First sergeants help Airmen succeed in career, life

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Curtis Thomas
  • 81st Medical Operations Squadron first sergeant
A frequent question I'm asked while chairing a first sergeant panel is, "What made you decide to become a first sergeant?" My answer is the same as many others who have chosen this career path -- to help people.

I entered the Air Force as an Airman basic in April of 1997 and I have had my fair share of learning experiences during almost 16 years of service. Throughout my career my first sergeants always held me to Air Force standards and put me back on track if I began to stray from my path. The delicate balance of "tough love" and compassion were instrumental for me to successfully press forward on the road that would lead me to where I am today.

I find no greater satisfaction than knowing I made a difference in someone else's life and I often reflect back to the impact certain first sergeants and chiefs had on me. Each let me know in their own way that I could not succeed without failure and that, although I may stumble and sometimes fall, the key was to get back up, brush myself off and press forward a better Airman than before.

As a first sergeant, I like to share my experiences with my Airmen. Often commanders, chiefs and first sergeants are viewed as "flawless" or as having all the answers and not having made the same mistakes as current junior officers, NCOs and Airmen. The truth is that we, too, have made the same or very similar mistakes and we have learned from them and applied the lessons learned to our own personal development.

I have always appreciated my superiors being honest with me and understanding where I am coming from. The fact that they've shared their personal experiences with me to help me grow also played a huge role in motivating me to pick myself up, dust myself off and take off running toward the goal line.

This has molded me into who I am today and how I apply these same techniques to my leadership style. I am straight forward and direct with people because that is the way I would like to be treated. I often tell people what they need to hear instead of what they want to hear.

As first sergeants, our service is our commitment to the Air Force, our commanders and the valuable men and women of our squadrons who serve our great nation. We provide guidance and mentorship, enforce standards and engage our Airmen to ensure they are fit to fight. Our Airmen are our most valuable asset and to perform at their very best, they must be healthy in body, mind and spirit. To achieve these goals, we enforce the Air Force physical fitness standards, promote mental health and development of life skills. We support our members and their families through agencies like chaplains, the Airman and family readiness center and the key spouse program.

I have found the proactive approach is far more effective than the reactive approach. Issues are easier to handle when they are small, before they have become big issues or have spawned other problems. We may, in fact, be able to avert some negative situations altogether.

The relationship between a first sergeant and Airmen or the commander is like any other -- it is based upon trust and requires respect and good communication. A breakdown in any of these areas will have a devastating effect on the relationship as well as the foundation.

I have been blessed to have amazing people as first sergeants throughout my career and I am honored to serve as a first sergeant today. I can only hope and strive to be the best first sergeant, senior NCO, wingman and leader I can be. I am highly motivated and dedicated to my organization and the outstanding men and women who have entrusted me with a great deal of responsibility. At the end of the day, I feel a great sense of pride and accomplishment knowing I played a part in helping an Airman either through action, advice or simply by listening.

Colin Powell said, "There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure."

I believe we at Keesler have proven this to be true. I will continue to serve in whatever capacity I can to ensure we maintain the highest level of excellence and resilience in the face of adversity.