The Air Force this fall is moving to a new system for hiring first sergeants in which airmen can volunteer to serve as one of the most important enlisted airmen in a unit.

Until now, a move to first sergeant has been a Developmental Special Duty assignment and candidates have been nominated by their supervisors to be considered for that job. But beginning with this fall’s assignment cycle, first sergeant candidates will be chosen for their initial assignments through both a volunteer and nomination process, the Air Force Personnel Center announced in a Sept. 19 news release.

First sergeant assignments have also been removed from the list of Developmental Special Duties. The hiring process is now called the First Sergeants Assignments Program. Master Sgt. Shannon Tabor, the first sergeant functional assignment manager for AFPC, said in the release that leadership teams — including the unit’s commander, superintendent and first sergeant — will screen and nominate highly qualified master sergeants to serve as first sergeants. The teams will also help interested airmen volunteer for these jobs.

First sergeants, who are also sometimes referred to as “first shirts” and wear distinctive diamonds on their rank insignia, are senior noncommissioned officers who serve as a liaison between commanders and their units. It is a demanding job in which airmen are on-call around the clock as they look out for the health, morale, mentoring and recognition of airmen in their assigned unit.

Special duties such as first sergeant, recruiter or military training instructor used to be voluntary jobs, but the Air Force struggled for years to find enough willing volunteers and SDA positions frequently went unfilled. In 2013, the service switched to a nomination-only process to fill those 10 special duties.

AFPC will hold two first sergeant assignment cycles each year, one in spring and one in fall, to fill seven First Sergeant Academy classes each year. Airmen can volunteer or be nominated year-round for these jobs.

“The Air Force has identified the first sergeant as a key leader serving in a time-honored special duty position — rich in custom and tradition — due to the unique leadership role and the responsibility to mentor and develop airmen,” Chief Master Sgt. Manny Pineiro, the Air Force’s first sergeant special duty manager, said in the release.

AFPC said first sergeants will still receive the same monthly special duty pay, which is now either $150 or $300, depending on their assignment.

To qualify, an airman must have one year time-in-grade as a master sergeant before being nominated. Airmen who are interested should search “first sergeant” on myPers.

Last October, the Air Force doubled the length of its resident class at the First Sergeant Academy to four weeks and dropped the academy’s old distance learning portion in favor of hands-on leadership training.

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.

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