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What it means to be a SNCO

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Jake Polumbo, 9th Air Force commander, receives a certificate of appreciation from Master Sgt. Demetrius Jones, Shaw Top 3 president, during a senior NCO induction ceremony, Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Aug. 9, 2013. The ceremony was held to welcome new master sergeants to the senior enlisted tier. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ashley L. Gardner/Released)

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Jake Polumbo, 9th Air Force commander, receives a certificate of appreciation from Master Sgt. Demetrius Jones, Shaw Top 3 president, during a senior NCO induction ceremony, Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Aug. 9, 2013. The ceremony was held to welcome new master sergeants to the senior enlisted tier. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ashley L. Gardner/Released)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Air Force enlisted rank structure is broken into three tiers, with Airmen in the top tier being known as senior NCOs; but what exactly is a senior NCO?

Sixty- four Team Shaw Airmen are about to learn the answer after being selected for promotion to the rank of master sergeant. Twenty-three of those Airmen were inducted at the Carolina Skies Club and Conference Center here, Aug. 9.

"Being a senior NCO doesn't mean you are special, it means you are responsible," said Chief Master Sgt. James Davis, 9th Air Force command chief. "You are saying, 'I will take care of the mission.' I get passionate when it comes to that because you are being looked at to make decisions and give sound advice to commanders. We are not just taking care of our Airmen and NCOs, but our officers as well."

Giving trusted counsel to leadership isn't the only thing expected from new senior NCOs.

"As an NCO, you are learning that management piece, but by the time you are a master sergeant you are expected to know it," said Master Sgt. Lindsey Wolf, 9th Air Force legal office manager and a senior NCO that was inducted last year. "You need to be able to manage situations, not just kind-of do it."

As Airmen transition from an NCO to a senior NCO, they face greater responsibilities and expectations, to include greater management abilities.

"We have all heard that cliché: with more stripes comes more responsibility," said Tech. Sgt. Christopher Davis, 20th Operations Support Squadron airfield manager, and one of the master sergeant selects inducted (no relation to James). "To me, being a senior NCO means I have to take a bigger leadership role and look to share my experiences with junior enlisted Airmen and NCOs. A senior NCO also takes care of people and ensures resources are in place to achieve mission success."

"You have to make sure that the mission and the people are where they need to be; especially with the four pillars: mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally," Wolf added.

Taking care of Airmen encompasses more than making sure that they have four strong pillars to support them.

"Mentorship is a huge piece as well," James elaborated. "I have been a senior NCO since 1988. For me to not promote my Airmen is wrong because who replaces me? My Airmen. We need to reach out and make sure we are grooming our NCOs to be senior NCOs."

There are a variety of traits and skills a senior NCO needs to be successful.

A few qualities Christopher believes a senior NCO needs are being a good communicator, attentive, trustworthy and having discipline.

"You have to make sure you are organized, prepared, trusted and following the core values," James added. "Also, more than anything, you can't be afraid to fail because failure is a part of life. What you have to be able to do is recover from that failure and admit when you have been wrong."

"You have to make sure you are adhering to the core values," said Senior Master Sgt. Damon Pettaway, 20th Security Forces first sergeant. "If you are not using them as a guide, you are bound to make bad decisions somewhere down the line. You are dealing with people's livelihoods and their career. A mistake could negatively impact someone's career and cause the loss of resources and loss of life."

Members of the senior NCO tier had advice for the master sergeant selects and Airmen aspiring to become a senior NCO.

"Be visible," James advised. "You cannot sit in your office. You have to get out from behind the desk and be visible within the organization, because if your Airmen can see you then they are more apt to come and talk to you about their issues."

"Being a new senior NCO myself, the best advice I would give is to stay engaged with your mentor and keep learning the things it takes to be a more effective leader," Christopher added. "Understand that your Airmen and NCOs are the ones who get the mission done. Take care of them and be that leader they will need."