JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii -- The 15th Wing-hosted First Sergeants Symposium took place at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, July 22-26, 2019.
The five-day course included training provided by Air University, the First Sergeant Academy, and informational briefings from base helping agencies.
The intent of the course was to provide technical sergeants and master sergeants with useful information on being a future First Sergeant or an additional duty first sergeant.
A First Sergeant’s primary responsibility is to provide and maintain a mission ready force both at home station and in expeditionary environments. They help promote the health, morale, and welfare of enlisted personnel, as well as advise and assist the commander in maintaining discipline and standards. Additionally, they assist the commander with unit training and information programs, and they supervise the care and upkeep of unit dorms and grounds. An additional duty first sergeant will serve the exact same role as a normal first sergeant and they can do it in addition to their normal job.
As first sergeants, the most important role we fulfill is taking care of our Airmen,” said Master Sgt. Mia Williams, 792nd Intelligence Support Squadron first sergeant. “Taking care of Airmen is the responsibility of everyone in leadership and supervisory positions in the Air Force. However, for first sergeants, taking care of Airmen is our primary mission.”
Being a first sergeant, or additional duty first sergeant, is a 24-hour, seven days a week, 365 days a year commitment.
“We have to be able to respond 24/7 at a moment’s notice with the explicit knowledge of all things involved with taking care of our Airmen and their families,” said Williams. “When we are on leave, [temporary duty], etc. we need individuals to fill our role. Being able to ensure they receive adequate training to step in and continue in our seat is why the symposium is important.”
Military participants from Sri Lanka, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the Philippines attended the symposium to learn the roles and responsibilities of the first sergeant position from the United States Air Force perspective.
“We hope all Airmen and our International partners took away leadership tools for their toolkit that can be used when dealing with any diverse situation they may run into,” said Williams. “Knowing what things can be offered in times of crisis or who [Airmen] could turn to when dealing with unique situations is something I hope people take away from this symposium.”
Royal New Zealand air force Maintenance Warrant Officer Bruce Kopp, assigned to Number 6 Squadron out of Auckland, New Zealand, was one of the attendees of the symposium.
“One of the key points I picked up from this symposium was from one of the shirts. He had to call his commander to notify him about a death,” said Kopp. “After notifying him, the first sergeant said he’d ring him back in about five minutes. It helped give the commander a break and a chance to compose himself. I never really thought about having to do that before.”
Chief Master Sgt. Anthony Johnson, U.S. Pacific Air Forces command chief, addressed the room of potential first sergeants and international partners to impart advice about being a first sergeant and why it’s an important role.
“I’ll always say to never be hesitant to ask questions because you don’t always have the opportunity to sit with senior leaders,” said Johnson. “The reason I say that is because you’re not only asking questions for yourself, but if you’re in tune with the position you’re in, you’re asking about the things that impact the Airmen entrusted to your care.”
Johnson went on to add the best advice he’s gotten as a noncommissioned officer (NCO) was “to be a great NCO you have to understand the why this person is doing what they’re doing.”
Williams believes the symposiums are important so that future first sergeants can receive adequate training to step in and eventually continue in their place.