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The rewards and challenges of being a first sergeant

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. James Curtis, 311th Training Squadron first sergeant, stands with a heritage exhibit at Presidio of Monterey, Calif., May 6, 2019. Curtis has been the first sergeant for the 311th TRS for three years before being assigned to Nellis Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zachary Chapman/Released)

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. James Curtis, 311th Training Squadron first sergeant, stands with a heritage exhibit at Presidio of Monterey, Calif., May 6, 2019. Curtis has been the first sergeant for the 311th TRS for three years before being assigned to Nellis Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zachary Chapman/Released)

PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. --

Three years may feel like a long time, depending on what is happening, but for Chief Master Sgt. James Curtis, 311th Training Squadron first sergeant, time has sped by thanks to the members of the 311th TRS who made his time at Presidio of Monterey an enjoyably bittersweet and enlightening opportunity.

Curtis has been a first sergeant for almost seven years and has worked with 10 different organizations. He used his time at Monterey to learn from the many organizations he oversaw, allowing him to use his previous knowledge and experiences from Presidio to piece together the puzzle of how the Air Force works for his troops.

“Every piece goes together, if you know it or not,” explained Curtis. “The moment you take one section away the others are diminished, whether you notice it or not. The reason people don’t know it is because they haven’t had the exposure to it, but I have been privileged enough to go out there and see all of these career fields. ”

The job of a first sergeant is to take care of the needs of Airmen and help them accomplish the mission.

When Curtis was asked how his time with the 311th TRS has compared to his other locations, he explained the challenge of comparing the privilege of being the first shirt at all of the bases he has been a part of.

“These are my kids,” said Curtis. “It is like trying to tell you which one is my favorite. You love them differently but you love them all the same. You get very invested in everybody, separating and going your way as you watch people go their way is always hard.”

To truly shine as a first sergeant, caring for individuals and helping them when they need it is paramount. Doing this can come at a personal cost, and when asked how he handles the personal challenges Curtis shared the key to his resiliency.

“All of the resources that we promote, I use as well.” said Curtis. “When I talk with our chaplains I steal a minute for myself along with the behavioral health or military and family life counseling team. It can be hard, because you can’t invest into people without becoming attached. There are professional lines, but it is personal. My job doesn’t stop when I go home, I am here for them 24/7.”

Even with the challenges, Curtis prefers his position as a first shirt.

“The hardest part of being a first sergeant is leaving your organization,” said Curtis. “It doesn’t matter if it was six months during a deployment or three plus years that I have had here. It has been awesome, it has been the best job I have ever had. I hate leaving it, but I am looking forward to the upcoming challenges. It has been an amazing seven years and I have been very appreciative to have the opportunity.”