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Why do we have Chief's and First sergeants?

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Mark Merdian
  • 51st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Acting First Sergeant
The other day while a member of a first sergeants panel was at the First Term Airman's Center, an Airman asked, "Why do squadrons have both chiefs & first sergeants?" Hopefully, I can give you enough understanding to clear up any questions.

First, let's take a look at leadership.

Air Force Pamphlet 35-49, Air Force Leadership, defines Leadership as the art of influencing and directing people to accomplish the mission. The basic concept the effective leader must keep in mind encompasses two fundamental elements: mission and people. AFP 35-49 further states: The primary task of a military organization is to perform its mission. This is paramount, and everything else must be subordinate to this objective.

Thus, the leader's primary responsibility is to lead people to carry out the unit's mission successfully Former Air Force Chief of Staff General Curtis E. LeMay emphasized, "No matter how well you apply the art of leadership, no matter how strong your unit or how
high the morale of your men, if your leadership is not directed completely toward the mission, your leadership has failed."

Yet, a leader must never forget the importance of the unit's personnel. People perform the mission. They are the heart of the organization and without their support a unit will fail.

A leader's responsibilities include the care and support of the unit's personnel. Successful leaders have continually ensured that the needs of the people in their unit are met promptly and properly.

A commander is responsible for both the mission and the people. To be the most effective leader they can be they delegate most of these responsibilities to the two top
enlisted leaders, the chief and the first sergeant.

The chief is responsible for ensuring mission accomplishment, and the first sergeant is responsible for meeting the needs of the people. Chiefs and first sergeants don't carry out these duties independently, but co-dependently.

They require a relationship to ensure the best needs of the Air Force are met. Each has a unique job to do, but both are dependent on the other to carry out their specific tasks. A unit will fail if the Chief & First Sergeant don't work together.

Here's an illustration to help make my point: Imagine a three-lane highway. Lane one is "employments and productivity." That's the Chief's lane. They ensure the right Airmen are placed in the right duty positions to carry out the mission.

Lane three is "good order and discipline." That's the first sergeant's lane. They ensure any life distractions are dealt with so Airmen can focus on their tasks.

Lane two, the middle lane, is "morale and education." This is the shared lane. Both the chief and the first sergeant are responsible for ensuring our Airmen are trained (AFSC-specific, PME and overall mentoring) and rewarded (awards, decorations) for going above and beyond.

To assist you with your needs, you need to be aware of whom to go to for help.
Generally speaking, if it's career-field specific, ask the chief. If it's a family, quality of life or a discipline issue, ask the fi rst sergeant. If it deals with EPRs, decorations, PME or mentoring either can help.

Remember, AFI 36-2618, The Enlisted Force Structure, says your supervisor should be your first stop when help is needed, but it's good to know there's a leadership team
that can come to the rescue.