Leadership Ideas, Information and News

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Top Reserve shirt talks first sergeants' importance

by Tech. Sgt. Richard Gonzales
419th Fighter Wing Public Affairs


2/12/2013 - HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- Early in his career, Chief Master Sgt. Michael Bellerose saw a first sergeant fix a problem others said couldn't be solved. Bellerose, a security forces patrolman at the time, was working at a base air show and someone told him there weren't enough box lunches for him and his team, he recalled. A first sergeant overheard the conversation and 45 minutes later Bellerose and his team had food. That small act of kindness from a random first shirt set the path for his Air Force career, he said.

Two decades and a dozen assignments later, Bellerose is Air Force Reserve Command's first sergeant functional manager. He mentors 509 first sergeants and advises Reserve leaders on how best to use those Airmen. Bellarose will speak here Friday during Team Hill's Chiefs Recognition Ceremony at The Landing. Prior to his speaking, I sat down with him to discuss the role of first sergeants.

Is being a first sergeant tough?
It is the toughest job ever for an enlisted Airman. You see the good, bad and ugly of a unit. But it's also very rewarding. First sergeants take care of Airmen in the shadow of the mission. If a first sergeant is doing a job well, the unit is going to succeed, and we see that on unit climate assessments. If a first sergeant has good ratings on a climate assessment, the unit is most likely excelling in its mission.

So, what's the benefit for Airmen to become first sergeants?
Well, we go from being operational leaders as supervisors to strategic leaders as first sergeants. First sergeants get incredible leadership development when stepping out of their career fields. We see people go back to their units after taking off their diamond, and a lot of them end up taking on larger responsibility. Nothing else offers the leadership opportunity and development you get from being a first sergeant. If you ask any first sergeant to take off his or her diamond and go back to their old career field, none of them wants to leave.

What do you do to help shirts become better leaders?
What I really like to do is get a new first sergeant and take them away from what they know. For example, I want to take a first sergeant with background in the mission support group and put them in the maintenance group, so they can learn a whole new culture in their wing. And a few years later, move them to operations or medical. So when they go back to their unit, they're a senior NCO with experience in several distinct cultures, which increases their ability to lead and understand the entire organization.

What skills help a Reserve first sergeant succeed?
A first sergeant's job isn't done at the end of a UTA, so networking is a huge piece of being a first sergeant. If things go wrong, you need a good network to get things done in a timely manner, especially when you only see your Airmen one weekend a month. Family problems, marital problems and financial issues are the kind of things that come up, and a first sergeant needs to be able to know how to quickly help their Airmen.

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