AL DHAFRA AIR BASE, United Arab Emirates --
The inspiration for Master Sgt. David Flores, 380th Expeditionary Medical Group first sergeant, to join the Air Force came from one person in his life.
“My father was in the Air Force and he served in Vietnam, his service was my first exposure to the military,” he said. “He was the most patriotic man I knew and he loved his country. I wanted to live up to that, serving in the AF is the best way I can do that and carry on that legacy.”
Flores began his Air Force Reserve in air transportation.
“I have a very successful I.T. career, but even with that I still felt compelled to join, it was a calling for me,” Flores said. “The Reserve was the best way for me to maintain the career I had built and still get the opportunity to not only serve, but to continue to grow.”
After serving in the transportation career field for a little more than nine years, Flores decided to broaden his experience and serve as a first sergeant, also known as a first shirt, at the 301st Fighter Wing at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base, Texas. To do so he was required to attend the Air Force First Sergeant Academy for four weeks at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, Ala.
“I have found that I am happiest and at my best when I can help affect positive change,” Flores said. “I have a lot of ideas, I talk to a lot of people – and they also have good ideas. I wanted to be in a position to push those ideas up for Airmen. It’s all part of taking care of people and as every first sergeant knows, people are our business.”
First sergeants handle multiple situations and issues in their squadron or group.
“We are responsible for the health, morale, conduct, and welfare of all the Airmen – but that is actually pretty broad and that can look like a lot of different things,” he said. “It includes mediation, mentoring, physical and mental wellbeing career progression, recognition, professional military education, family care, etc. We have to provide sound advice to the commander on all of those topics and we are on call 24-7.”
Finding balance between his civilian, military, and family responsibilities has been key to adapting to his role.
“You have to be really flexible and you have to accept that you’re not going to work a typical 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” he said. “ … The biggest thing is just being flexible ... Being real regimented and rigid doesn’t really lend itself to doing this type of job. Shirts, as you are taught, operate in the grey a lot, so you just kind of have to be flexible and adaptive.”
Now, just a little over a year into the job, Flores deployed along with four other first sergeants from the 301 FW, making up about one third of the total Airmen in that position deployed here. He serves all first sergeants as president of the council at the 380 AEW.
“So far it’s been great,” he said. “I have already learned a great deal, sought out challenges, and I know that I will grow as a senior-noncommissioned officer and first shirt while I am here. There are a ton of opportunities and experiences to be had and I am grateful for the chance to be here … I try not to put folks in categories of Reserve, Guard, and Active. We are all Airmen, we all have a mission, and we are all in the fight together.”
Flores has several goals he wants to achieve while he is deployed.
“Aside from learning to be a better shirt and SNCO, I really want to do a good job with my time here, I came to work,” he said. “Personally, I plan to finish up my Professional Military Education, complete an AF Cool management course, build my fitness, read some books I brought, and do my part to leave the areas I am responsible for in better shape than I found it.”
Col. Bonnie Stevenson, 380 EMG commander, shared the important role first sergeants have within the unit.
“A first sergeant’s duties and contributions to their unit have profound impacts,” she said. “The shirt is part of the unit’s triad and is an additional set of eyes and ears for the commander on what’s going on in their unit. He/she is a trusted leader within the unit. The shirt advises the commander on all things related to discipline, health, welfare and morale of the unit and provides mentoring to all Airmen which is critical to resilient, ready and fit war-fighters.”
The message Flores has for all Airmen is simple.
“My advice is to make the most of your time here, don’t rest on your laurels,” he said. “Take advantage of the services available, use the time to set yourself up for the next stripe, or that college degree, focus on improving yourself. Build some mid-tour and end of tour goals and set out to achieve them. Lastly, and this is actually for all Airmen, if you are struggling, need guidance, have ideas for your work center or dorm, seek out your first sergeant, we are here to help.”