What is a first sergeant?

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Mike Tryon
  • 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs
An important individual in an Airman's life is the first sergeant. But what is a first sergeant? What does a first sergeant do? When would an Airman need to talk to a first sergeant?

These are all questions Airmen may have when first learning about first sergeants in the Air Force.

What is a first sergeant?
According to Air Force Instruction 36-2618, The Enlisted Force Structure, a first sergeant is a special, senior noncommissioned officer position. A first sergeant is one who is there to provide a dedicated focal point for all readiness, health, morale, welfare and quality-of-life issues within his or her organization. What does that mean?

"Simply put, being a first sergeant means I have a responsibility to take care of, groom and mentor all Airmen," said Master Sgt. Tracy Wallace, 90th Civil Engineer Squadron first sergeant. "As a senior NCO, I am required to follow AFI 36-2618, but as a first sergeant, I focus specifically on the people getting the mission accomplished."

What does a first sergeant do?
The Enlisted Force Structure states that "first sergeants work closely with the command chief master sergeant to prepare the organization's enlisted force to best execute all assigned tasks."

Senior Master Sgt. Shawn Swidecki, 90th Operations Group first sergeant, explained that commanders are presented with the advice of both the chief enlisted manager and the first sergeant which aid them in their decision making process.

First sergeants help keep the balance between mission success and people success, Wallace said.

"If the balance falters, then either the mission fails or the mission succeeds at the cost of the people," Wallace said. "In the case of the later, the mission will eventually fail because the people aren't being taken care of, groomed or mentored properly for the mission."

Swidecki went on to further explain the importance of being a first sergeant and a mentor.

"A first sergeant is there to help the Airmen of the unit with their issues," Swidecki said. "It's that simple; I'm here to help you and there are many tools I have to help you for whatever situation you bring to me.

"Does that mean I can, or will, solve all your problems," Swidecki added, "no, but I will do my best to help you get the help you need -- preferably before the situation gets out of hand."

When should one talk to a first sergeant?
The sooner a first sergeant is aware that a potential problem might exist, the sooner that first sergeant can start helping, Swidecki said. The avenues of help diminish as the situation worsens.

"You can come and tell me anything," Swidecki said. "But, if I think there is the potential you're going to incriminate yourself, I'll ask you to stop talking while I can read you your rights. After that, if you would like to continue talking about it, I'll listen. If you wish to no longer talk to me about that situation at that point, I suggest you talk to the Area Defense Counsel.

"I do that for a couple of reasons," Swidecki said, "First, it's so you don't incriminate yourself without at least knowing your rights. Secondly, the ADC is one of the tools I use to get you the help you may need."

Swedicki went on to explain that there is sort of a negative stigma associated with having to go talk to the first sergeant. However, first sergeants are also there to get members the recognition they deserve.

"I'll go into the commander's office and tell that commander, 'Sir, or Ma'am, the people in this office over here are doing great work, they deserve some recognition for their efforts,'" Swidecki said. "At the same time, if I think a unit really needs the extra help, I'll let that commander know that so he or she can light a fire under them."

First sergeants fill the needs of the Air Force, Wallace said. If the Air Force no longer needs one as a first sergeant, then that individual will return to his or her career field.

"I only have so much time left in my Air Force career," Swidecki said. "I've come to the realization that the best way for me to help make the Air Force better is for me to pass on my knowledge to future generations. The best way for me to do that is to be a first sergeant. I owe it to the Air Force."