My job is people -- Every One is My Business.
I dedicate my time and energy to their needs;
their health, morale, discipline, and welfare.
I grow in strength by strengthening my people.
My job is done in faith; my people build faith.
My job is people --
EVERY ONE IS MY BUSINESS.
If the NCOs are the backbone of the armed forces, then the First Sergeant is the heart and soul. No other enlisted person carries near the responsibility and authority of the First Sergeant, no other person in the squadron or company, including the commissioned officers, possesses the First Sergeant's breadth of experience, professional knowledge, or education. A First Sergeant MUST be an unqualified expert in promotions, demotions, military law, civilian law, counseling, discipline, leave & passes, evaluations, inspections, public speaking, billeting, PCS moves, TDYs, pay problems and procedures, child and family support, bad checks, budgeting, loans, requisitions, dress and appearance, awards and decorations, unit history, parades, ceremonies, family advocacy, medical benefits and requirements, re enlistments, retirements, weight control, professional military education, ID card privileges, off limit areas, restrictions, etc. The First Sergeant is the primary liaison with the commander on all matters concerning the enlisted corps. He or she is the eye and ear for the commander, and the mouth for the enlisted force. The First Sergeant carries a beeper or cell phone with him or her 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, and never complains when he/she is called out at 2 AM to get a drunk out of jail, then called out again at 4 AM to settle a domestic dispute.
I am proud to be part of that brother and sisterhood. I spent 11 tough years as an Air Force First Sergeant. I was the "shirt" of a medical group, a security police squadron, an F-15 fighter squadron, a maintenance squadron, an A-10 fighter squadron, an HH-60 combat rescue squadron, and a supply squadron.
The First Sergeant is so important, that all of the services, with the exception of the Navy and Coast Guard use them. The Navy and Coast Guard split the duties of the First Sergeant between various Chief Petty Officers, the COB (Chief of the Boat), and the Squadron XO's (Executive Officers).
In the Army and the Marines, the First Sergeant is a rank (E-8). In the Army, depending mostly upon your MOS, and other qualifications, when you are promoted to E-8, you become either a First Sergeant, or a Master Sergeant (who usually serves in a staff position). In the Army, the First Sergeant retains his or her original MOS. In other words, an Infantry MOS becomes an Infantry First Sergeant, a Medical MOS becomes a Medical First Sergeant, etc. In the Marine Corps, selective E-7s are chosen to become First Sergeants upon promotion to E-8. These selective few are then awarded a new MOS, and can be assigned first sergeant duties in any type of unit, regardless of their original MOS.
In the Air Force, the position of First Sergeant used to be a volunteer-only occupation, that could be held by an E-7, an E-8, or an E-9. Under that system one volunteered to retrain into the First Sergeant career field, and -- if accepted, remained in that job for the rest or their career, unless they applied to retrain again (or return to their AFSC), or got disqualified (fired).
All of this changed in October 2002. The job of first sergeant in the Air Force now is a "Special Duty Assignment" with a set-tour length of three years. Volunteers are still sought, but if there are not enough volunteers, non-volunteers in the ranks of E-7, E-8, or E-9 are selected (based on records and commander recommendations -- it's still highly selective).
The first tour as a "Shirt" is three years. About two years into the tour, the member can apply for another three-year tour, and, depending on Air Force needs, may be selected for a second tour. Like the Marine Corps, an Air Force First Sergeant can be assigned to first sergeant duties in any type of squadron, regardless of what their previous AFSC (job) was.
A major goal of the change is to attract more senior enlisted leaders, some of whom may not have wanted to permanently leave their functional specialty. Unlike the old "cross-training program", the special duty program is designed to return members to their original career field after serving as first sergeants.
Because of the high degree of responsibility and performance required for first sergeants, members returning to their previous jobs after this three year tour will likely be much more competitive for promotion.
In all the services, however, you can note the first sergeant because of the diamond (or French lozenge), centered on the chevrons, which was first authorized for wear for First Sergeants in the Army in 1847.