Role of the First Sergeant

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Alvaro Villagomez
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Need assistance throughout your military career and don’t know where to go or who to ask? The first sergeant of your unit is an excellent person to lead you in the right direction.

First sergeants, also known as the “First Shirt”, advise commanders on the readiness, health, morale, welfare, and quality of life of Airmen and families to ensure a mission-ready force.

“We handle all the personnel issues,” said Master Sgt. Teddy Stephens, 100th Air Refueling Wing first sergeant. “We help out all the Airmen, civilians and spouses as well as leading them in the right direction and providing them with the right resources.”

First sergeants help bridge the gap for Airmen and others at Team Mildenhall to connect them to the right direction serving as the middleman.

“We also have that first line quick resource and phone number for either Chaplain support, Military Family Readiness Center influx that we have on base and a multitude of agencies,” said Master Sgt. David Thomas, 752nd Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, first sergeant. “We have direct phone number access, if it’s an emergency, for mental health or any other type of care needed for our people on base.”

All first sergeants provide great resources to people all over the installation due to the training that they received to fit into the role.

“My whole focus is to be able to debate and basically expand, be in tune with resources and be that first step of education for our Airmen and their families to help assist them with their issues and troubles,” said Thomas. “We receive a handful of training that helps us find the appropriate resources for anyone in need.”

To fill the role of a first sergeant, they attend the First Sergeant Academy in Maxwell, Alabama where they undergo four extensive weeks of training to fulfill the requirements of a first shirt.

“You have to be a Master Sergeant and have to be vetted if you wish to become a first sergeant,” said Thomas. “Typically, we like to look for people who genuinely like helping people and that have some experience in the seat because it is a four-year commitment to be a first sergeant.”

The training focuses on enhancing invaluable skills such as alternate dispute resolution, resiliency, advanced counseling, and Uniform Code of Military Justice/Article 15 training as well as increased engagement with former commanders.

“The first sergeant selection process is selective, you go through an interview process and it goes all the way up the chain to the command,” said Thomas. ”The thing about being in the seat is that it’s taxing and sometimes there’s going to be late night phone calls and you’ll be away for the weekend but in the end it’s all very rewarding for us.”

Being a first sergeant takes special individuals who are willing to commit their time to the role and have the compassion and patience to help those in need.

“It’s important to me because I like to take care of people and it gives me a sense of purpose, joy and fulfillment helping an Airmen in need,” said Stephens “I would say sometimes as a first sergeant, you definitely deal with everything, and I feel some of the issues that we face.”

Even though they face difficult situations, ultimately putting their Airmen first and helping them with any trouble or questions they might have is rewarding in and of itself.

“I want to have a lasting change on people, I know my years of service will come to an end,” said Thomas. “I didn’t do all (these years) in the Air Force for a paycheck, I want to impact the lives of people and I feel like being a shirt is the best way I could do it.”

Although challenging, a First Sergeant understands that without dedication and sacrifice, our Airmen will not be able to reach their full potential or be at their best when they are needed most.

“I took this role knowing that the likelihood of me being promoted is slim to none but I’m not looking for accolades or promotion,” said Stephen. “I just enjoy what I do because at the end of the day everybody’s human and you have to treat them with kindness and respect.”