RAF MILDENHALL, England --
(This feature is Part one of the four-part “Diamonds shine bright” series on www.mildenhall.af.mil. These stories focus on different first sergeants, highlighting their Air Force story)
There may be times during an Airman’s career when nothing seems to be going their way, or perhaps mistakes are made which could significantly impact their career and things seem to be spinning out of control.
The days, weeks and months that follow may be full of anxiousness and not having a true understanding of what is to come. However, there are individuals – known as “diamond wearers” – whose responsibility is to pass along wisdom and provide those in their charge with the tools to become better versions of themselves.
U.S. Air Force first sergeants are expeditionary leaders who work diligently for and serve as the commander’s critical link within a unit for all matters concerning enlisted members.
One newly minted Team Mildenhall first sergeant, Master Sgt. Jeremy Rector, 100th Force Support Squadron first sergeant, described how critical “shirts” are to preserving Airmen and their careers.
“Our main job is to take care of our people,” Rector said. “If you look at regulations, we are tasked with ‘providing the commander with a mission-ready force,’ but I like to look at the deeper meaning of what we do.
“We take care of all of the ‘other things’ going on in an Airman’s life, whether it’s financial issues, relationship problems, disciplinary actions; pretty much all of the things that not only reduce readiness, but reduce an Airman’s chance to be at the top of their game.”
Rector’s path to becoming a first sergeant was very different than some, but he explained how grateful and humbled he is to be in the position to make a difference.
“Many first sergeants will tell you they had a ‘shirt’ who helped them in the past, which led them to wanting to become one themselves,” Rector explained. “I never had that, but there were points in my career where leadership and supervisors instilled the confidence in me to go down paths I didn’t necessarily think of for myself.”
Before embarking on the first sergeant path, Rector’s Air Force career began as a security forces member at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, where he performed nuclear security duties and received a phone call which would change his career.
“I joined straight out of high school, and didn’t intend on making the Air Force a career,” Rector said. “I wanted the experience to become a civilian cop and enjoy life on the outside. Then one day, I received a call from a chief asking if I wanted a ‘green-door assignment’ at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. This was one of those opportunities I knew I couldn’t pass up, and would help my career.”
Rector would go onto becoming a part of Air Force Special Operations Command at Kadena Air Base, Japan, and Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico. He deployed to Iraq four times, Afghanistan twice and Niger was the last the location he returned from where he learned he was picked up for first sergeant duties.
“I went on to fill in as the 56th Special Operations Intelligence Squadron first sergeant, but my first ‘diamond-wearing’ unit was the 26th Special Tactics Squadron, which was an experience I’ll never forget,” Rector said.
Next, Osan Air Base and the 51st Operations Group would be under Rector’s charge and after his one-year tour, he was given his follow-on to join RAF Mildenhall.
“I’ve been to so many countries throughout my career and work in so many different sections, I’ve been able to experience many things other Airmen haven’t, and can pass along stories and advice,” Rector remarked.
Even with an extensive amount of duties, this avid outdoorsman enjoys his off-time surrounded by nature, whether it’s hiking and/or traveling to experience different cultures.
“When it comes to being a more resilient Airman and having a proper fitness model, my spiritual fitness is getting out into nature,” Rector conveyed. “I’m able to recenter myself with a little peace and quiet, which allows for me to succeed in my daily mission.”
By the same token, Rector’s ability to recenter himself and focus on his first sergeant duties at work, he is also able to utilize the same values with his family.
“One thing I tell aspiring first sergeants is that taking on this responsibility is not an individual decision,” Rector stated. “Work-life integration, as I like to call it, involves me keeping my three kids in the loop and reminding myself to make a conscious effort of enjoying every minute I’m with them.”
By and large, Rector believes the most challenging aspect for someone in his position can also be the most rewarding.
“The most frustrating aspect is when you see an Airman struggle and you just can’t fix it,” Rector said. “You try to pass on tools to help them cope with things going on.
“However, there are times when they come to you with an issue, and you’ve either experienced it yourself or helped someone in the same situation, and I have the ability to help Airman overcome obstacles.”
In this time-honored special-duty position, which is rich in custom and tradition, first sergeants are focused on their mission, and their mission will always be their people.
“I’m a mission-focused person – always have been, always will be,” Rector said. “Becoming a first sergeant has opened my eyes to so many different sides of the Air Force life. I’m able to see all the ‘other stuff’ going on that supervisors or peers may not see in an Airman’s life.
“When you’re able to affect people on that level, it pays dividends in the long run. With all of the experience I gained in Japan, New Mexico, Korea and all the other locations I’ve been to, I’ve been prepared to be the best first sergeant for all of the Airmen I come across and help them become better people every day.”