Making a positive impact

  • Published
  • By Mark Wyatt
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs
At Hanscom, a small cadre of first sergeants serves as principal advisors to commanders on issues that impact Airmen in executing the Air Force mission. And while that can be daunting at times, the consensus among them is there's no better job in the Air Force.

"I'd say it's the most rewarding job you can have in the Air Force," said Master Sgt. Pattie Hassan, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Detachment 7 first sergeant. "I have the opportunity to watch Airmen grow into professional Airmen."

It's through this maturation process that she insists first sergeants, as well as other senior NCOs, can often have a positive impact on a young Airman's career.

"There are so many examples where Airmen don't always start out as star performers but become one because someone -- such as a first sergeant -- took the time to lead them in a more positive direction," said Hassan. "It's very gratifying."

For the 66th Security Forces Squadron's first sergeant, he knew early in his career that being a first sergeant was something he aspired to do.

"I've wanted to become a first sergeant since the early days of my career," said Master Sgt. Stephen Willis. "I always look to help people and this job provides me that opportunity every day."

Because for Willis, whose start in the Air Force wasn't necessarily one he's proud of, it was that senior NCO-helping hand that set him on the right path.

"I had a rough start in the Air Force and I had a group of senior NCOs help me out and put me on the path to excel and achieve things I wasn't sure I was capable of early on," said Willis.

Today, the more mature Willis strives to leave the Air Force better than he found it - something he said he strives for each and every day.

A point that Hanscom's newly assigned installation senior enlisted advisor picked up on early.

"In my short time here at Hanscom I have seen the immense impact the first sergeants are making in their units," said Chief Master Sgt. Craig A. Poling. "They fit the mold of what a first sergeant should be and that is one of a senior NCO working hand-in-hand with their commander in mentoring Airmen and ensuring a wide range of issues are taken care of so the unit can maintain their focus on the mission."

Additionally, first sergeants also play an important role in the Key Spouse Program, a peer-to-peer support group for Air Force spouses.

"We are responsible for monitoring the program and serving as the commander's primary point of contact," Hassan said. "Specifically, recruiting and selecting spouses, meeting with them regularly, assisting with administrative and logistical support and providing access to updated rosters."

The program's coordinator, Dawn Andreucci from the Airman and Family Readiness Center, believes the group is an important cog in the overall success of the Key Spouse Program.

"Key Spouses have a support team of many and among them are first sergeants who are critical to the success of the program at Hanscom," said Andreucci.

Changes in the selection process to become a first sergeant is now perceived as a challenge by those aspiring that career path with the inception of Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Cody's developmental special duties plan to hand-pick master sergeants for these roles. Hassan insists the opportunity remains plausible for those interested and qualified.

"Senior NCOs will now need to communicate better with their leadership their desire to serve as a first sergeant," said Hassan. "By doing so, those master sergeants who meet the qualifications will still have that opportunity."

While discussing the tools needed to be successful as a first sergeant, Willis quickly pointed out the skills are not much different than experiencing success in any assignment in the Air Force.

"You have to have a passion for the Air Force, a passion for people, then the wherewithal to know when the burden is too heavy to reach out to others for help," he said. "For instance, I had an Airman commit suicide when I was a brand-new first sergeant that took an emotional toll on me; you just need to understand that the same services available to your Airmen are there for you as well."

Hassan said that having a smaller group of first sergeants at Hanscom can be a challenge as burdens are placed on a less first sergeants than at other larger more operational bases. She acknowledged, however, that a special camaraderie exists among them.

"We often look out for one another when one is tasked with more than usual," she said. "Often we don't even wait for someone to ask for help, if we know someone has a court martial or some other special circumstance coming up and is busy with it, we'll call and ask if there is anything we can do to help."

In addition to being resources to each other, the shirts are resources to young supervisors who may not know how to find the right programs for their Airmen.

"First sergeants are a resource for Airmen and a resource for new supervisors to direct their Airmen," said Hassan.

The First Sergeants Council also strives to make the Hanscom community a better place. Each Thanksgiving, the council collects turkeys to provide a holiday meal to military families in need and they are also active in Operation Concern and other notable events on base.

"Recently we started a new awards program on base to recognize hard-working Airmen called the Sharp Diamond Award for performance reflecting the highest standards of professionalism and pride," said Willis.

Through their mentoring of Airmen and participation in programs, the first shirts say they are looking to leave Hanscom - and the Air Force - even better than they found it.