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Understanding the role of Air Force first sergeants

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Doug Burhans
  • 451st Expeditionary Mission Support Group First Sergeant
Oh no! Here comes the First Sergeant; this can't be good. Who's in trouble this time, First Sergeant? I can't tell you how many times I have heard these comments.

I have often asked myself and other First Sergeants, "Why do we get these types of comments?" Well, I believe the answer is because many Airmen really don't know the role of a First Sergeant. There is a stereotype that the First Sergeant is the disciplinarian for the squadron. Discipline is the responsibility of all NCOs, regardless of rank, not just the First Sergeant.

My article this week will be used to inform our Kandahar Airmen on the Role of an Air Force First Sergeant. Hopefully by doing so, it will help eliminate the disciplinarian stereotype that is often tagged on First Sergeants. The position of First Sergeant is an expeditionary leader serving in a time honored special duty position, rich in custom and tradition.

The most important role of a First Sergeant is taking care of our Airmen. Sure, taking care of Airmen is the responsibility of everyone in leadership and supervisory positions in the Air Force. However, for First Sergeants taking care of Airmen is their primary mission. The First Sergeant is the eyes and ears of a squadron and serves as his or her commander's critical link for all matters concerning enlisted members. First Sergeants are responsible for providing sound advice to the commander on a wide range of topics including the health, esprit de corps, discipline, mentoring, well being, career progression, recognition and professional development of all assigned enlisted members. First Sergeants are accountable to respond to the needs of Airmen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and may at times, be required to work long and irregular hours.

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.

Another important role is the relationship they have with the Commander. Commanders and First Sergeants are not friends, their relationship is more important than that. It is a bond based on mutual trust and respect. They must share experiences and ideas both good and bad. They must take each other into consideration and give honest responses.
Openness leads to proper sharing between the team. It is imperative that the Commander and First Sergeant work as a team. A weakened relationship can be repaired through honest dialogue and the right to disagree. However, once the bond is broken it cannot be restored.

In this short article, I tried to expand the understanding of the First Sergeant's role in the Air Force. First Sergeants should be visible, caring, supporting and approachable leaders; they aren't the sole disciplinarians. First Sergeants seek out problems by talking to every level of Airmen. However, their mission is impossible without two-way communication with Airmen. Communicating with your First Sergeant is essential to the success of their mission: taking care of Airmen!

Hopefully with the information in this article, comments like those mentioned in the beginning of this article will become fewer and fewer.