CAMP WILLIAMS, Utah –
Sometimes a group needs someone who is focused on the members of the team — equipping them and paving the way for them to succeed. If your organization works in a dynamic, demanding environment, you might need to find yourself a first sergeant.
In the Army, the first sergeants are indispensable to mission success because they take care of the organization’s most important resource.
According to the Army’s Noncommissioned Officer Guide, the first sergeant is responsible for “developing the Soldiers in the unit, all administrative functions, and ensuring the health, welfare, and morale of the unit and their families.”
Additionally, the first sergeant “is the standard-bearer for their organization and serves as a role model for all Soldiers, NCOs and Officers.” (Army Training Circular 7–22.7)
Developing members of the organization
“My main concern is making sure that my Soldiers are where they are supposed to be, when they are supposed to be there, and that they have all the stuff they need,” said 1st Sgt. Rick Hone. He is the first sergeant of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 204th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade.
Hone has a team of platoon sergeants that he pushes information out to nightly during the operation. His subordinates take notes as he gives out immediately useful information, like what time the bus to the dining facility will leave each morning.
He also conducts on the spot professional development.
“Push information up and down,” he says one night. It’s easy for E-7s to keep lower enlisted Soldiers informed, but Hone wants his sergeants to advise their superiors and the officers in their platoons as well.
“It’s on you to tell your captains and your majors what’s going on.”
He is constantly reminding his other noncommissioned officers to find teaching moments for their Soldiers.
One of the Soldiers present each night is another E-7 who is acting first sergeant for a subordinate company.
Sgt. 1st Class Steve Burt found out he’d be acting first sergeant about a day into the operation, when his first sergeant went into quarantine according to COVID-19 protocol.
“I lean on 1st Sgt. Hone. I listen to him to see if what I’m doing is the right thing,” he says. “He’s been a good mentor.”
Ensuring the morale and welfare of organization members
Hone and Burt both make sure their Soldiers are in good health and good spirits.
With Hone as his guide, Burt focuses on one thing above all else — “taking care of my Soldiers.”
The first sergeant makes sure his troops have food and facilities because without those needs met, morale is harder to maintain.
After his unit arrived at Fort Carson, Colorado during one mission, he learned that the unit’s supply truck was delayed because of bad weather. It couldn’t make it over the mountain pass until the next day. His Soldiers would have to make it through the night without their sleeping gear or all their clothing, in barracks that were not heated properly.
“My first thought is, how do I get my people what they need?” says Hone. He immediately contacted leadership at Fort Carson to get blankets for everyone. Then he organized a trip to a local Wal-Mart so Soldiers could buy other supplies they wanted.
Beside basic needs like food and shelter, first sergeants want their Soldiers to have good experiences.
“We gotta have fun, and we gotta build camaraderie. When you get in the suck, you look to your left and your right and you see your buddy is right there beside you.”
Hone and Burt are constantly looking for opportunities for their Soldiers to have fun and create memories.
Serving as a role model for the organization
While the commander is ultimately accountable for the unit and all its members, the first sergeant is often more visible and approachable to members at all levels.
Burt, learning fast, says he does not want to be out there running the show. Since assuming the role of acting first sergeant, he has delegated much more so he can be accessible to Soldiers.
First sergeants are the senior enlisted advisor to the commander, so they are in a position to make sure officers are aware of Soldier issues. They advocate for the rank and file, teaching them how to present themselves to get the right things done.
To maintain credibility as role models, first sergeants need to live the organization’s values. Effective first sergeants like Hone and Burt exemplify Selfless Service, one of the Army Values.
“Coming out here [to Colorado] has been a challenge because of COVID,” says Hone.
Many Soldiers couldn’t make it because of illness in their families and others who did came are in quarantine out of an abundance of caution.
“Still, our movement over here was superb. It is one of our METs (mission essential tasks) to deploy the force, and I couldn’t be prouder of the guys who helped us do that.”
The first sergeant is poised in stressful situations because he has to keep his Soldiers calm and ready for the mission.
The first sergeant is a critical role in Army companies because they perform many functions. Your organization may not have these roles assigned to a single individual. However, if you want to meet your mission requirements consider the first sergeant as a model for expert leadership.