Eric Jackson
412th Maintenance Group

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“Everyone is My Business”

That’s the first sergeant’s creed. That’s what we strive for, each and every single day. There are very few enlisted personnel in our Air Force with more authority, more responsibility and a downright busier day than a first sergeant.

My job is people – everyone is my business. I dedicate my time and energy to their needs: their health, morale, discipline and welfare. I grow in strength by strengthening my people. My job is done in faith; my people build faith.

Some of the “complaints” we first sergeants hear most often are “I can never get a hold of you.” Untrue, as all “shirts” carry a duty cell phone with them 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. Or, “You’re never in your office.” True, because a good first sergeant is out and about, being the eyes, ears, and mouth for the commander; always maintaining a pulse of their organization.

An extremely important individual in an Airman’s life is the first sergeant, and I mean big “A” when I reference Airmen. But, what exactly is a first sergeant? What does a first sergeant do? When should an Airman seek out their first sergeant to talk about a professional or personal issue?

What is a first sergeant?

According to Air Force Instruction 36-2618, The Enlisted Force Structure, a first sergeant is a special, senior noncommissioned officer position. A first sergeant is one who is there to provide a dedicated focal point for all readiness, health, morale, welfare and quality-of-life issues within his or her organization.

What does that mean? Well, to me it simply means that I’ve been given the distinct privilege, and entrusted with the duty and responsibility, of taking care of all Airmen and their families. As a senior NCO, I am required to follow general and specific guidance per AFI 36-2618, but as a first sergeant, I focus specifically on the people who execute the mission.

What does a first sergeant do?

The Enlisted Force Structure goes on to state that “first sergeants work closely with the command chief master sergeant to prepare the organization’s enlisted force to best execute all assigned tasks.”

Commanders are presented with the advice of both the chief enlisted manager and the first sergeant, which aid them in their decision making process and ensures the integrity of that process isn’t compromised.

A very important job of the first sergeant is to keep the balance between ensuring the mission is accomplished; mission success and doing right by your people; people success.

If we don’t maintain a constant and real-time pulse of the unit, the mission could fail or succeed at the cost of the people. We could easily lose the confidence and trust of our people who are the greatest asset the Air Force has. Remember, people make the mission happen and will ultimately be the reason for the success or failure of the mission. If we don’t stay actively engaged, listen to our personnel and meet basic needs, there is a real chance the mission could be degraded and lose the confidence and trust of the men, women and family members of your organization.

A first sergeant is there to help the Airmen of the unit with their personal or professional matters, no matter what time of day or night it is…that’s what we do, and we do it very well. It’s that simple.

Contrary to popular belief, we are here to help you and there are many tools available to help you with whatever situation you happen to bring our way. We might not have the immediate answer or solution to fix your situation but I promise we’ll do our very best to help each Airmen get the help they need from a helping agency of some sort. It’s our duty and we much rather help you help yourself before the situation gets out of hand.

When should one talk to a first sergeant?

The sooner a first sergeant is made aware of that a potential problem might exist, the sooner that first sergeant can start helping you resolve the situation. As time goes by, and a situation starts to deteriorate, it’ll be harder and harder for your shirt to assist you. So, please do the right thing and give your shirt a chance to assist you early on in the development of a personal or professional matter.
You can come and tell me JUST about anything, but if I think there is the potential you’re going to incriminate yourself, I’ll ask you to stop talking while I read you your rights. After that, if you would like to continue talking about it, I’ll listen but I have an obligation and the responsibility to report anything that could bring discredit to the Air Force or illegal to the attention to the commander, security forces, or the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. If you wish to no longer talk to your first sergeant about that situation at that point, we’ll suggest you talk to the Area Defense Counsel or a chaplain who are the only ones that retain 100% confidentiality.

I believe it’s best to be upfront and honest with your Airmen for a couple of reasons. First, you never want to intentionally misinform or lead them down a path of self-incrimination without that individual knowing their rights. Secondly, the ADC is one of the tools I advise my Airmen to utilize for the counsel and help needed with any potential legal situation.

I wish there was a way to break the stigma that the only time people talk to the first sergeant is when they’re in trouble. While that is sometimes true, we also spend countless hours with people mentoring, grooming, and developing our future Air Force leaders. We are constantly out there within our military and civilian communities making a difference and would do anything we could to assist a family out of financial hardship or get an Airman who lost an immediate family member or a relative who was in “Loco Parentis.” We care dearly for our Air Force and our greatest resource – our people! At the same time, we must ensure that good order and discipline is equally enforced and our Air Force maintains the highest of standards and personal integrity. It’s what makes us the most powerful Air Force on this planet and allows us to win in Air, Space, and Cyberspace.

First sergeants fill the needs of the Air Force first, second, and third. It’s never about us or ME; it’s always about you or THEM!

First sergeants live our service’s core values 24/7-365; we are the epitome of integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do!

To me it was very clear, I wanted to give back, make a difference in a young man’s or woman’s life. I wanted the next generation to be the best generation of Airmen to serve our great country. I wanted to serve selflessly and be that voice to advocate for change. I wanted to ensure that the parent of the young men and women that have freely raised their right hand and took the oath of enlistment know that their children are going to be prepared technically, emotionally, physically, and spiritually to support and defend America’s interest.

A first sergeant does all he or she can to ensure that each Airmen under their charge has an equal opportunity to be the best they can be for their country, family and selves.

I’ve been fortunate to have been affiliated with our fine Air Force for 18 years and to me the first sergeant position is not a job, or special duty, but a way of life that must be executed with 100-percent passion and commitment. Why? Because we owe it to everyone who has worn the uniform before us, those who still wear it proudly today, and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Each day I wake up, it’s like a dream come true, I only know of one way to live … the United Stated Air Force Way.




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