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Who cares?

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – In 2015, while assigned to a munitions squadron as a brand new first sergeant, I was diligently working in my office on a tasker when a young female Airman knocked at the door and asked, “Shirt, do you have a minute?” 

“Absolutely,” I replied and invited her in. She stood before my desk upset and crying. She explained to me how someone stole her undergarments from the dormitory dryer earlier that morning. I immediately thought to myself; ‘Why is this Airman bringing this minor problem to me? Who really cares about her undergarments?’

Fortunately, I kept my mouth shut and did not speak. Instead, I allowed her to express her concerns and share her story. I began to fall back to what I had recently been taught at the First Sergeant Academy: a first sergeant must be visible, approachable and available—a lesson all noncommissioned officers can apply to their daily professional lives. 

“How can I help?” I asked. She gave me a blank stare and said, “I don’t know.” 

You see, I am not a female and I have never lived in the dormitories, so some people would believe that I could never relate to this Airman’s situation. However, I could do one thing; sympathize.

I told her I would call the Airman Dorm Leader and discuss the theft. We planned to come up with a way forward and agreed to meet later that day. I met with the Airman and her supervisor and we went to the dorms to have her walk us through the morning’s events. I explained to her that the ADL and I would review the film from inside the dormitory to further investigate the theft. She was appreciative and thanked me for helping her through this difficult situation.  

We never solved the “case of the stolen undergarments,” but I did show my Airman I cared. Had I laughed, spoke my mind or even turned her away, she would have never come back to me again with a problem, issue or emergency.

Remember, it takes a lot of courage for an Airman to come to their NCOs, supervisors or unit leaders for help. When they do come to you with the issue they are struggling with, remember this: at that moment, this issue is the most important thing going on in that Airman’s life. Give them your full attention and help them.

Nothing is more important in our Air Force than our people. Aircraft, facilities, equipment and vehicles are all critical “things” that are required for the mission, but they are not people. No matter how difficult of a day you are having as a leader, take one piece of advice and care. Just a few thoughts from a crusty ole senior NCO.