An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Try this "shirt" on for size

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Elliott Sprehe
  • 27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
"We put out fires," said Master Sgt. George Childers, 27th Special Operations Equipment Maintenance Squadron first sergeant.

Sergeant Childers was speaking of the day-to-day routine, or lack thereof, of a first sergeant, who is also often referred to as the "shirt," "first shirt," or "diamond."

"There's no set routine from day to day. It really depends on the needs of the unit and the Airmen," said Sergeant Childers.

Those needs can vary, as the job of a first sergeant is multi-layered, consisting of duties that include, but are not limited to, financial issues, marital problems, family deaths, disciplinary matters, and even separation issues stemming from deployments.

Sergeant Childers and other shirts meet weekly at the Professional Enhancement Center to discuss issues involving their respective squadrons, Airmen, and any other matters that may arise.

The qualifications for becoming a first sergeant include holding the rank of Master Sgt., passing the Air Force Physical Fitness test and completing the Senior NCO Academy Correspondence Course.

If an Airman meets these qualifications, the commander makes a recommendation and, if approved by the wing command chief, is sent to Air Force Personnel Center.

There, the career-field manager releases the individual from his or her career and, once released, that individual would send a request to attend the First Sergeant Academy. Later the command chief and individual are notified of the start date at the academy.

Some of the classes at the 3-week academy include legal issues, drill and ceremony, and financial responsibility.

"When you're coming into this career field you don't know what this job is about until you actually start it," said Master Sgt. George Jones, 27th Special Operations Logistics Readiness Squadron first sergeant. "And, in my opinion, this is the best job I've ever had in the Air Force in 20 years of service."

"We have the commander's ear and can get enlisted members' thoughts and processes out there," said Master Sgt. Eric Butt, 27th Special Operations Communications first sergeant. "We actually have an impact on what goes on in the squadron."

On top of having commanders' ears, shirts work closely with others on base such as the wing command chief, chapel, mental health workers, and the Airman and Family Readiness Center.

"If we need help and we need things done, they listen to us and work with us. They help us work the miracles that (Airmen) like to see," said Sergeant Childers.

"We have a broad knowledge about the different agencies and personnel on the base, but the specific expertise lies with those individual places," said Master Sgt. John Skaggs, 27th Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron first sergeant, referring to the liaison role that first sergeants often play.

When situations come up that might be different from an average event, first sergeants can discuss among each other possible solutions to the problem since they look to one another as peers.

"If we have an issue we haven't seen before, we can ask one of the other first sergeants," said Sergeant Butt. "When you can tap into your peers like that, it helps out a lot."

A first sergeant is on call as well, said Sergeant Jones, but at the same time is not constrained to a set 7:30a.m. - 4:30 p.m. schedule.

"We're allowed to float anywhere we need to go. Whatever we need to get our job done, that's what we're allowed to do," said Sergeant Jones.

However, Sergeant Childers added that despite the demands of being a first sergeant, he and other shirts can still have healthy family lives.

"It really doesn't interfere with our ability to spend quality time with our families," said Sergeant Childers.

If a first sergeant takes leave or has any situation that requires him to be outside the local area, he can leave his duties in the hands of any number of senior NCOs who are fully qualified to perform the duties of a shirt.

Though their days are long and busy, the first sergeants agree that the pros associated with the job far outweigh the cons.

"It's the greatest job in the Air Force for an enlisted troop," said Sergeant Childers. "There is no job that even comes close."