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VIEWPOINT - First sergeant wisdom built after 22-year career

Master Sgt. Lance Dreiling. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

Master Sgt. Lance Dreiling. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- I never pictured myself in this position 22 years ago. I just graduated high school, and the military was the last thing on my mind as a career path.
However, things change. I didn't care much for school and my, but told me I had to do something and suggested the Air Force.

So I did, and I can say it was the best decision I could have made. I spent the first 18 years of my career in the survival equipment field as a parachute rigger and then decided I wanted more and became a first sergeant.

During those early years of my career the most important thing I learned from my Air Force elders was to learn and know my job. Today, I pass that same advice onto my Airmen. Be a master at what you do because it makes a difference because the overall mission could not be accomplished if you weren't a master of your trade.

For example, I had lives in my hand. If I didn't rig parachutes properly and they malfunctioned, I could have cost people their lives.

As you climb the ranks, you'll also learn that it will be easier because a primary expectation of a technical sergeant is to be that technical expert in his or her field. If you already have that down by the time you're a senior airman or staff sergeant then you're ahead of the game.

About four years ago I decided it was time for a change in my career. I really love dealing with people and helping them in any way possible. So, I knew being a first sergeant would be the perfect fit to do what I wanted to do.

There was a transition, and it wasn't always easy. I want to pass that wisdom on to my fellow new first sergeants.

I don't regret my decision of becoming a first sergeant. I wake up every morning going to a job I love with people I love working for, but there were some things to which I had to adapt.

First, I had to adjust to being in the line of punishment. First sergeants don't issue the Article 15s or discharge Airmen; the commanders do. We are in the paperwork and preparation process. At times this can be tough. You can have a stellar Airman and one wrong decision could result in a harsh punishment.

You have to be able to stay with that Airman through the whole process, keeping them upbeat and letting them know it's not the end of the world. After the punishment is handed out, it's time to redeem themselves and go out and do a job better than ever.

First sergeants are always busy -- sometimes not as busy as they think though. During these down times it's important to take care of yourselves. Even first sergeants need doctor and dentist appointments or a down day here and there. You don't want to go full speed 24/7 because it's going to wear on you, and you burn out.

I wish I would have known this when I first became a first sergeant. It's OK to hand your phone to somebody for the weekend and focus solely on spending quality family time. You won't get that time back, so make sure you take advantage of it when possible.

Lastly, take time and really get to know your people because that's our job. We're here to take care of our Airmen, so make sure you're putting 110 percent into doing so. You should be familiar with all your Airmen and know if they're going through a rough time and be there to ensure they get the help they need. Whether they need to go home on emergency leave or they're in some financial troubles, first sergeants need to be there pointing them in the right direction to where they can receive assistance.

The past 22 years have been a great experience and I've enjoyed every minute of it. I hope some of this advice helps those entering today's Air Force and for those who wish to become a first sergeant.
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