Shirts 101: first sergeants share knowledge through symposium

U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Cynthia Schmitz, 51st Civil Engineer Squadron first sergeant, explains the importance of family care programs during a first sergeant symposium at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, March 14, 2017. Schmitz, who has been a first sergeant for more than seven years, was one of many experienced first sergeants and commanders who spoke with the NCOs, senior NCOs and company grade officers attending the symposium. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Victor J. Caputo)

U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Cynthia Schmitz, 51st Civil Engineer Squadron first sergeant, explains the importance of family care programs during a first sergeant symposium at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, March 14, 2017. Schmitz, who has been a first sergeant for more than seven years, was one of many experienced first sergeants and commanders who spoke with the NCOs, senior NCOs and company grade officers attending the symposium. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Victor J. Caputo)

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea --

More than 80 NCOs, senior NCOs, and company grade officers attended the latest Team Osan First Sergeant Symposium, learning first-hand about how first sergeants operate and what it takes be become a “shirt.”

The four-day class covered a myriad of topics, ranging from family care programs to military law, and featured panels of experienced military leaders such as squadron commanders and veteran first sergeants.

“It’s designed to provide them with the tools necessary to operate effectively as an additional duty first sergeant, as a leader in their unit or as a potential first sergeant in the future,” said Master Sgt. Joseph M. Mageau, 51st Operations Group first sergeant.

Some of the most valuable pieces of the symposium were the open discussions between attendees and experienced first sergeants briefing them. The shirts’ experience from years of working with different squadrons was easily relatable to each attendee’s personal supervisory experience.

“The most important topics we discussed were the things that relate directly to taking care of people, because at the end of the day, that’s our job,” said Mageau.

Any master sergeant wishing to become a shirt must cross train into the position. While there is a chance of returning to the same type of squadron as their original job, more often than not they are placed in a squadron with a different mission and will encounter a slew of unfamiliar problems.

“You could tell by talking to [the shirts] that they all had their own views and leadership style, and experienced different career fields,” said Tech. Sgt. Shelise Harmon, 51st Medical Operations Squadron physical therapy NCO in charge. “They had a depth of knowledge that was almost overwhelming, and it was a great perspective of the full spectrum of experiences.”

The inclusion of CGOs in the symposium brought a valuable perspective for everyone in attendance. While these officers will never be first sergeants, they may become commanders at all different levels, requiring them to work with and properly utilize first sergeants in the unit.

“It gave me a whole different perspective on how a squadron is run and how to be a squadron commander,” said 1st Lt. Helen Ensley, 51st Security Forces Squadron alpha flight commander. “Now I know, based on this course, what I can do with my first sergeant, how much I can lean on them and how much they know about taking care of our troops.”

According to Mageau, NCOs interested in this career path don’t even need to leave their squadron to get started.

“If you’re interested in becoming a first sergeant, [just] talk to your first sergeant,” he said. “Ask what they do, maybe shadow them, see if you can hold the phone and inquire when the next additional duty symposium is. Hopefully you can be vectored and move forward.”