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First Sergeants: Shaping today’s Airmen
Master Sgt. Jeffrey Grenfell, 91st Operations Group first sergeant poses for a photo at Minot Air Force Base, N.D. In the Air Force, a first sergeant is not a grade but a special duty designation. They report directly to the unit commander on matters of enlisted morale, welfare and conduct, and are the chief enlisted advisor to the commander for all of these factors.(U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Aaron Allmon)
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First Sergeants: Shaping today's Airmen

Posted 1/13/2014   Updated 1/13/2014 Email story   Print story


by Senior Airman Brittany Y. Auld
Minot Air Force Base Public Affairs

1/13/2014 - MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- Given the extra responsibility to help shape and guide today's Airmen, a first sergeant is an expeditionary leader serving in a time honored special duty position, rich in custom and tradition.

This military assignment requires personal demand and around-the-clock attention lasting three or more years of a Senior Non-commissioned Officer's career. Once the assignment is completed the SNCO returns back to their original career field.

Identified by the diamond device worn on the center of their rank insignia, first sergeants, or "first shirts" as they're affectionately called, are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, able to respond for a variety of reasons, such as when an Airman has a family emergency, an individual needs career counseling, or even when an Airman needs a ride home.

"I have the ability to help rebuild and mentor people to be better Airmen," said Master Sgt. Jeffrey Grenfell, 91st Operations Group first sergeant. "I can provide that extra boost of confidence for Airmen to set and achieve goals during their tenure in the Air Force."

Grenfell has been in the Air Force for 19 and a half years and a "first shirt" for a little over a year.

Before SNCO's receive their diamond, they are vetted through the developmental special duties process and attend the USAF First Sergeants Academy, which consists of four weeks of distance learning followed by two weeks at the academy at Maxwell Air Force Base-Gunter Annex, Ala.

"Most of how a First Sergeant truly becomes a First Sergeant is by performing the job and by learning through the experience of his or her fellow First Sergeant," said Master Sgt. Simon Fontaine, 5th Maintenance Squadron first sergeant.

In the Air Force, a first sergeant is not a grade but a special duty designation. They report directly to the unit commander on matters of enlisted morale, welfare and conduct, and are the chief enlisted advisor to the commander for all of these factors.

Fontaine has been in the Air Force for 21 and a half years and has been a First Sergeant for more than two years. He became a first sergeant to see Airmen succeed, he said.

To see Airmen can become Airman of the Quarter after helping them out of the negative judgment call ensures Fontaine that he is able to make that difference and is succeeding at his job, he stated.

First sergeants provide a dedicated focal point for all Airmen in readiness, health, morale, welfare and quality-of-life issues within his or her organization.

Fontaine believes it's not one single Shirt that affects Minot Airmen, rather leadership as a whole.

"The Shirt uses his or her experience, relationships, and knowledge base through interactions with his or her leadership or other First Sergeant to help that one Airman," said Fontaine. "Airmen in general want to come to work and want to accomplish that job to the best they can; we as Shirts help facilitate that by helping to solve the issue or problem at hand."

Although when most Airmen hear the words, "go see the shirt" the first thing that comes to mind is "I'm in trouble."

"As is commonly associated with the First Sergeant, or "Shirt," we are the bad guy, or the unit disciplinarian," said Fontaine. "No one wants to see the Shirt. Although that does hold some truth, the more important truth is that we are the individual in the squadron that can help facilitate the solution to the problem, may it be of personal or professional nature. This is due to the relationship that is built between the Shirt and those helping agencies across the base."

With Airmen working in constant austere conditions here in Minot, the contribution of these top-level enlisted members is more important than ever.

"Before signing up to be a First Sergeant, many of us, to include myself, always stated that 'we want to be the person that can help our Airmen and their families,'" said Fontaine. "It truly comes down to that. We want to be there for them and to help them through whatever is going on to ensure that they are taken care of."

1/16/2014 1:59:25 PM ET
I think the individual Missile Squadrons should each have their own First Sergeant.
Tak, Minot
1/15/2014 10:26:17 AM ET
Great Job to have an the men that do it right way for there people have one of the best jobs in the AF. Keep up the good work. I know hours and family time it takes to do the job as I did it for over 5 years. Hat off to you.
Gene Curtiss, Calediona Mi
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