First Sergeants

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Ashley Perdue
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

When thinking about the role of a first sergeant, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Disciplinarian? Counselor? Confidant? Mentor? Leader? If all of these apply, that’s because this is exactly what it means to be a “Shirt” or “Diamond”; that critical liaison who exists between a commander and their Airmen as a trusted counselor in times of trial.

The job of a first sergeant has always existed throughout the military and once the Air Force became its own service, this job evolved into a special duty assignment. With this new special assignment came a change with the chevron, a diamond was placed within the rank insignia, hence the nickname “Diamonds”.

To be a first sergeant, the requirements and training are always evolving but one thing that will never change is the responsibility of taking care of Airmen.

“The first sergeant motto is, ‘people are our business,’” stated Master Sgt. Jason Olivencia, 6th Medical Group first sergeant. “Being a first sergeant means taking care of our Airmen. With the diamond, comes trust and that means Airmen trust in me to help them through whatever hardship or challenges they may be facing.”

As an Airman, it is not uncommon to see the shirts walking around door to door, with a warm smile on their faces checking in to make sure each individual is taken care of.

What isn’t seen every day, are the countless hours shirts spend behind closed doors and the endless days on-call. They have taken an oath of responsibility for the health, welfare and morale of all service members not only within their respective units, but for anyone who needs a shirt.

“There are times when I have to make a decision that not only impacts an Airman’s career, but their livelihood,” Olivencia said. “The biggest challenge is ensuring that whatever decision I suggest to the commander is in the best interest of the Airman and the unit.”

According to Olivencia, it’s a tough position to be in when the fate of someone’s career, future opportunities and family dynamics rest in their hands.

“First sergeants do a lot of behind the scenes work that I could go on and on about,” said Senior Airman Kayla E. Mead, 6th Comptroller Squadron command support staff. “Being able to work with the shirt closely is amazing because I get to see how much they truly care about each individual in their unit.”

Mead believes that the first sergeants go above and beyond for their Airmen and make sure they’re taken care of no matter what day or time and will always be there even when they’re not needed.

“The stigma when I joined, many moons ago, was that the first sergeant strictly focused on disciplining Airmen,” added Master Sgt. Michael Smart, the Wing Staff Agencies’ first sergeant. “Any shirt, regardless of their unit, can be trusted and I encourage Airmen to seek us out wherever they are.”

Despite those heavy challenges, first sergeants have the opportunity to be present for Airmen and influence their lives in a positive way.

“I mean this from the bottom of my soul that this is the best job that a person can have in the United States Air Force,” smiled retired Senior Master Sgt. Phillip Kersey, 6th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron former first sergeant. “Being a diamond has taught me more about being a human being and living life more than any other job I’ve ever had in my life. I would encourage anybody who has a desire to be a first sergeant to pursue it and not stop until they are wearing that diamond.”

Any Airman interested in what it takes to be a shirt, no matter the rank, should find a shirt, learn from them and never give up. It is a job that requires many hats and tedious hours, but it’s a chance to make a difference in Airmen’s lives, each squadron and in the United States Air Force.

“Knowing that I made a positive difference in someone’s life is perhaps the most rewarding part of my job. We have a great group of first sergeants here at MacDill and I encourage everyone to get to know their shirt. They’ll see we are human just like everyone else,” laughed Olivencia.