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First sergeants to supervisors: Here are 4 things you should know

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. (AFNS) -- There are approximately 2,600 active-duty Airmen assigned to Fairchild Air Force Base and nine fully trained, diamond-wearing first sergeants on duty.

That's a little more than 280 Airmen to one first shirt. This proportion is not uncommon at most bases around the command and the Air Force.

Acting and additional duty first sergeants provide support to these special-duty senior NCOs, but taking care of Airmen is everyone's responsibility.

Here are four tips for all supervisors from Fairchild AFB first sergeants:

A two-minute conversation can solve a lot of problems

“Often enough supervisors don't know which Air Force instruction to reference, where to begin, or where the discussion point is; we'll tell them,” said Senior Master Sgt. Kevin Newsom, the 92nd Civil Engineer Squadron first sergeant. “Most first sergeants have the Professional Development Guide and chapters memorized, and I'll tell you right down to the section, ‘Why don't you read this? And when you finish that, look at this AFI.’"

According to Newsom, first sergeants are supervisors' go-to for referrals, AFIs (especially the 36 series), and rules in general, but it's the perspective they're going to give that's most important.

"We know the commander's intentions ... ," Newsom said. "Our job is to communicate and remove that ambiguity of the standard."

If the two-minute conversation doesn't resolve an issue, Newsom said first sergeants rely on each other daily to get the right answer to the right people.

We aren't here to judge, we're here to guide Airmen through the process

When we have an Airman who's in trouble or in a situation, we remain unbiased, said Master Sgt. Aron Garrard, the 336th Training Group, 22nd Training Squadron first sergeant. "I'm not here to judge, I'm here to help (Airmen) through the process. I'm going to give them everything they need.

"We're not going to hug you, but we are going to get you through it," he said. "We're going to help you get rehabilitated and back in the mission where we need you."

We thrive in the gray area

"If a situation is black and white, it should be handled at the lowest level," said Master Sgt. Adam Forbes, the 92nd Logistics Readiness Squadron first sergeant. "If it's black and white, supervisors should be able to refer to the AFIs to handle it. When it comes to our level, these situations aren't cookie cutter. We mostly work in the gray area where nothing is black and white."

You can't always be the feel-good police

Supervisors need to have honest, candid conversations, Forbes said. Tell your Airmen when they're doing well and when they're not. And you have to tell them why they aren't doing well; you can't dance around it. You can't always be the feel-good police.

Force management, fitness test failures, financial and relationship problems are just some of the tough topics supervisors must address.

"There's some things you don't want to talk about; not everyone is good with conflict," Newsom said. "And if you're not comfortable, and if it's important to you and you know you're not going to get it right, work with us."


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