The Importance of the First Sergeant
The Army officially says the following about the first sergeant, and it applies equally to the Air Force and Marine Corps as well:
When you are talking about the first sergeant you are talking about the life-blood of the Army. There can be no substitute of this position nor any question of its importance. When first sergeants are exceptional, their units are exceptional, regardless of any other single personality involved. Perhaps their rank insignia should be the keystone rather than the traditional one. It is the first sergeant at whom almost all unit operations merge. The first sergeant holds formations, instructs platoon sergeants, advises the Commander, and assists in training of all enlisted members.
The first sergeant may swagger and appear, at times, somewhat of an exhibitionist, but he is not egotistical. The first sergeant is proud of the unit and, understandably, wants others to be aware of his unit’s success.
For the first time, the title of address for this grade is not sergeant, but first sergeant! There is a unique relationship of confidence and respect that exits between the first sergeant and the Commander not found at another level within the Army.
In the German Army, the first sergeant is referred to as the “Father of the Company." He is the provider, the disciplinarian, the wise counselor, the tough and unbending foe, the confidant, the sounding board, everything that we need in a leader during our personal success or failure. The Father of the Company...
History of the First Sergeant
The First Sergeant has always held a highly visible, distinctive, and sometimes notorious position in the military unit. While there is little written history and many obscure gaps, we are able to follow some of the evolution of the First Sergeant.
The 17th century Prussian Army appears to have been the starting point for what was later called the First Sergeant in the American Army. The Prussian Army Feldwebel, or Company Sergeant, by today's practice seems to have combined the duties of not only the First Sergeant, but of Sergeant Major as well. Standing at the top of the noncommissioned hierarchy of rank, they were the "Overseers" of the company's enlisted personnel. To this end, they kept the Hauptman, or Company Commander, informed of everything that went on in the company; whether NCOs were performing their duties in a satisfactory manner, that training was properly accomplished, and finally, that at the end of a busy day, all soldiers were accounted for in their quarters. They were the only noncommissioned officers allowed to strike a soldier; an especially disorderly soldier could be given three or four blows, with the Feldwebel's cane. They were forbidden to flog a soldier, and the Feldwebel who overstepped his authority in this manner would them self be pilloried. Moreover, they were to see that none of the NCOs beat their soldiers.