by SSgt Shelia deVera
JBER Public Affairs
10/1/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- "My
job is people - everyone is my business. I dedicate my time and energy
to their needs; their health, morale, discipline and welfare. I grow in
strength by strengthening my people. My job is done in faith; my people
built faith. The Air Force is my life; I share it with my people. I
believe in the Air Force goal - We take care of our own; my job is
people - everyone is my business."
The First Sergeant's Creed offers a reminder that first sergeants are
the center for all readiness, health, morale, welfare, and
quality-of-life issues within an organization.
"The full creed offers a little bit more as an overarching principle,"
said Master Sgt. Philip Peters, 673d Communications Squadron acting
first sergeant. "I prefer the third line, which reads 'I dedicate my
time and energy to their needs.' While that line should be true for any
supervisor, it is especially important for a first sergeant to remember.
"It's not about you; it's about your Airmen. It can be easy to lose
sight of that and the creed can serve as a reminder," Peters added.
Early in his military career, Peters was going through some tough times
as a young Airman. In his struggles, he had two distinct experiences
with first sergeants.
"I had one who was very engaged and was very tough on me, but who helped
me through my difficulties and genuinely wanted to see me improve," the
20-year veteran said. "Conversely, I had another first sergeant whose
approach was a lot less helpful. As I got on track and progressed
through the ranks, I decided early on that I wanted a chance to try to
be like the 'shirt' who taught me so much. So, the week I made master
sergeant, I talked to my shirt about what I needed to do to become a
While Peters had two notable experiences that drove him to his current
position, Master Sgt. Danny Damons, 673d Comptroller Squadron and Wing
Staff Agency first sergeant, said there were several individuals who
pushed him to become a first sergeant.
"Marine Sgt. Frank Pearson left a lasting impression on how I wanted to
be when he was my Sergeant of the Guard for several years during my time
in the Marine Corps," Damons said.
"He wasn't a big-muscle type of guy that yelled and barked, he was tall
and skinny, and soft-spoken, but the way he carried himself and
interacted with people inspired me to become like him. If you screwed
up he would definitely let you know, but he had a way making you better
without all of the extra nonsense."
The drive to listen and interact with people made him think about
becoming a first sergeant when Damons witnessed firsthand how the first
sergeants in Korea took care of their people.
Having the possibility of becoming a first sergeant in the back of his
mind motivated him to look into it further when he was deployed to
Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan.
"Air Force Master Sgt. Kevin Drake gave me a first sergeant coin for
addressing some issues that arose throughout the deployment, and said he
was proud of me for standing up for what I believed was right," Damons
"So, when I came back [from my deployment], the seed had been planted
for me to think more seriously about becoming a first sergeant in the
Eight years later, Damons now wears a lozenge. The lozenge, or diamond,
on the first sergeant's chevron is a symbol recognized by every Airman,
Soldier, and Marine.
They are given distinct privilege, trust, duty and responsibility of
taking care of every member in their unit and their families.
When Peters took on the role the first time, he said it was a little intimidating.
"This is not a job you learn to do in the classroom; no job really is,
but so much of a first sergeant's job is situational, often
reactionary," Peters said. "The scary part when you start out is
wondering if you will know how to react to a difficult situation.
"Fortunately, every base has a community of first sergeants who are always there to help each other out.
I always knew I had people around I could lean on, even in the middle of the night."
One day, an Airman came by to see Peters about an issue that needed to
be resolved. Peters promised to help the Airman after jotting it down in
his notebook with a box to check off when completed.
"At that moment, I realized I had to be careful not to lose the humanity
of the tasks," Peters said. "For me, each Airman who came in with an
issue was just one more thing.
"For them, it was likely a significant event, something major going on
in their life, and therefore deserved the best effort I could muster."
To maintain their sense of self and self-esteem, both first sergeants said they enjoy running.
"To spend time by myself, I just go for a long run," Damons said.
"I enjoy listening to the natural sounds to help me clear my mind, but I
do enjoy listening to music at home, in the car, and at work. Bob
Marley is the greatest stress relief for me."
"Learning how to separate your work life from your home life is one of
the most important skills first sergeants develop," Peters said.
"Shirts often deal with unpleasant situations, and it can be difficult
to leave those things at work. During those years, I developed a love of
running. You can do it anywhere, it provides time for reflection, and
releases pent up energy.
"Also, being able to go home every night to a family that supported me
through six years of late-night calls and lots of time away was huge."
Peters said he would learn new things every day. Some days he feels
successful and on other days he doesn't. On some days, it's paperwork,
while on other days it's non-stop action - there are always high and low
points as a first sergeant.
"All my greatest highs as first sergeant have come while interacting
with and learning about the lives and jobs of the Airmen I worked for,"
"The lowest moments I had as a shirt always involved children. It can be
difficult to personally reconcile the situations you deal with as a
first sergeant where a family is struggling in some way and the children
suffer because of it."
"I haven't been doing this position that long, but when you can
successfully help somebody, that is the high point," Damons said.
"The low point would be when bad things happen to good people. I take on that stuff personally."
Tech. Sgt. Vernon Cunningham, 673d Air Base Wing Public Affairs, said he
agrees that a first sergeant puts the needs of the unit personnel above
"Setting up leave for an Airman can take quite a bit of time, given all
the routing and signatures," Cunningham said. "But in case of a family
emergency or other incident that may adversely affect an Airman's life,
first shirts get involved and expedite the process to allow the Airman
to take care of personal needs right away and not be distracted by the
"In my career, I have even worked with a first sergeant who we called in
the middle of the night, and he had the Airman on leave and by his
family's side by noon the next day."
Peters and Damons said they agreed the job is never easy.
First sergeants work 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the members
of their respective units - one thing is certain, they said; a day in
the life of a first sergeant is challenging and rewarding.
"My job is people," Peters quoted from the First Sergeant's Creed. "Everyone is my business at the start and the end."