First-ever first sergeant symposium at deployed base

by Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

8/7/2013 – SOUTHWEST ASIA — A First Sergeant Symposium designed to provide information and tools to aspiring first sergeants was held here July 27 and Aug. 3 for the first time ever at a deployed location.

First sergeants are the principal advisor to the commander on all issues related to the enlisted force and exercise general supervision over assigned enlisted personnel. Those in attendance at the symposium were introduced to many concepts and experiences first sergeants encounter. The course instructors were first sergeants who used their first-hand experience to drive home their assigned topics.

“This gives you the tools to keep in mind, to help you as supervisors and first sergeants,” said Master Sgt. Melissa Somers, the 379th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron first sergeant deployed from Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., and a course instructor.

While originally intended for aspiring first sergeants, the course was also host to supervisors, superintendents and additional duty first sergeants.

“This has been extremely amazing and very beneficial,” said Tech. Sgt. Stephanie Foxx, the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron flight medical clinic NCO in charge and additional duty first sergeant deployed from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. “What they taught here really expands on what you learn in NCO academy.”

Course curriculum ranged from explaining first sergeant responsibilities to administrative paperwork, and from Article 15 processing to domestic violence and sexual assault response. The first sergeants had to limit their class selection to 20, specifically picking items of interest for the deployed Airman.

“It was a big challenge for us,” said Master Sgt. Kevin Swieda, the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron first sergeant deployed from Scott Air Force Base, Ill., and a course coordinator. “The course stateside is a four consecutive-day symposium, but with the high operations tempo we have here, we had to condense the material into two non-consecutive days.”

Swieda said they weren’t able to have as many open discussions and panels as the stateside course would as a result of the abridged curriculum, but added how impressed the first sergeants were of the students’ dedication as many of them volunteered their days off for this.

“We rely heavily on these folks to fill in for us,” Swieda said. “So this training provides them the information, training, tools and knowledge through Air Force sanctioned training and first-hand stories on how to do what we do.”

First sergeants must have knowledge of personnel management with emphasis on quality force indicators, personnel and administration; military training; Air Force organization; drill and ceremonies; customs and courtesies; sanitation and hygiene; military justice; and counseling techniques.

“The most beneficial part of this training for me was the first-hand stories from the first sergeants,” Foxx said. “It was very helpful to hear what tools they use and how they cope with difficult situations that may come up, like deaths and non-judicial punishment.”

Over the span of the two days, nearly 55 seasoned Airmen attended the symposium learning what it takes to take on the roles and responsibilities of becoming a first sergeant.

“This was an amazing experience and it would be worth doing again,” Foxx said.

Published by Benjamin W. Stratton

I'm a photojournalist traveling the world sharing what I experience along the way.

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