Diamond found in the desert sands

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Cheri
  • 506th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron
In 2006, I was still an inspection mechanic with the 301st Maintenance Squadron. What a great organization! Being an aircraft mechanic was a really rewarding career choice. But, I had been doing that for 12 years and my mind began to wonder more and more about what else may there be in the Air Force for me. 

I knew I liked people, and I knew I was pretty good at dealing with people. As a Customer Service Manager with American Airlines, that's my primary purpose. Quite frankly, a new technical school and the resulting upgrade training just didn't sound at all appealing. But, first sergeant? Now, that was something I kept returning to as I reviewed my options. 

I contacted Master Sgt. Sean Gouge to find out what the process was to get started. By December 2006, I found myself interviewing with the 610th Security Forces Squadron for a vacant first sergeant position. I was deployed to Portland, Ore., on my annual tour and wound up doing the interview by telephone. I guess I did OK. They offered me the position which I gladly accepted. 

During the February Unit Training Assembly, the 610th SFS commander, Lt. Col. Mary Ann Lutz, called me into her office. She told me the unit was mobilizing to Iraq and she wanted me to go as her first sergeant. In April, I went to the First Sergeant Academy at Gunter Air Force Base, Ala. 

This is it, I thought, this is how I earn my diamond. All I need to do is pay attention, do my homework and graduate. 

After three weeks of intensive curriculum and community service on the weekends, I did it! I graduated and earned the right to wear the diamond insignia of a real first sergeant on my uniform. 

I performed my first UTA as a first sergeant with the 610th SFS in May. It was very hectic as the squadron leadership tried to remember to include me in their processes while I was trying to learn my way around the building and dozens new acronyms. When the UTA was over, I realized that even though I wore the diamond, I still didn't feel like a first sergeant. It just wasn't clicking. I couldn't find whatever it was the Air Force wanted me to do with this diamond. 

This went on for several more UTAs. I had hoped to leave for Iraq with more confidence, but time ran out. When the plane left, I was on it. 

I had been to Iraq before but never as a first sergeant. Thoughts of how I was going to pull this off dominated my thinking. I arrived at Kirkuk Regional Air Base on the fourth chalk Aug. 25. We were the final chalk bringing our rotation's manning numbers full up to 362 personnel at 21 different bases assigned to the 506th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron. 

I was met by the seasoned first sergeant whom I would be replacing. He was very experienced and had his processes squared away. He did all he could do to get me prepared in just six days before leaving. The first night we were here, the base came under rocket attack -- a scenario that would soon become commonplace. 

I now found myself as the most newly arrived and least experienced first sergeant on KRAB. And to top it all off, I had the largest squadron in the group. There were 13 multiple-occupancy dwellings in the group -- I would be in charge of six of them. 

The bed-down plan seemed simple enough at first glance, but with all the outgoing and incoming troops on the ground at the same time, overcrowding was an issue. Now I knew I was a functioning first sergeant as troop after troop came to me with complaints about roommates, not having enough room and not being able to sleep. 

Upon arrival, they are also required to fill out an accrual travel voucher and file it with their home station. However, several Airmen failed to take care of their government travel card that caused problems with their accounts. After seeing to various administrative problems from other U.S. Air Force personnel from all over the country, the commander and I realized the 610th SFS and the 301st Fighter Wing have very effective pre-deployment out-processing procedures. 

A normal duty day in the life of our Airmen are 13 hours long, add anything abnormal, it's more like 14. As first sergeant here, I have done all the common first sergeant tasks, such as room inspections, listening to and counseling Airmen, presenting awards and participating in promotion ceremonies. I have also processed seven Red Cross notifications, rapidly sending four Airmen home and having to tell the other three they didn't qualify. Unfortunately, I have now experience all the things that must be done after an assigned member becomes a wounded-in-action casualty. 

I've been here for more than three months now. I learned so much on the accelerated path and I know there is so much more for me to learn. However, I do feel like a real first sergeant now and I know I've finally found my diamond.
Public Affairs (817) 782-5000