First sergeants offer helping hands during exercise

  • Published
  • By Capt. Jennifer Gerhardt
  • 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
They are the go-to person for every Airman. Some days they are disciplinarians; on others they are an Airman's best friend. They help Airmen get through deployments.

This deployment is a humanitarian assistance disaster response exercise dubbed, Pacific Lifeline, that began Jan. 26 and ends Feb. 9 on three Hawaiian Islands. The exercise is designed to test the Air Force's ability to rapidly deploy a trained and equipped team anywhere in the Pacific in response to a humanitarian assistance or disaster response scenario.

Approximately 900 Department of Defense personnel are taking place in the exercise, including 145 Reservists from the 446th Airlift Wing. For a first sergeant, that is a lot of people to take care of.

"Being a first sergeant is all about helping people," said Senior Master Sgt. Therron Smith, the exercise first sergeant for 446th AW people deployed to Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii.

While the first sergeant's role during a deployment is similar to the home station role, in the deployed environment, this role is more critical. People are away from their families, work longer hours and face challenging issues that can arise at any moment. Because Pacific Lifeline is such a large medical exercise, the most challenging part for Sergeant Smith is accountability for everyone and meeting people's needs over multiple locations.

"It's our motto to take care of people. It's in our nature," said Sergeant Smith, who has been a first sergeant at McChord Air Force Base, Wash., for four years. "We work to ensure people's needs are addressed like lodging and meals, as well as their safety on and off-duty."

Being the conduit between the commander and the enlisted Airmen, first sergeants go into the work centers -- day and night -- to be the commander's eyes, ears and voice.

"I can go places and talk with people in ways my commander can't," Sergeant Smith. "People just feel more comfortable talking to the shirt. "
Commanders rely on the first sergeant to monitor unit morale as well. First sergeants consider their second office to be where troops work and play so they can gauge the unit's morale.
"Each morning, I walk through tent city and talk to people," said Master Sgt. Todd Lamphere, the first sergeant at Barking Sands tent city on Kauai. "I'm here to take care of their needs while they are away from home. If we can take out that element of stress, it allows people to move the mission forward."

One instance of taking care of people while moving the mission forward involved a person with two sick children who were hospitalized simultaneously while he was at the exercise.

"He was a key player to the exercise and needed to focus on the mission," said Sergeant Lamphere. "He trusted me to take care of his family and needs until we could get him on a plane and sent home."

The most challenging part for Sergeant Lamphere is working with a multitude of different units - the Air Force, Army and Navy, who are also a mix of Reserve, Guard and active duty.

"They all have valuable experience," said Sergeant Lamphere. "The challenge is to bring everyone together, educate them on the mission, ensure their needs are met, and then take care of the mission."