So you want to be a first sergeant?

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jeffrey Urbanski
  • 39th Communications Squadron first sergeant
So You Want To Be a First Sergeant?

Leader, mentor, advisor, enforcer and counselor - these are just a few words that describe a first sergeant. Think you're ready to join the ranks of elite senior non-commissioned officers in a challenging career field of hand-picked, high-speed professionals?

What does a first sergeant do?

According to Air Force Instruction 36-3113, "The first sergeant is an expeditionary leader serving in a time honored special duty position, rich in custom and tradition." But that does not even begin to describe what it means to be a first sergeant.

First sergeants are a critical link between commanders and the enlisted members of their unit. Commanders and first sergeants are not friends; it is more important than that. It is the first sergeant's job to ensure commanders understand and address the issues their Airmen are experiencing, and to ensure their Airmen understand the commander's policies, goals and vision. First sergeants must be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to respond to the needs of their people. From award luncheons and promotion ceremonies to domestic disputes and family tragedies, the first sergeant must mix discipline, compassion and mentorship, often times switching gears between hard-nosed rule monger and empathetic parental figure at a moment's notice. First sergeants are expected to be subject matter experts in limitless subjects including drill and ceremonies, pay and travel allowances, financial and marital counseling, dress and appearance, career progression, on and off-duty education, performance reports and decorations, investigations and the law and personnel programs, to name a few. They are the focal point for any and all non-operational issues, but must be mindful of the unit's operational mission while solving crises or setting policies. It can be the most difficult yet most rewarding job you will ever hold.

What are the qualifications to be a first sergeant?

First sergeants must be a jack of all trades, able to leap from issuing an Article 15 to a squadron barbecue to grief counseling in a single bound. You must be patient enough to listen to stories about any particular weekend yet impatient enough to aggressively work issues as needed. You must be independent enough to work autonomously yet dependent enough to take direction from the commander and superintendent. You must be kind enough to work in the best interest of your people yet strict enough to straighten them out when they stray. You must be introspective enough to know your commander's and your own weaknesses yet confident enough to exploit the strengths of each. You must be out of your office enough to know what is going on in the lives of your people yet in your office enough to complete paperwork and answer emails. You must be extroverted enough to speak in front of large crowds yet introverted enough to keep in confidence situations that require discretion. You must be operational enough to know how your decisions affect your unit's mission yet managerial enough to stay out of making operational decisions. You must balance your professional and personal life while being "on duty" 24 hours a day. You don't have to be a "people person," but you do need to be a person who knows how to take care of people.

Administratively, to qualify for first sergeant duty, a Request for Special Duty Assignment application, endorsed by the unit commander, must be submitted. Additionally, the package must contain a fitness score greater than 80, copies of your last five Enlisted Performance Reports, a physical profile for special duty and a Records Review Rip. Furthermore, applicants must have a minimum General AQE of 62 or Administrative AQE of 41, and must complete Senior NCO Academy by correspondence (Course 14) prior to submission. An interview with your command chief will be the final piece of the application process before submission for further approval to Major Command and the Career Field Managers at the Air Force Personnel Center.

Still not sure if you have what it takes?

Talk to your first sergeant. Take the phone over a long weekend. Fill in while your first sergeant takes leave or deploys. Step up and find out if you have what it takes to join the ranks of elite senior non-commissioned officers in a challenging career field of hand-picked, high-speed professionals. The first time an Airman says, "Thanks for being there for me, Shirt," you'll be hooked.