An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Why I love being a first sergeant

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Ray Bradley
  • 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron
I'm often asked why I chose to become a first sergeant. I tell people it's not for the money, but the awesome parking spot I get at the squadron.

In all seriousness, I tell them that initially I didn't know if I'd made the right decision, even upon graduation from the First Sergeant Academy. But within 30 days of graduating I knew I had made the right choice.

In June 2009, I returned from leave and got my first sergeant cell phone back ... only it was from a different person than the master sergeant who filled in for me while I was out of town. I asked why he had the phone instead and he told me what happened. That weekend, my replacement's son had been killed in an all-terrain vehicle accident while visiting his grandparents.

I was in complete shock.

"What do I do," I thought. After all, I'd only been a first sergeant for six months.

So, I called another first sergeant, a chief master sergeant, no less, for guidance on how to handle the situation. The first advice the chief gave me was to make sure I didn't do everything myself. The second thing he did was give me a checklist he'd used for a similar case. His checklist wasn't all inclusive, however, it gave me a starting point on which agencies I needed to speak with and I was able to figure out the rest through trial and error.

I spent a lot of time on the phone talking to my coworker's husband, who was the rock she really needed.

I knew their son had been on the delayed entry program and was scheduled to depart for basic military training in a month. So, I called and asked the mortuary affairs person, who was new to the job, if he could receive any active-duty benefits.

This outstanding young lady said "Shirt, I don't know but I will ask the question." I eventually got a "maybe" and some paperwork to accomplish with the husband's help and a trip to the local recruiters office.

Once we received all the documents required, the mortuary affairs NCO sent the information off for the legal review, where they determined the son was indeed entitled to some active-duty benefits.

The military paid for his remains to be flown from Alaska and paid for a remains escort. Additionally, they paid up to $9,000 for the funeral and burial.

Our squadron, along with the community the mother lived in, made all kinds of food and took it out to the family. I don't know if she knew it was from us, but it didn't matter. This is what we do.

The day of the funeral, several other members of my unit and I made the journey to the church, which was filled to capacity.

I saw the mother walk in, but she didn't see any of us "blue suiters." After the service we filed out of the church after her. She was being directed into an awaiting car, but when she saw us come out, she decided to talk to and hug each one of us instead.

I was near the end of the line when she approached me and we hugged, both of us with tears in our eyes. She couldn't stop thanking me for what I did even though I don't feel like I did anything special. I just did my job.

To this day that was the hardest situation I've had as a first sergeant. I hope I never have to do it again.

But at the same time, it shows why I love being a first sergeant: the chance to do the right thing for your people, and earn their "thanks" even when you're just doing your job.