By Staff Sgt. Nicholas Rau, 460th Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 09, 2012
BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo -- In the dark, seedy city of Air Force-tropolis, one first sergeant prowls the streets looking for Airmen to help. His utility belt overflows with the tools of his trade: a dedicated cell phone, the local judge advocate office and all the other first sergeants on base. His name is Master Sgt. Brian Hickey, and he is part of the first sergeant corps.
While Hickey may not have the ability to fly or have to charge a ring in a lantern, he is empowered to lead his Airmen down a positive life and career path. As a first sergeant, commonly known as a first shirt, Hickey is sanctioned with the Air Force's trust and best training available to assist Airmen when needed.
According to 36-2618, The Enlisted Force Structure, first sergeants provide a dedicated focal point for all readiness, health, morale and quality-of-life issues. Their primary responsibility is to build and maintain a mission-ready force, while advising commanders, command chiefs and other enlisted Airmen on morale, discipline and professional development. They ensure the commander's goals and objectives are known to the enlisted force; support agencies are responsive to Airmen's needs; and effective discipline to create the highest level of esprit de corps.
Hickey has followed the charge of the Enlisted Force Structure as a first sergeant for more than a year and recalled the reason he joined the first sergeant ranks.
"I had a first sergeant that helped me a lot when I was a first-time supervisor," said the 460th Medical Group first sergeant. "Back when I was an Airman -- this was back in the day when you didn't go see the shirt -- if you had to see the shirt, something bad was going to happen to you."
"After I graduated ALS, my troop came to me with a problem, and I was stumped," he said recalling his first experience as a supervisor.
This is where his newfound mentor demonstrated why first shirts are so important.
"I called up my shirt and he told me to bring my Airman with me and come on down and we'll work this all out," explained Hickey. "He knew that I was a new supervisor and that I needed help, so he took the time to take me under his wing and mentor me."
Though superheroes may hang up their capes, their legacy resonates through the ones they have impacted the most. The same goes for first sergeants even after they no longer wear the designated diamonds on their sleeves.
"A lot of the things he taught me I still use today," said Hickey. "The greatest things he instilled in me were patience and not to jump to conclusions. He taught me to see the big picture. Even though he is long retired, he is still having an impact on the Air Force."
When attaining the rank of master sergeant, Airmen have their first opportunity to the take up daunting task of being a first sergeant.
"When I made master, his picture just jumped into my mind," Hickey remembered. "I was like 'Alright, it's time to pay-it-forward.' This is when I decided to become a first sergeant."
While the perks of the job do not include a fancy jet or intimidating mask, the job does come with the opportunity to help those in need.
"There was an Airman that was getting in trouble a lot," said Hickey, "and a lot of the time people are getting in trouble because of personal issues they have. I looked deeper into it and found out that there were some serious financial issues. He wouldn't tell anybody and was good at keeping the military out of his business. But once he opened up, I was able to help him and everything else just fell into place. He showed up to work on time, his uniform looked better and he wasn't getting in trouble anymore."
However, being a first shirt is not only about helping Airmen with financial issues, but also about leading Airmen to the futures they desire.
"Career counseling is one of my favorite parts of being of the first shirt," said Hickey. "I like being able to sit down with somebody and make a plan for their future. If they are looking to retrain, I show them" the information they need to know about what the other career fields do.
All of these first sergeant powers would be useless without the wisdom to use them. That wisdom is forged through connections with other first sergeants and learning from their experiences.
"As a first sergeant, we don't have a first sergeant of our own, so we have to lean on each other," explained Hickey. "That is our first sergeant council. We are there for each other and can bounce ideas off each other for sanity checks. There are some shirts that I am on the phone with two or three times a day. It is an integral part, and there is no way we could do this job without each other."
Even though first sergeants have their own version of a Justice League, a shirt forms a unique identity. Hickey's defining feature comes from his concern for his Airmen and his professionalism when handling his duties.
"I have absolute confidence in Master Sgt. Hickey's ability to handle my issues," said Staff Sgt. Amy E. Kintzle, 460th MDG assistant NCO in charge of outpatient records. "He always gets back to me right away and follows up with any problems he cannot solve immediately. He is an amazing communicator and the only first shirt that I have had this much confidence in."
Kintzle, who quickly became the supervisor of three Airmen when she put was promoted, has looked to her first sergeant for mentoring and guidance. This interaction has proven to her the importance of Hickey and appreciates everything he has done, she said.
"The Air Force chose one of the best first shirts that I have ever met," stated Kintzle. "He takes us under his wing and advances our careers, making sure we don't get the short end of the stick. To me, he is the epitome of what a first sergeant should be."
With the confidence and trust of his Airmen, Hickey reaches out to his charges and strives to uphold what he said he believes to be the most crucial aspect of a first sergeant -- ensuring mission readiness.
"We need to have someone there to help with the issues, and that is where the first sergeant comes in," stated Hickey. "There are so many issues that could affect someone's readiness. Honestly, if it wasn't for us, there is a good chance people would not be ready to meet the mission requirements. That's why first sergeants are so important."
After a year of service as a first sergeant, Hickey continues to do his duties with diligence until the day the city of Air Force-tropolis no longer needs a hero.