Want a degree in Air Force leadership? Become a first sergeant

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- Are you a master sergeant and interested in a degree in Air Force leadership? If so, have I got a deal for you... our Air Force needs you as a first sergeant today.

I know - it sounds like a pitch straight from a recruiting poster, but it is true. As I prepare to retire after 30 years in our great Air Force, I look back and realize that my 10 years as a first sergeant taught me more about leadership and our Air Force than any other thing I did.

We all have our perceptions of what a first sergeant is or is supposed to be, and most of that comes from our experience with the first sergeants we grow up with. Some of us see them as a mean guy or gal you only see if you are in trouble. They are the person who picks Airmen up at the law enforcement desk after a DUI, or the person who breaks up that great party in the dorms.

Some see and remember the first sergeant as a great listener, someone who helped them during tough times or as the shoulder they cry on after an unexpected tragic event. For others, we remember the events they organize and run - dorm inspections and barbeques, hospital visits or squadron promotion and recognition ceremonies.

Still others will remember them for their mentorship on a tough performance report or their help putting together that a package for their dream job.

The answer is a first sergeant is all of those things. They are part disciplinarian, part counselor, part mentor, part cheerleader, part party organizer, part administrator and part personnelist.

Oh, and I almost forgot - they are the expert on their current squadron, or so people think sometimes. I joke a bit, but being a first sergeant allows you to see so many of our different Air Force missions and the great things our Airmen do. One minute you're assigned to a security forces squadron, the next with a medical group and two years later to a maintenance squadron where you find yourself standing on the flightline, watching your Airmen launch and fix jets.

At the same time you are helping take care of our Airmen and their families, you also have an amazing opportunity to be educated about what different squadrons and groups do outside your Air Force specialty code stovepipe. You get to see how all the puzzle pieces fit together and how commanders, officers, chiefs and senior enlisted leaders in different career fields think and make it all work.

Finally, while your primary role is a squadron first sergeant, you are also a wing first sergeant. Here you work with your fellow first sergeants, senior leaders and oftentimes the command chief to set up and run base-wide events, ceremonies and projects.

Again, being a first sergeant is an amazing opportunity for great insight into how a wing functions on a day-to-day basis! You play a part in how decisions are made, policies are staffed or implemented, and you see first-hand how all the parts and pieces of the different groups and squadrons come together to form a wing.

Sounds like a heck of an education right? Well, it is. No, we won't give you a diploma for it, but you will gain life-long leadership lessons you simply can't find in a classroom.

I won't sugarcoat anything. Working in this position is not all a bed of roses and can require you to walk out of a room where you just told someone a loved one died, then put a smile on your face as you help your commander notify your squadron's senior airman below-the-zone promotees.

As we always say in the first sergeant business, "every day is the highest of highs and the lowest of lows," I wouldn't trade a minute of it - the good, the bad, the happy or the sad - because I had the opportunity to serve our Airmen and their families and got a quality education at the same time.

Still interested? If so, contact your first sergeant. Better yet, give me a call or send me an e-mail, and we can sit down and talk about it.