301 FW warrior leaves first sergeant legacy

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jeremy Roman and Staff Sgt. Randall Moose
  • 301st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

After 22 years of service, Senior Master Sgt. Mary Staffeld, 301st Fighter Wing Aircraft Maintenance Squadron first sergeant, completed her military journey during her retirement ceremony here on October 3.

Col. Joshua Padgett, 301st Fighter Wing Operations Group commander, presided over Staffeld’s retirement and gave her a parting speech. “You have chosen to officially retire, but I want you to remember, that you will never retire the experiences,” said Padgett. “Your legacy as an Airman lives on. Your legacy as a senior enlisted leader, in this wing, lives on. And, most importantly, the memories that you’ve made live on.”

One of those continuing legacies is Staffeld’s impact as a first sergeant. First sergeants, or “first shirt or shirt” as they are referred to, play a vital role in the health, readiness and development of any unit. AFI 36-2113 states shirts are responsible for the squadron’s health, welfare, and morale. Staffeld remembers her transition into that calling.

“Even back during my Active Duty days, being a first sergeant was always something I wanted to do and was a goal I wanted to accomplish,” Staffeld said. “After joining the Air Force Reserve, I became an Air Reserve Technician in wing training. I was not allowed to be a first sergeant in an ART role because every shirt at the 301 FW is a Traditional Reservist role. After completing six years in my ART position, I became a TR within the civil engineer squadron but finally reached my goal and became a first shirt in April 2014.”

Staffeld, a Chicago suburb native who joined served in Active Duty Air Force from 1978 to 1986, was able to bring her wealth of experience to the wing in 2005 after a 19-year break in service. She used that experience to guide her Airmen as a first shirt to accomplish the 301 FW’s mission—to train and deploy combat-ready Airmen.

“Every Airman plays a vital role and sometimes they may not recognize, realize or [possibly] underplay their importance of how they fit together in the overall mission puzzle,” said Staffeld. “First sergeants have a responsibility to help them make the connection and to see the why.”

The shirts are not limited to serving their Reserve Citizen Airmen on drill weekends only.

“Since we are responsible for the squadron’s health, welfare, and morale, that includes the Airman’s life outside of Air Force [on-duty status]. We need to be attuned to any changes that could affect their ability to accomplish the mission,” Staffeld said. “So, if things are not right at home, at work, at school, anywhere, we need to be able to recognize that and be there to help them through it. Otherwise that Airman will not be ready to deploy.”

Shirts also need to use their learned experiences when they are called to deploy.

“First sergeants also deploy and not always with 301 FW members. Even when the deployment consists of 301 FW members, it will also consist of other Reserve wings, Active Duty, Guard, and civilians,” she said. “The job does not change based on the who. We take care of ALL Airmen.”

Although a challenging responsibility within the wing, Staffeld explained the benefits of being a shirt for those looking to help Airmen.

“Our motto: People First – Mission Always! It is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year! First Sergeants must be people of integrity, great character, trustworthiness, compassion and empathy because Airmen must be able to trust us to say what we mean and mean what we say,” Staffeld said. “Courage is important because there are times [we] must communicate things to senior leadership that they do not want to hear and tenacity is a must because we may have to make 10 calls to get a problem solved for an Airman. Giving up is not an option until you get the results or answers you need.”

She also said emotional intelligence is a crucial characteristic needed because Airmen tell much more in their nonverbals than they do in their verbal communication. The ability to recognize what an Airman is feeling and where they are at in their heads is critical.

“First sergeants also have the very difficult job of being the commander’s representative to the enlisted members while also being the enlisted member’s representative to the commander,” staffed said. “It is a very thin line that we walk and it’s a special duty that requires passion about people.”

In her 15 years at the wing, Staffeld has received many awards for her hard work. She’s been the NCO of the Year, SNCO of the Year, the First Sergeant of the Year for the Wing and 10th Air Force, and the Henry D. Green Award Winner, however, that isn’t her greatest success.

“What really makes me proud, besides the incredible family that I have, is watching the Airmen I have served grow. Seeing them become NCOs, SNCOs, and officers who will make a difference in others’ lives,” she said. I facilitated NCO Leadership Development course all over the Air Force Reserve Command, taught hundreds of students those core principles of leading people and seen many grow to become some of the best leaders we have. That is what makes me feel a sense of accomplishment.”

After thanking her 301 FW family for letting her serve them these past 15 years, Staffeld shared some final words for her Airmen.

“There will come a day when each of you must take the uniform off and it will come in a blink of an eye! Take the time now, while you still can, to create your legacy because you will be known for something after you leave,” she said. “You get to write that story now! What will your story say about you? If you think about it and you do not like it – change it! The only thing in your way is you! If I could leave you with one thing, keep taking care of each other. Nothing is more important.”

Staffeld will continue her service through several volunteer opportunities, spend more time being a grandmother, and is continuing her education as she is working on a second bachelor’s in business administration and a third in human resources. 


If you are interested in supporting and molding the next generation of Airmen, please contact your first sergeant or command chief for more information.

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