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First sergeant shares gratitude, highlights important role of “Shirts”

  • Published
  • By Nicole King
  • 919th Special Operations Wing

Some may think talking to a first sergeant equates to being in trouble, but in reality there are a lot of good reasons why first sergeants talk with Airmen. First sergeants advise commanders on the readiness, health, morale, welfare, and quality of life of Airmen and families to ensure a mission-ready force.

One example of the positive impact first sergeants are having around the 919th Special Operations Wing is the recent “Greet at the Gate” event where the 919th SOW First Sergeants Council handed out customized fortune cookies packed with Happy New Year’s messages and prizes for free breakfast items. The council also has other events throughout the year to support Airmen and are always available to help point Airmen to resources they need.

Master Sgt. Tenaya Norland, first sergeant of the 311th Special Operations Intelligence Squadron who helped organize the event, has been part of the 919th SOW since 2015 and a first sergeant for just over two years. She took some time before her upcoming retirement to share some of her thoughts about what a first sergeant is and why the job is so rewarding.

Q: What inspired you to become a first sergeant?
A: Throughout my career, I have witnessed the impact a first sergeant can have on an organization. I have witnessed the achievements of an effective first sergeant reflected in the accomplishments of their unit’s enlisted force. I have seen the struggles a unit can experience without an effective first sergeant. An effective and engaged first sergeant is vital to the health of an organization and its people. For example, in 2018 and 2019 I faced some mental health challenges and suffered from my own perceived stigmas towards seeking mental health help. I worked up the courage to talk about my challenges with one of my mentors and their care and honesty inspired me to want to contribute to the changing perceptions surrounding seeking mental health help and building resiliency.

Q: What is your favorite part of being a first sergeant?
A: [My favorite aspect of the job is] being able to positively impact the organization. This comes by making sure  squadron members feel welcomed and appreciated, ensuring they have what they need to perform their jobs, working with internal and external organizations to promote resiliency and create professional development opportunities, and including their families in the organization’s consideration and support.

Q: What is something you want your Airmen to know about you that might surprise them?
A: I’m an introvert! The unit first sergeant is probably the last person that you’d peg as an introvert, especially when they wear a Christmas tree tutu to the holiday party, but I am. In fact, a large number of the senior leaders I’ve listened to speak at various [Professional Military Education] courses and professional development events have said the same, which really surprised me. I’ve learned what I need to do personally to maintain my balance and rebuild my internal stores. That has allowed me to view my introverted nature as a strength and be able to use it to create a positive impact.

Q: What should Airmen know about first sergeants that you don’t think they know already?
A: There is no “mold” of a perfect first sergeant. We each bring something different and unique to the table shaped by our past experiences, professions and personality types. When I talk to people about what it takes to be a first sergeant, I tell them that all you need is three things: compassion, critical thinking, and resourcefulness. If you’ve got those, how you ‘Shirt’ is all up to you and looks different for each of us.

Q: Is there anything else you want to add?
A: As I transition to retirement April 1, 2022, I look back at what I’ve been able to be a part of over my military career, and I have to say that being a first sergeant has been the biggest privilege of all of them. It has been humbling, challenging, exciting, fun and rewarding. I have such immense respect for this position. The trust the members of the squadron and their families have placed in me because of it is nothing short of amazing. I have loved serving as a first sergeant and wouldn’t trade those experiences and memories for anything.

Do you want to be a first sergeant someday? Reach out to your unit first sergeant to find out what you can do to make yourself competitive to become a 919th SOW first sergeant in the future.