First sergeants, the fullbacks of the Air Force

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Travis Beihl
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs

First sergeants, also known as first shirts or shirts, assist the commander on maintaining the health, morale and welfare of everyone assigned to their unit. They also stay vigilant for issues that might adversely impact the readiness of their people or the mission.

“To be a first sergeant, you need to be approachable, personable and your behavior has to be beyond reproach,” said Master Sgt. Linford Smith, 81st Force Support Squadron first sergeant. “Airmen need to be comfortable coming to you with their issues.”

Within the last year, Staff Sgt. Devanie Rainey, 81st FSS customer support supervisor, experienced a family emergency and needed help.

“After hearing her story and her needs, I worked with our Recovery Care Coordinator and superintendent to help alleviate stress and to reimburse her leave,” said Smith. “I also consulted with the first sergeant council to help with donations for some of her expenses. My job is to let everyone know that they always have someone looking out for them.”

After Smith stepped in, the issue was resolved and Rainey was able to refocus on the mission.

“I felt very comfortable going to the Shirt because he's very personable, honest and checks in even after the job gets done,” said Rainey. “I was very humbled and thankful for the help I received.”

Just like a player on a football team, shirts have a very important role to play in order to keep the team and the mission moving forward.

“If you have bills to pay, I can help find resources to pay your bills or if you have spousal problems I’m here to help you work out your difficulties,” Smith said. “Think of me as a fullback, I knock any of those obstacles out of your way so you are fresh, clear and able to accomplish the mission.”

Shirts are often seen walking about their unit talking to the Airmen and to get a good measure of their unit’s pulse.

According to Master Sgt. David Daniel, 81st Surgical Operations Squadron first sergeant, he travels across the medical group to get to know the Airmen as people, not just coworkers.

“If you’re a good shirt, you’re a busy shirt,” said Smith. “We’re always running around visiting and helping the Airmen in our unit or aiding the commander, command chief or shirts in other units. If Airmen see the first sergeant all the time, they don’t get that anxiety when the first sergeant shows up.”

First sergeants also handle disciplinary issues when they arise, however, they would rather prevent a situation than have to correct one.

“We like to be more proactive than reactive,” said Smith. “You don’t have to go through anything by yourself. We can help, and if we can’t, we can find the resources to help with whatever the situation may be.”

The job of a shirt might be time-consuming, but according to Daniel, it’s the best move he’s ever made.

“The job of a first sergeant is to take care of the Airmen and to take care of the mission,” said Daniel. “If the Airmen don’t feel taken care of then it will affect the unit and the mission.”