First sergeant shadow program starts in January

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- Spangdahlem's first sergeants will accept applicants for the first sergeant shadow program Jan. 1, 2013.

The new program aims to provide a hands-on experience for technical and master sergeants who would like to become a first sergeant but do not understand the role's specific duties.

"First sergeants are specialized in understanding the gray areas," said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Bob Blackburn, 702nd Munitions Support Squadron first sergeant and native of Akron, Ohio. "Most supervisors are very good at black and white regulations, but every situation involves so many variables. We're here to take care of people in a different way than the supervisors."

First sergeants provide a dedicated focal point for all readiness, welfare and quality-of-life issues within their organizations; however, their primary responsibility is to build and maintain a mission-ready force to execute all assigned tasks.

Blackburn said that since becoming a first sergeant a couple of years ago, he has learned much about the resiliency of today's Airmen. Each interaction, whether for recognition or discipline, equips him with another tool he can use to shape the future of the force.

"I feel confident going into any situation," he continued. "(Being a first sergeant) definitely builds your confidence and competence, and even after returning to your unit, you'll have the skills necessary to help people."

Eligible master sergeants must have completed their Course 14 professional military education, possess a Community College of the Air Force degree and adhere to their major command's established physical fitness standards. Once selected, the master sergeant must complete a four-week distance learning class. Then, they will attend the two-week in-residence course at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, Ala.

The Air Force then assigns new first sergeants to career fields of which they have no familiarity. This allows the sergeant to focus on the welfare of the people instead of the quality of daily operations.

"You won't necessarily know the job," Blackburn said, "but you can focus on all the different aspects of Airman development."

The rewards from being a first sergeant will never add to a ribbon rack or hang on a wall, said Master Sgt. Anthony Mitchell, 52nd Logistics Readiness Squadron assistant first sergeant and native of Saltville, Va. The reward is intrinsic, meaning that the knowledge of helping someone stays with the first sergeant forever.

"Come spend a week or two with the shirts," said Senior Master Sgt. Craig Brown, 52nd LRS first sergeant and native of Kenosha, Wisc. "Even if you don't choose to pursue the special duty, you'll still learn valuable tools that you can take back to your squadron."

A first sergeant symposium takes place Jan. 16-18 to better prepare potential candidates for this special duty. The symposium acts as the classroom portion to the hands-on training the shadow program provides.

For more information, call DSN 452-4440 or DSN 456-5203.