Smith (Air Force)
Chief Master Sgt. Martin Kent Smith (ret.) of Howells, Neb., read Staff Sgt. Aaron Driver’s letter to the editor, “Why I won’t re-enlist” and thought, “Why not write a letter from the viewpoint of a first sergeant?”
Smith was command chief, 5th Bomb Wing, Minot Air Force Base, N.D., from 2009 to 2011.
“Here goes,” he writes, “a hypothetical situation from my perspective as a former first sergeant of ‘Why he can’t re-enlist’ ”:
Six years ago, fresh out of high school, a young man was working a dead-end job, no insurance and no way to go to college without loans. The decision was a no-brainer. Learn a skill, earn money for college and have access to health care. Sounds like a million others.
He joined, and after basic and technical school he was deployed for six months.
After he got back, he “scored” a full-time active-duty position preserving his benefits. Friends and co-workers don’t ever recall him talking about serving with pride or speaking in patriotic tones.
Six years of multiple deployments and several mental breakdowns later, the Air Force has decided not to let him re-enlist.
The Air Force gave him a lot and asked a lot of him, but he was unable or unwilling to accept responsibility.
There were certain requirements of a noncommissioned officer; unfortunately, he was unable to fulfill them.
Our doubts grew even stronger that he was not someone we needed to re-enlist when he was on a six- month deployment.
He spent his time being disruptive and was a joyless privilege to be around. Leadership went out of its way, but he wasn’t willing to adapt and he made everything difficult.
I had a moment of clarity that I will never forget as a first sergeant. This airman had joined for money and benefits, but I could not find any other reason that was not self-serving. My moment of clarity came at a time when he decided he didn’t care any more.
The catalyst for this epiphany was one of the silliest things to happen to me as a first sergeant. As you know, first sergeants are military versions of moms, dads, lawyers, friends, chaplains, mental health providers and advisers to our commanders. Our role is to make sure morale, welfare and good order and discipline are handled properly.
I was having lunch at the dining facility, when this airman felt “obligated” to sit by me.
His mustache wasn’t in regulations. Instructions are specific about wearing mustaches. I’m thinking this guy really doesn’t care. Sit next to me with that furry thing on your lip? He knew what he was doing.
All first sergeants enforce the instructions and don’t deviate from them. A first sergeant would be remiss if he allowed that conduct. Can you imagine what our airmen in the DFAC were thinking? A staff sergeant doing that? Wow.
Once again, even after so much effort, this airman continued to be unresponsive.
It was then I decided that this airman was a cancer in regard to the health of our base and Air Force and that I had to do something. He had to go. But how? He was smart enough not to do anything that would get him “kicked out,” but he was so disruptive.
This airman may have been crazy to front a first sergeant like this. But I was crazy for allowing this to make it this far. The poor example of an NCO, the unwillingness and or inability to follow the rules — this relationship had to end.
We don’t plan to let this airman re-enlist. The section, unit, the wing, the base and the Air Force are elated. We are too busy and need to be more focused, and we can’t afford to allow this airman to be a drain on our resources. He is going to leave us.
Funny thing, it was a mustache that did it.