First Sergeant training has Keesler roots

by Susan Griggs
81st Training Wing Public Affairs

4/21/2010 - KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss.  -- Most people don't realize it, but first sergeant training had its roots at Keesler.

Originally, first sergeant training was done by a career development course, but on Oct. 17, 1973, a voluntary first sergeant course opened at Keesler. Chief Master Sgt. Blevins was the first director and Chief Master Sgt. Willie Watkins was its first graduate.

The course became mandatory for first sergeants in 1976. In 1978, the school was renamed as the U.S. Air Force First Sergeant Academy and remained at Keesler until 1993, when it was moved to Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.

Another Keesler link to the First Sergeant Academy is Chief Master Sgt. Lonnie Slater, 81st Training Wing command chief, who served as the academy's commandant for a year before his new assignment brought him to Keesler. He served as a "first shirt" from 2002 to 2008, before he became the commandant of the Kisling NCO Aademy, Kapaun Air Station, Japan.

"A first sergeant has to have a heart for people, tenacity to make hard calls and the fortitude and knowledge to advise the commander on a myriad of issues," Chief Slater remarked. "It's a demanding position, but most first sergeants who wear the diamond have found the balance between duty, responsibility and family. It's imperative that they balance all three."

There are currently 21 "diamonds" at Keesler. The First Sergeants Council is headed by Master Sgt. Joseph Wheeler, 81st Inpatient Operations Squadron.