By Airman 1st Class Robyn Hunsinger, 17th Training Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 22, 2020
U.S. Air Force First Sergeants check on permanent party Airmen at their dorms April 15, 2020, on Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas. Since social distancing is imperative to stopping the spread of COVID-19, they are sure to take extra precautions when it comes to mental health and wellness checks on their Airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Zachary Chapman)
U.S. Air Force First Sergeants check on permanent party Airmen at their dorms April 15, 2020, on Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas. Airmen are their top priority along with ensuring they are healthy and can continue the mission under any circumstance. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Zachary Chapman)
The job of a First Sergeant is critical to the care and well-being of military members across the Air Force. The job, as with many others, has seen a few changes since the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“On an average day, the job of the First Sergeant includes lots of talking with unit members, meetings with leadership teams, and coordination between base agencies,” said Master Sgt. Frederick Childs, 17th Force Support Squadron First Sergeant.
Since the implementation of social distancing guidelines and the Department of Defense’s stop movement, the job has shifted slightly. The stop movement order and the Health Protection Condition level enforcement on military installations have forced many military members and their families to stay home, teleworking whenever possible. This adds an extra concern to leadership about their personnel’s health and well-being during the limited movement.
The First Sergeant’s job, at its core, will always be taking care of the Airmen. In this way, the job has not necessarily changed due to COVID-19 but has evolved slightly.
“I wouldn’t say my operations have changed, but my delivery methods have,” said Master Sgt. Luis Soto, 17th Communications Squadron First Sergeant. “I still make my visits, but I am adapting social media presence and text messaging more frequently.”
Since social distancing is imperative to stopping the spread of COVID-19, the Shirts are sure to take any extra precautions they can when it comes to mental health and wellness checks on their Airmen. One of the biggest issues that the First Sergeants are seeing is the daily routines of the permanent party members living in the dorms on base or, in many cases, lack thereof.
“We are seeing that most of our permanent party dorm members do not establish a routine that keeps them healthy,” said Childs. “They do great when outside forces like work demand exercise, regulated sleep, eating, hygiene but when that routine is disrupted, our younger members take longer to adapt and reestablish those habits.”
First Shirts actively visit work centers and dorms as often as possible to pass any information from the leadership team and answer questions that individuals may have, allowing them to provide the Commander with a mission-ready force.
Although they are not allowed to have additional duties, some First Shirts have taken it upon themselves to accomplish extra tasks on their own to better their Airmen’s situation.
“I have been collaborating and coordinating with San Angelo community leaders, the American Red Cross, and my First Sergeant Council,” said Soto. “I recently reached out to the Red Cross and they were able to provide Team Goodfellow $2000 worth of male and female essential kits for our Airmen who get quarantined, isolated, or placed on a restriction of movement.”
These kits provide the Airmen with their basic necessities needed for a short period of time. San Angelo community leaders reached out once they heard about Goodfellow Airmen being placed on restriction of movement orders. The First Sergeants coordinated with the community to provide Airmen small snack packs with pre-purchased items. San Angelo leaders have also been making donations at least twice a week since measures to protect the base, community, and Airmen were put into effect.
They continue to take every necessary precaution to protect themselves, their Airmen, and their families during this time. As a First Shirt, they must roll with the punches and handle any and all situations to the best of their abilities as they appear. Airmen are their top priority and making sure that they are healthy and can continue the mission no matter the circumstances.
“This is not the pandemic we imagined but it's the one we’ve been dealt,” said Childs. “Sadly there aren’t zombies that need shooting. This is what living in tough times feels like. It’s not the cleaned up, decisive version of events and actions that we read about in history. It’s messy, stressful, and has lots of competing ideas and information with new uncertainties and consequences every day. Whether we know it or not, we’re doing pretty good.”