USAFE-AFAFRICA leadership hosts first sergeant symposium at Ramstein AB

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jared Lovett
  • 86 AWPA

“Shirts,” “diamonds,” or “first shirts” – first sergeants have many names and wear many hats, but their goal is the same: to ensure Airmen are ready for the fight.

First sergeants serve as links between command leadership and Airmen, and hold several critical responsibilities including advocating for the well-being of personnel; strengthening discipline and morale within their units; and providing guidance and mentorship to Airmen facing personal or professional challenges. 

U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa leadership brought together more than 90 first sergeants across USAFE-AFAFRICA for its first sergeant symposium in seven years at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, April 2-4, 2024, to further develop their skills needed to successfully carry out these responsibilities.

"The goal of the symposium is to provide the first sergeants with professional development and to pour back into them," said Chief Master Sgt. George Baker, USAFE-AFAFRICA command first sergeant. "You can't pour from an empty cup. This symposium gives them tools to bring back to their units to make them more effective first sergeants."

Among the speakers was Chief Master Sgt. John Alsvig, Air Force first sergeant special duty manager, also known as "Diamond 1," who spoke about the Diamond Care Continuum, an initiative that reshapes what it entails to be a first sergeant from beginning to end.

“The Diamond Care Continuum supports wellness, resiliency and the development of First Sergeants,” said Master Sgt. Mark Silva, 86th Medical Support Group first sergeant. “It is important because it ensures that first sergeants receive the necessary support and resources to maintain their health and wellness, build resiliency, and open up opportunities for professional development, ultimately enhancing their effectiveness in serving their units and personnel.” 

Another notable speaker was Retired U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Todd Simmons, founder of Courageous Leaders Alliance, who emphasized the importance of providing a safe space for Airmen to speak with their first sergeants, and effectively addressing their concerns.

"This time he gave us an additional tool to bring back to our Airmen, to let them know that they have a safe place to come and talk to someone,” said Master Sgt. Edward Caldwell, 555th Fighter Generation Squadron first sergeant assigned to Aviano Air Base, Italy. “It can be difficult for a younger Airman to speak to leadership, so knowing how to effectively let them know that they can talk to me or other leaders is vital to help them get to where they need to go." 

As the symposium drew to a close, Caldwell reflected on its overarching objective and the impact it would have on their roles as first sergeants. 

“That’s really the goal here: to open our eyes and understand how we can bring these tools and integrate them back into our units to make sure our Airmen are ready for the fight and to get after any threat,” Caldwell said. 

A first sergeant is a special duty temporary rank held by Airmen of pay grades E-7 through E-9, and is denoted on the rank insignia by a lozenge or diamond.