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When away from fight, additional shirts take the flight

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. --

Behind every Airman is a first sergeant, an individual assigned to an Air Force unit who is responsible for providing a focal point for readiness, health, morale, welfare and quality-of-life issues.

However, when a first sergeant, often known as “first shirt” or “shirt,” takes a leave of absence, someone has to fill his or her boots. This is where the additional-duty first sergeant come into play.

“An additional duty first sergeant is a vital piece of a [shirt’s] arsenal,” said Master Sgt. Nathan Landry, the first sergeant assigned to the 28th Medical Group. “They provide backup in the event a first shirt is gone, whether on leave, temporary duty, or anything that keeps them away from their unit for an extended amount of time.”

Each first sergeant has a handful of volunteer additional-duty first sergeants, usually around four or five, ready to drop what they’re doing at moment’s notice to take up the mantel.

“I’m usually an air traffic controller which means I sit in a dark room communicating with aircraft and the tower,” said Tech. Sgt. Wesley Corbin, assistant chief controller assigned to the 28th Operations Support Squadron. “Being an additional-duty first sergeant is a completely different ballpark. It opens your eyes to the various problems Airmen may have, and how even little problems can turn into big ones if you don’t handle them right away.”

Because of how crucial the job is, first sergeants must ensure their fill-ins are well trained and equipped for the vast responsibility. To do this, volunteers can attend a semi-annual First Sergeant Symposium, a week-long training course where they learn all they are responsible for.

“They get a shortened version of what we get at the First Sergeant Academy,” Landry explained. “The symposium covers everything including legal matters, disciplinary action, and family care plans; we also talk about all the support agencies available to Airmen in the event they need them.”

Because these chosen noncommissioned officers undergo this training and get hands-on experience, they are one step ahead of the rest to become future first sergeants.

“Our [NCOs] who are stepping up to become additional duty first sergeants, they are the folks who will be vectored to be a diamond-wearing first sergeant,” said Chief Master Sgt. Adam Vizi, the command chief of the 28th Bomb Wing. “It’s eye-opening for some, but it’s also career broadening for others, showing it’s something they really want to do for the Air Force; this is the first step in the door for them.”

According to Vizi, first sergeants are vitally important to the base mission. They are doing something very important, taking care of our Airmen and their families.

“A first sergeant is always needed, no matter what,” Landry explained. “There are things happening in the unit that require a first sergeant.”

Landry further explained that, without first sergeants, the commander would be losing one more perspective they would need to make an informed decision.

“They aren’t just the additional duty first shirt, they are NCOs going above and beyond their Air Force specialty code and doing something very important,” Vizi said. “What they provide is pivotal to the organization’s morale, discipline and success for everyone; Airmen, NCOs and Officers.”