‘People are people’: First sergeants at Robins provide support to all

  • Published
  • By Holly Logan-Arrington
  • Robins Public Affairs

They go by different names – first sergeant, first shirt, or simply shirt.

No matter what they’re called, first sergeants are always on standby for their people, both military and civilians alike.

Whether it’s assisting unit commanders with maintaining their units’ readiness for mission success or helping Airmen solve personal and professional challenges, first sergeants are just a phone call, text or e-mail away 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Master Sgt. Harold Weaver, first sergeant for the 116th Maintenance Squadron at Robins Air Force Base, said through the years, he has been known as a ‘go-to guy,’ connecting people with the resources they need.

“I unofficially acted as a first sergeant before I became a shirt,” he said. “I was known for helping and assisting people with issues, professionally and militarily. I always looked on the brighter side of every situation. People gravitated to me over the years because of that consistent positive attitude.

“I was an undershirt for a couple of months, which also allowed me to expand my skills and knowledge,” Weaver said. “When the opportunity presented itself, I applied and was selected for the job.” 

It was Weaver’s passion for people that drew him to the job.

“Integrity, compassion, fortitude, empathy and active listening skills are some of the characteristics that help me perform my job effectively,” he said. “These traits work in my favor because they allow me to connect to people on various levels, depending on the topic or category. Having an open mind and positive attitude goes a long way.”

For others, like Master Sgt. Brandon Penvose, first sergeant for the 16th Airborne Command and Control Squadron with the 461st Air Control Wing at Robins, becoming a first sergeant was about helping others reach their potential.

“I had a first sergeant when I was a young Airman that saw potential in me and helped me through that growth process; so, I felt as though I owed it to the Air Force to do the same,” he said. “I guess you could say it is more of a calling.”

Penvose said a person should possess certain traits to be a good first sergeant.

“Members must be able to work well on their feet, operate well on their own, and be able to understand their units’ missions and visions to help their units meet those goals,” he said. “There is a list of criteria that members must possess to get selected. I believe thinking independently and having the ability to think through and analyze problems before reacting is very important as well.”

Although first sergeants seek the Air Force special duty designation for various reasons, they all attend First Sergeants Academy at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, for nearly 30 days of training before pinning on the diamond chevron, a designation worn with pride by first shirts.

First shirts’ training prepares them to serve everyone in their military unit, including civilians.

“A great first sergeant for military members and civilian members is the same,” Weaver said. “People are people. We all wear many hats throughout the year, month, day, and sometimes, each minute. A first sergeant has to look at a person and try to see what the individual needs to get to the next level or just listen. Having the flexibility and adaptability to move between roles is important.”

Weaver said Robins’ diverse workforce makes it a wonderful place to serve as a first sergeant.

“The great thing about Robins is the joint environment,” he said. “You have Guard, active duty, Reserve, retirees, contractors, and Defense Department personnel working together. You can walk into most buildings on base and see a positive working relationship.

“Completing the mission while taking care of people does not ever change,” Weaver said. “It is the same format for anyone that a first sergeant comes in contact with. We have plenty of resources for people. The programs that we have for military members usually have civilian counterparts. Most of the program coordinators will assist as much as they can based on their mandates. If they are unable to help, they will direct you to someone that can.”

Weaver said sometimes offering a smile, support, and just being an ear to listen is the best way to reach civilian team members in need.

If Airmen are unable to resolve their issues through their chain of command, Penvose said first sergeants are readily available to help when necessary.

“To use the old adage, our doors are always open, and we are always here to help,” he said. “We may be out of the office, but if so, we can be reached via our duty phones, specifically if it is after duty hours.”

Whether military or civilian, first sergeants have the backs of all Airmen at Robins.

“All Airmen - civilian, active-duty, Reserve, Guard - play a part in the mission here at Robins Air Force Base,” Penvose said. “We need to ensure the well-being of all members to meet the mission here, and to ensure the National Security Directive is met. We cannot do that effectively if our workforce is not being taken care of properly.”