SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- Every Airman serving has to meet the same training, education and proficiency standards of their career field, regardless of whether or not they are active duty, Air National Guard or Air Force Reserve. Here at the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing, total force integration is exemplified in the first sergeant corps, where nine of the 13 assigned first sergeants are deployed from reserve components.
These Airmen typically serve in a part-time status, with full-time responsibilities to their respective commanders and Airmen. At home station, a reserve or guard first sergeant may only spend a few days a month at their assigned units, however they still find ways to stay up to speed with what’s going on with their Airmen.
“Once you put the diamond on, the days of 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. are over,” said Senior Master Sgt. Ryan Fenton, 386th Expeditionary Operations Group first sergeant. “You are there to take care of everyone, no matter the circumstance or situation.”
Fenton, a National Guardsman deployed from the 133rd Airlift Wing, Minneapolis–Saint Paul Joint Air Reserve Station, Minnesota, said that the hardest part was building relationships with Airman so that when they do need help, they feel comfortable reaching out to their first sergeants.
First sergeants may only see many of their Airmen two days out of the month, so you have to utilize your time very wisely so that you build those bonds with those people quickly, said Fenton.
A reserve or guard component first sergeant is used to cramming 30 days’ worth of work, caring for Airmen, and training into a two-day drill weekend. This monthly sprint creates a first sergeant who can easily adapt to the crunch of an active-duty deployment tempo and adapt to a unit mission with which they may not be familiar.
“Besides lack of sleep, the biggest challenge for me has been learning the ins and outs of a different squadron,” said Master Sgt. Kimberlee Koldste, 386th Expeditionary Force Support Squadron first sergeant, deployed from the 507th Medical Squadron, Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma. “I'm medical by trade and was the first sergeant for (aircraft maintenance squadron) prior to deployment, so FSS is a whole different beast. Luckily, the Airmen here are willing to teach me and, I am open enough to admit that I don't know something.”
Regardless of the challenges they face in a deployed environment, these first sergeants are dedicated to serve, and have not forgotten what has drawn them to serve in their respective positions.
“There are times in your military life that define you as an Airman, many of those moments involve guidance from a (senior noncommissioned officer) that took the time to mentor you and guide you,” said Fenton. “That guidance and passion for creating better Airman is what ultimately made me want to be a first sergeant. I wanted to make a difference.”
The first sergeant career field is primarily a volunteer specialty, and the Airmen who wear the diamond wear it with the understanding that by taking care of other Airmen, and providing commanders with a capable and trained enlisted force, the Air Force will continue to have the strength to defend American interests across the world.
“I have always wanted to deploy in a leadership position and provide the combatant commanders with a full-up, ready force of highly skilled Airmen,” said Senior Master Sgt. Kenneth Kowalczyk, 387th Air Expeditionary Group first sergeant deployed from the 67th Aerial Port, Hill AFB, Utah. “We train every month to come here and do our job, now it's time to shine.”