Role of the First Shirt
By Master Sgt Christopher Franklin, 366th Maintenance Operation Squadron
/ Published June 24, 2010
MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- Some may think First Sergeant's have a sadistic streak involving 3 a.m. phone calls, unending drama and a perpetual leash (a fond name for the Shirt phone, which must always be on and within reach). I however believe it is a privilege to take on these responsibilities. First Shirts can be one of the most powerful enlisted members in the squadron, and can have a huge effect on groups and individuals alike. Many people who voluntarily take on the shirt responsibility have reasons that are similar to mine: influencing Airmen to live by core values, making a difference in their military and civilian communities and being a part of something greater than ourselves. Interestingly, I didn't always view the First Sergeant in a positive light...oh how my view has changed.
With no future prospects, I took the advice of a former girlfriend and decided to give the military a chance at giving me a better life and a little direction. At my first duty station (Luke AFB, Arizona) I was taken under the wings of Staff Sgt. Bill Briggs, Staff Sgt. Craig Laurrell and Sergeant James Cook. These three mentors began to mold me into a professional Airman by teaching me that hard work and self-confidence can bring rewards. Now, at this point in my Air Force career the only thing I knew about First Sergeants was you saw them when you got into trouble and yes I saw mine way more than I cared for. I was young and away from home for the first time, and I made it a point to enjoy all life had to offer. The 'Shirt' explained why I didn't want to do that and I made up my mind that I never wanted to deal with him or anyone like him again.
From Luke I went to Korea where I saw the Shirt three whole times: once to in-process, once at the change of command and lastly to out-process. This person was not very involved and it showed in the squadron morale as a whole. I had yet to see the point of the First Sergeant's role in the squadron.
After Korea I headed to Aviano AB, Italy. This was a great assignment; in spite of the high ops tempo, morale was higher. It became evident very quickly that the unit's high morale was directly related to the First Sergeant who was very involved with the folks. The Shirt knew our names, was at all the functions, and basically showed up everywhere the people of our squadron were. I was thinking, "What's the deal with this guy?" and then he left. His replacement was not as involved and the squadron morale quickly evaporated; I realized for the first time that this one person, the First Sergeant, had a huge influence.
My next moves were to Cannon AFB in New Mexico and back to Luke AFB where the story was pretty much the same; Shirts come and go, some had a positive impact while others not so much. Each time a new Shirt was assigned I recognized the impact of that person in the First Sergeant position and was influenced both positively and negatively.
Back to Korea once again, I got an in-your-face dose of Master Sgt. Jay Soriano. This Shirt knew his Airmen and took the time to develop each and every one of them. If someone was in trouble or not meeting standards, Sergeant Soriano corrected with them by mentoring them. He talked with people and displayed nothing but positive energy. Of course, there was punishment to be handed out, which he dealt with respect and empathy. He always had a smile on his face and led by example. His leadership influenced my decision to become a First Sergeant as soon as I was eligible.
Today I am the acting First Sergeant for the 366th Maintenance Operation Squadron and am off to First Sergeant School very soon. After I graduate, I look forward to continuing the traditions of those who have worn the diamond and to taking care of my Airmen in the same manner as Sergeant Soriano. I look forward to meeting the Airman who never wants to see the 'Shirt' again knowing that I was once that Airman.