The difference a diamond makes

  • Published
  • By by Airman 1st Class Brittany A. Chase
  • 366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Master Sgt. Kelly Riedel, 366th Medical Group first sergeant, has days filled with obstacles and challenges most Airmen could never fathom.

In a single day Riedel can encounter the good, the bad and the ugly, but reassures his Airmen he's always there when it comes to their readiness, health, morale, welfare and quality of life.

"Every day, I do a walk-through of the hospital," said Riedel. "This lets me get the face-to-face time with the Airmen to make sure they're okay, and it's also reassuring [to them] to know I'm here."

Airmen are told they can always go to their first sergeant, more endearingly called "shirt," in times of need. The term dates back to the Indian Wars in the mid and late 19th century North America. Remotely garrisoned units would rarely receive uniform resupply. When wagons with gear arrived, the senior enlisted man would get the "first shirt" out of the box, according to former commandant of the U.S. Air Force First Sergeants Academy, Chief Master Sgt. Roger M. Ball.

"Airmen come into my office quite often with problems they're having," said Riedel. "It's being able to make that call to finance if someone isn't getting paid or helping an Airman quickly get to where they need to be when a parent passes away. That's what drives me to do the job I do."

When it comes down to the Airmen in Riedel's squadron, he takes the time to go out of his way to make sure his people see the light at the end of the tunnel.

"I went through some struggles at the beginning of spring," said Tracy Haerer, 366th Medical Support Squadron logistics technician. "He was always there and made sure he helped me through it all, calling me just to make sure I was okay. He really showed me that he cared for his Airmen."

Helping people is a job Riedel loves doing even when he is on-call 24/7 and the worst possible situations happen.

"The first time I had the phone, it rang at five o'clock in the morning," said Riedel. "I sat there and stared at the phone for three or four rings -- questioning if it's really ringing -- until my wife smacked me in the back of the head and said, 'answer your phone.'"

The Airman on the other end of the phone notified Riedel of two deaths within his squadron. Riedel said that moment froze in time, as if it were the worst possible dream realized.

"I mumbled back without even realizing 'did he really just say there's been two active-duty deaths,' when the Airmen spoke back to me saying, 'Yes', is when I realized, 'shit, I'm actually doing this.'"

Shirts are selected for their superior job performance and are required to help Airmen with diverse issues.

"We as first sergeants always have a lot in the back of our minds, but we have to smile and press- on no matter the situation," said Riedel. "We have to stay positive for everyone else because, at the end, we are the support system for Airmen."

On the other hand, Riedel ensures he has a support system in place helping him through the difficulties that come with the duty title.

"He has his days when the job gets to him," said Riedel's wife, Jackie. "So I make sure I am there to talk to him and make sure he is okay."

Although shirts have demanding schedules with work, family and everything in between, they each have their own way of relaxing and relieving stress.

"My stress reliever is going out for a run or going to the gym," said Riedel. "Running outside clears my mind, rejuvenates me and helps get me back into the role of being a first sergeant."

With all of the ups and downs a shirt can encounter, Riedel stays true to his reasons of wanting to become one.

"I get to help people," said Riedel. "During the holidays the shirts go out and do random acts of kindness. Last year my wife and I were in the commissary during the holidays and we saw a family with three or four kids," Riedel said. "You could tell they were really budgeting their grocery shopping, so I pulled a gift card out of my pocket for the commissary and handed it to the wife. She started crying and said this makes things so much easier for us."

While Riedel's days revolve around developing, mentoring and assisting Airmen, he uses the same skills to help his two children develop into the next generation of leaders.

"For the most part the boys take part in all the good stuff like helping take food to people who are working during the holidays," said Jackie. "It teaches the boys that being a part of something you're not paid to do is just as important as something you're required to do."

Editor's note: Linked Air Force video by Senior Airman Jaye Legate.