Helping Airmen through tough times

  • Published
  • By Tech.Sgt. Charles Taylor

Taking care of the Airmen who take care of the 301st Fighter Wing mission--to train and deploy combat-ready Airmen--is the wing's main priority and it takes everyone doing their jobs to meet that goal. 

Master Sgt. David Flores, 301 FW Operations Group first sergeant, describes why he chose the path directly responsible to meet Airmen's needs.

"I decided to become a shirt after I had been told by several senior leaders that I would be a good at it," the 10-year military member said. "I also liked the idea of being in a position to affect positive change within a squadron, and I really liked the idea of helping our Airmen and their families. I was also ready to experience more of the Air Force and seek out other ways I could support the mission. I felt that I have experienced a lot of life in general, as well as how the Air Force works and it seemed like a good fit for me."

Being in a position to affect change also presents first sergeants, also known as 'shirts' or 'first shirts,' opportunities to overcome obstacles they may encounter along the way.

"There are some tough issues you have to face as a shirt, and you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable," he said. "However, as a shirt you have a large network of other shirts that can help you along your way. It all goes back to taking care of each other and making sure the mission is accomplished."

With nearly two years of first shirt service under his belt, Flores couples his network of fellow shirts with the experience he learns every day. 

"I have learned that I have a lot to learn. Becoming a shirt has allowed me to see a larger view of the Air Force beyond just a single unit," he said. "It has also given me a better view into how the job that we do as senior noncommissioned officers affect the Airmen we supervise, and thus the overall mission. On top of that, it has reaffirmed my belief that a lot of problems Airmen face can be helped a great deal if we just sit and listen to them, really listen, and show some empathy. You would be surprised how the look on someone’s face and their overall outlook can change once they feel that they have been heard."

Due to the pandemic, seeing and hearing an Airman requires first shirts to be innovatively creative.

“Our job is connecting with Airmen and it is hard to set up shop visits, morale events, or celebrations when we have to mitigate and maintain social distance and CDC guidance," Flores said. "It has forced [us] to try and come up with new ways to interact with Airmen and put events on they will find enjoyable or meaningful. It has definitely made the job harder as I am sure it has for everyone, but I am confident things will turn around soon."

No matter the obstacle, Flores explains why a first sergeant must be a successful resource to their Airmen.

"We do a lot to help maintain [the process]. Whether it’s keeping good order or discipline, we must ensure Airmen have what they need to accomplish the mission and stay safe and healthy. Along with that, one of the largest ways we impact the mission is making sure the Airmen’s families are taken care of. We want to ensure everyone’s head is in the game. If an Airman is worried about finances, child care, school, etc., they will not be very effective and focused on the mission. As you can imagine, that can be dangerous in a variety of ways. Taking care of Airmen is taking care of the mission!"

For those who might be interested in becoming a first shirt, Flores offers this bit of information.

"As a shirt you will learn a lot and grow a great deal as a leader and an Airman," he said. "It gives you a chance to make a broader impact to the Air Force outside of the work of your normal Air Force Specialty Code. Seek out your first sergeant and ask about becoming an "under shirt." Being an under shirt allows you to shadow a first sergeant for a while, so you can get an idea of what it is like and make sure it’s for you."

Through these challenging times, Flores wants everyone to know he and the other first sergeants are never too far away.

"These are tough and unprecedented times, but we will get through it as a family," he said. "As always, if there is anything us first sergeants can do to help call on us! We are in this job for you!"

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