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Additional Duty First Sergeants learn the ropes

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo -- Following August drill weekend, 20 senior noncommissioned officers from across the nation gathered in the Professional Development Center here for an Additional Duty First Sergeant Seminar hosted by the Missouri Air National Guard’s 131st Bomb Wing.

Per Air Force Instruction, additional duty first sergeants must go through an Additional Duty First Sergeant
Seminar upon appointment to be qualified to assist the unit or sections’ first sergeant. This August, three of the 131 BW’s top first sergeants led that training.

“We’ve done a lot to strengthen our first sergeant program in the 131st,” said Chief Master Sgt. Jessica Settle, command chief for the 131 BW. “We’ve filled all of our diamond-wearing positions and built a non-existent additional duty first sergeant program. It’s exciting to develop these Airmen as one of our wing’s strategic priorities, but mostly because we owe it to our wing to grow our people and improve our wing.”

After holding boards for the positions, the 131st selected nine Airmen for the program. The next step was opening a class for the seminar.

“The class filled up quick,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jason Henke, 131st Bomb Wing first sergeant. “There’s an absolute need for this training for additional duty first sergeants. Several of our class participants emailed me and said ‘I was just told I’m the new additional duty first sergeant-I need this course.”

There are many steps to open and host the Additional Duty First Sergeant Seminar. A request is submitted to the National Guard Bureau, which then coordinates with the First Sergeant Academy. When the Academy approves it opens its curriculum to the hosting base and gives them permission to take a four-week distance learning course and two-week, in-residence course and condense all into three grueling days.

“It’s tough,” said Henke, “but we’re hitting highlights and all the major things that they’re going to see sitting in that position.”

The seminar covered key responsibilities of a first sergeant and information new appointees needed to know to effectively work with and for the Airmen in their unit. It included, but was not limited to, dress and appearance, referral agencies that can be used to help Airmen, the different types of National Guard statuses and the benefits attached to them, family care plans, and medical procedures to follow if Airmen are injured while on duty. The seminar also included the disciplinary side of being a first sergeant, which included: administrative actions, presenting letters of council or reprimand, and how to conduct counseling sessions.

“They’re giving so many scenarios,” said Tech. Sgt. James McDonald, bandsman in the 572nd Air Force Band at McGhee-Tyson Air National Guard Base, Tennessee. “It’s been great for me to internalize a lot of these things and imagine what I would do in each situation. I feel better prepared to deal with things that will happen in my unit. I feel more comfortable stepping into my role as acting first sergeant.”

Sometimes when Airmen see their first sergeants for counseling, the problem stems from personal life situations bleeding into work performances. One example given in the seminar was a scenario in which an Airman misused his Government Travel Card and tells his first sergeant that he knew it was wrong but that he was suffering from financial troubles and felt he had no other options.

“What we’re trying to do is prepare additional duty first sergeants for that gray,” said Elkins, 131st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron first sergeant. “When you enter the world of a first sergeant, everything gets blurry because you have to take into consideration ‘yeah I misused my GTC but I lost my job.’ Is it appropriate to throw the book at that person? What we’re trying to do is prepare additional duty first sergeants for that gray.”

Elkins and Henke both expressed that the best way to learn is to do, and they both love to impart their own knowledge onto new first sergeant recruits.

“The feather in the hat here is that this is all about taking care of our Airmen and their families,” said Henke. “If we train our additional duty first sergeants - if we formalize that process - it leads to better first sergeants, who then give better support to our Airmen.”