U.S. NAVAL AIR STATION JOINT RESERVE BASE FORT WORTH, Texas --
When 301st Fighter Wing Airmen are going through a crisis and need help, there are many resources they can choose from and now they have one more. For the first time, the 301 FW Force Support Squadron and Wing Staff Agency have a dedicated, full-time person in place to handle a variety of potential issues an Airman could face. The 301 FW brought on a full-time first sergeant two months ago, Master Sgt. Cassandra Hernandez, who is serving the wing’s FSS and WSA in an Active Guard and Reserve (ART) status. Traditionally, the position of first sergeants were Traditional Reservists only, meaning that Airman would serve in that role during a deployment, Air Force Reserve drill weekends, to serve their two weeks out of the year for annual tour, or brought on for orders to support the wing only.
“[The full-time first sergeant position] is filling a gap that’s been missing for a really long time,” Hernandez said. “It’s getting Airmen the help immediately when they really need it, instead of waiting for someone to try to get ahold of the right person.”
Hernandez served as a first sergeant for two years with the 44th Fighter Group, which is a classic associate of the wing, formerly located at Tyndall Air Force Base, Panama City, Fla. While stationed there, she gained invaluable experience through a real-world crisis. In 2018, Hurricane Michael devastated the Panama City area and impacted a majority of the Airmen’s homes, forcing the 44 FG to relocate 89 miles west to Eglin AFB, Fla. The Airmen had to accomplish their mission there while simultaneously rebuilding their homes back in Panama City. Hernandez explained how this experience further equipped her as a first sergeant.
“I got that well-rounded experience at [many] different levels: mental health, physical health, working with all the base resources there--chaplains, Airman and Family Readiness, finding people jobs--anything and everything,” she said. “Through all that, I grew a whole lot. At first, I was a new shirt and a lot really wasn’t going on and then the hurricane hit and it was like alright, we’re all in. It’s make it or break it.”
First Sergeants derive authority from the unit commander and serve as a critical link from that commander to the unit while ensuring the force understands the commander’s policies, goals and objectives. The first sergeant’s role—to primarily support mission accomplishment through interaction, support and management of all unit-assigned personnel and their families 24 hours a day, seven days a week—plays a vital part in the health and efficacy of a unit.
“In a nutshell, our role really comes down to taking care of Airmen. From generals all the way to airman basic, we are here and are your hub for resources,” Hernandez said. “We are connected in every way possible, and if we don’t have the answer, we know exactly where to go to get it.”
Due to protected communications, Airman do not need to go through their chain of command to talk to the first sergeant. By design, the first sergeant is not in an Airman’s chain of command to promote an open line of communication without the fear of reprimand.
“If I can even make the difference in one person’s life then I am doing my job," she said. “If Airmen want to come in my office and talk to me, my door is always open. I will stop what I am doing to give them my undivided attention, even if they can only talk for a moment because that may be all they have [during a busy work day].”
Since the 301 FW mission—to train and deploy combat-ready Airmen—is an everyday mission, the wing’s Airmen and families need everyday support in whatever life brings. The addition of First Sgt. Hernandez will do just that.
Regardless of rank or duty status, the first sergeant is an accessible resource to all Airman 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Those experiencing a crisis, interested in becoming a first sergeant, or simply needing to talk to someone can contact their respective unit’s first sergeant. If you need help connecting, Master Sgt. Hernandez can be reached on her duty cell phone at 682-802-0063.