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Air Force identifies non-vol candidates for first sergeant duty

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (March 03, 2005) -- Air Force officials have identified Airmen as candidates for first sergeant duty for the second time in two years through a nonvolunteer process.

Historically, first sergeants were chosen from a pool of volunteers. But in recent years, there has not been a sufficient number of volunteers to keep the positions filled, officials said.

The Air Force has more than 1,200 first sergeant positions worldwide. Each year, roughly one-third of those positions must be refilled because incumbents either retire or return to their career specialty.

To close the gap, Air Force officials have identified 368 master sergeants from across the service as candidates for retraining as first sergeants.

Each candidate meets minimum requirements for first sergeant duty, including fewer than 18 years of service, a score of five on his or her last five performance reports and completion of the Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy. Each candidate also will be interviewed by his or her unit commander and respective command chief master sergeant to ensure suitability for the position.

Of the 368 candidates identified, as many as 120 will eventually be chosen and can expect to begin training as early as July.

The First Sergeant Academy at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., is responsible for training new first sergeants and has the capacity to train about 350 a year. Unfortunately, the number of volunteers is predicted to fill only about two-thirds of those slots, officials said.

Air Force officials want to keep that pipeline full, but historically they have had trouble because of the lack of volunteers, said Senior Master Sgt. Chris Anthony, the Air Force's first sergeant special-duty manager.

"If you go out and talk to master sergeants, there is a large percentage who will consider it, and a lot will go out and do it," he said. "But what the issue has been is that we don't actively recruit new first sergeants. In the past, first sergeants were never compelled to recruit their replacements. Over the past couple of years, we’ve made great progress toward changing that mind-set, but we still have a ways to go."

Sergeant Anthony said many master sergeants have actually considered becoming first sergeants, but they were never encouraged effectively enough to get them to sign up.

"Once somebody took the time to talk to them, they were actually interested," he said. "We feel pretty strongly (that) there are enough people out there who want to do this, but we just haven't been encouraging them enough."

In fact, when word hit the street that the Air Force had identified 368 Airmen as candidates, Sergeant Anthony said people began calling and e-mailing him to volunteer.

Last year, Air Force officials identified about 290 people to retrain into first sergeant duty. For various reasons, about 60 of those were not recommended by their commanders. Of the remaining 230 people, he said, 73 said that being a first sergeant was something they really wanted to do and were classified as volunteers.

"Once (we) explained to them what the job entailed and what the benefits were for them and their career, they were excited about the job and said it was something they thought they would want," Sergeant Anthony said. "Last year, we really had only about 47 people who were selected for first sergeant duty who had not volunteered. The Air Force prefers to fill all the slots with volunteers, but we are not compromising when we select individuals to do the job. Reports from commanders and command chiefs in the field indicate, with rare exception, that those (nonvolunteers) last year are performing at the same level as the volunteers.

“(One command chief) recently told me that he couldn’t tell the difference from the volunteers and ‘volun-tolds’ and is pleased with the performance of all his first sergeants,” Sergeant Anthony said.

"Volunteers are still the primary way we man this career field," he said. "And we encourage anyone who meets the qualifications, and who has the desire, to apply."