HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah — Early in his career, Chief Master Sgt. Michael Bellerose saw a first sergeant fix a problem others said couldn’t be solved. Bellerose, a security forces patrolman at the time, was working at a base air show and someone told him there weren’t enough box lunches for him and his team, he recalled. A first sergeant overheard the conversation and 45 minutes later Bellerose and his team had food. That small act of kindness from a random first shirt set the path for his Air Force career, he said.
Two decades and a dozen assignments later, Bellerose is Air Force Reserve Command’s first sergeant functional manager. He mentors 509 first sergeants and advises Reserve leaders on how best to use those Airmen. Bellarose relayed his beliefs on the role of first sergeants.
Is being a first sergeant tough?
It is the toughest job ever for an enlisted Airman. You see the good, bad and ugly of a unit. But it’s also very rewarding. First sergeants take care of Airmen in the shadow of the mission. If a first sergeant is doing a job well, the unit is going to succeed and we see that on unit climate assessments. If a first sergeant has good ratings on a climate assessment, the unit is most likely excelling in its mission.
So, what’s the benefit for Airmen to become first sergeants?
Well, we go from being operational leaders as supervisors to strategic leaders as first sergeants. First sergeants get incredible leadership development when stepping out of their career fields. We see people go back to their units after taking off their diamond and a lot of them end up taking on larger responsibility. Nothing else offers the leadership opportunity and development you get from being a first sergeant. If you ask any first sergeant to take off his or her diamond and go back to their old career field, none of them wants to leave.
What do you do to help shirts become better leaders?
What I really like to do is get new first sergeants and take them away from what they know. For example, I want to take a first sergeant with background in the mission support group and rehouse in the maintenance group, so a whole new culture can be learned. Then, a few years later, reposition with operations or medical. So, when they return to their unit, they are a senior noncommissioned officer with experience in several distinct cultures, which increases their ability to lead and understand the entire organization.
What skills help a Reserve first sergeant succeed?
A first sergeant’s job isn’t done at the end of a Unit Training Assembly. Networking and fostering relationships are a huge part of being a first sergeant. If things go wrong, you need a good network to get things done in a timely manner, especially when you only see your Airmen one weekend a month. Family problems, marital problems and financial issues are the kind of things that come up and a first sergeant needs to be able to know how to quickly help their Airmen.
The March Air Reserve Base First Sergeant’s Association is readily-available to assist members with whatever is needed to bring balance to their careers and family life. For more information, contact your unit first sergeant.