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Florida Citizen Airman is crimefighter, counselor

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Leslie Forshaw
  • 920th Rescue Wing Public Affairs
Rounding up criminals wearing a bullet proof vest and a U.S. Marshals badge is a full time job for one Citizen Airmen.

However, Master Sgt. David Say wears another uniform and has a different set of responsibilities as a first sergeant at the 920th Rescue Wing's Operational Support Squadron.

Say wears two hats, literally and figuratively. As a senior inspector in the U.S. Marshals Service, he's on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, ready to take on the Nation's bad guys. However, during Unit Training Assemblies here, he dons his Airman Battle Uniform and takes on a whole different attitude; problem solver and father figure.
There is no typical week for either job.

Answering the phone as a U.S. Marshal usually entails someone going to jail or an informant on one of your cases, he said. "It's rarely a good thing."

On the other hand, a midnight phone call as a squadron first sergeant is a little different.

"The difference is an Airman somewhere at the other end of that call is depending on you, as the first sergeant, to help in whatever way you can," Say said.

With ice-blue eyes, shaved head and muscular build, he resembles Mr. Clean, a Proctor & Gamble product mascot, portrayed as a muscular, tanned, bald man who is a "grime fighter," according to Proctor & Gamble.

"He has a strong personality in a quiet way; and is also intimidating in a likeable way," said Lt. Col. Antonio Cunha, 920th RQW safety commander. "His persona demands respect."

Say understands the "world of youth," as a law enforcement officer, said Cunha.

"The first sergeant is basically the dad or mom of the squadron," said Say. "We hand out advice, help fix problems or find solutions, be the disciplinarian when necessary and generally watch out for the health and welfare of all members of the squadron."

Serving over 26 years as both active duty and now in the Air Force Reserve has prepared Say for the trials and tribulations of mentoring young and older Airmen alike.

Say has about 100 Airmen under his watchful eye; and these young Airmen, whom are some of the wing's youngest, are responsible for equipping rescue pilots and aircrew with life-saving gear.

These Airmen have a huge responsibility. Pilots and aircrew depend on them for their safety and security. Say is there to ensure they are mentally and physically equipped to prepare and equip aircrew flying into unknown terrain, for some of the most dangerous rescue missions the 920th RQW is known for.

Say takes every opportunity he has to ensure the health and well-being of his Airmen. While on temporary duty, Say mentored an Airman over a meal. This is just one fraction of the support he provides for his Airmen.

While wearing the ABU hat, Say's first sergeant job, unofficially, quickly becomes another full-time position in his already busy life.

"A good 'shirt' can be in the trenches with the troops and still have a rapport with the commander," said Cunha.

The simplest technique can have the biggest benefit.

"The most important way I help my Airmen may be different than one would think," said Say. "I listen to them - when you listen you show you care about what is, to them, an important issue."

Say has had discouraged Airmen who are now looking at becoming first sergeants themselves.

"Getting the issues on the table and finding the root problem is what makes their outlook better," said Say.

Finding the issues, for Say, comes in different forms with each role he plays.

When the ABU hat is traded for the U.S. Marshals Service badge, Say has a different set of issues he's in charge of.

Recently, he was searching for a person who shot and killed a St. Lucie County Florida Deputy. Say's team found the perpetrator that same day. This is an example of one of the many roles he fills within the U.S. Marshals Service.

A U.S. Marshal has the broadest jurisdiction of all the federal law enforcement agencies, said Say.

Say was an active duty law enforcement specialist and wanted to stay in that career field.

"I was coming off active duty and mentioned to a co-worker that I planned on getting into federal law enforcement. He mentioned the U.S. Marshals because they were hiring," said Say. "I envisioned someone riding on a horse with a duster and a cowboy hat. After some research, I liked what I saw."

After five years, two hiring freezes, two written tests, two physical tests, a three-hour interview, full background investigation and hundreds of pages of hiring documentation passed back and forth, Say was hired.

Now, 16 years later, Say is in charge of civil process and assisting in coordinating Supreme Court Justice protection details as well as working in general operations.

The duties of the U.S. Marshals include, but are not limited to: Prisoner operations judicial security, Fugitive Investigations, Asset Forfeiture, Witness Protection, service of federal civil process and foreign process, among others.

Although holding an impressive resume in the U.S. Marshals Service, Say makes it clear the jobs complement each other.

"I would not have been as successful in my U.S. Marshals career if not for the leadership training and opportunities afforded me by the Air Force Reserve," said Say. "I feel employers enjoy the benefits of the more organized, mature and disciplined members of the U.S. Military."

The 920th RQW also benefits from Say's experiences.

"The U.S. Marshals Service has given me the added command presence needed in many situations as a first sergeant," said Say. "Also, by being exposed to many high level members of the government has gifted me with the ability to talk with anyone on any level."

"I always wanted to keep things informal as a commander," said Cunha. "First sergeant Say would always tell me that people need to see you as the man in charge, the commander."

Say is a stickler for customs and courtesies and insured my Airmen followed suite, said Cunha.

"The most rewarding part of my job is a positive result after helping an Airman," said Say. "These are the men and women who will be carrying on after we retire."

The 920th RQW's motto, "These things we do, that others may live," embodies Airmen of all ages and will continue to thrive under the leadership first sergeants, like Say, provide.

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