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Shaping selfless leaders: Shaw AFB hosts first sergeant symposium

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kyrii Richardson
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Shaw Air Force Base hosted a First Sergeant Symposium at the Patriot Park pavilion the week of Sept. 11, 2023, to enrich and enlighten Airmen interested in the first sergeant special duty. These are held semi-annually, allowing technical sergeants and above to attend a week-long workshop packed full of knowledge on how to take care of Airmen and the resources used to do so.

Originating from the U.S. Army, the rank of first sergeant, also known as “First Shirt,” has been adapted by the U.S. Air Force as a special duty position traditionally held by E-7s and above. In 1961 the Air Force created a separate career field for first sergeants, and since 2003 the position has been operated the way we know it today.

Throughout history it was said that during laborious work the first shirts were the only people that would wear a t-shirt, distinguishing them as the go-to person for an operation. Today, they are still the appointed contact in units for any problems’ Airmen face. That is why it is essential for interested supervisors to attend first sergeant symposiums to get valuable insight about the daily life and responsibilities they could face if they are chosen for the position.

During the course attendees were able to interact with sitting first sergeants and ask questions in an open forum. Taking on this role requires Airmen to deal with a plethora of unique cases. Being able to work through previous and current situations from the first sergeants’ perspective gave front-line supervisors a tactical edge on solving problems they may face daily.

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Timothy Hilton, 50th Attack Squadron sensor operator, said the first sergeant is the critical link between the Airmen and the leadership team in a unit to create a harmonious organization that is able to efficiently execute the mission while also being able to take care of the Airmen.

The 20th Security Forces Squadron ‘triad,’ composed of the commander, senior enlisted leader, and first sergeant, spoke about how to be an effective decision-making team. The triad showed participants how important it is to fully think through situations, not overlooking any outcome, knowing that it could be a career-defining choice.

There were extreme theoretical leadership and personnel scenarios presented to the attendees and after brainstorming with their groups, they were provided feedback with the best way to handle the matter. In the final days, they were provided practical scenarios with actors, allowing members to understand the emotional intensity of responding to calls.

"Being able to mentor supervisors and watch them grow in their capacity to take care of our Airmen plays out a lot better in the future because they become better supervisors and hopefully they return the favor down the road," said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. John Netzel, 20th Logistic Readiness Squadron first sergeant.
Many participants were very grateful for the opportunity to learn how to better take care of Airmen. Through forethought, situational analysis, and emotional intelligence these leaders can improve their ability to understand, problem solve, and develop Airmen.

“Being a first sergeant means more than just mentorship,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Candice Sheppard, 609th Air Support Squadron first sergeant. “It means you are actually enriching, growing, inspiring, and empowering people who want to better themselves.”

Enrichment opportunities like these are helpful to an Airman leader because it creates the space to learn, grow and become more resilient in all aspects. As the Air Force continues to “diamond mine,” a phrase used to describe the Air Force’s intentional search and development of future first sergeants, workshops like these make it a little easier to recognize leaders who possess the qualities and willingness to take the step to become ‘first shirts’.