Year of the NCO: Sergeant first class
May 29, 2009
SCHWEINFURT, Germany - The ranks of the senior noncommissioned officer begin here. These Soldiers have been through study guides and promotion boards. They have led teams, sections and squads. A centralized board in the Department of the Army selects them individually.
Sergeants first class have proven themselves. And some of them have proven it so well that they are selected to be first sergeants, leaders of companies, batteries and troops.
"It's a difficult situation for a sergeant first class to be in a first sergeant position," said Command Sgt. Maj. Ernest Lee, U.S. Army Garrison Schweinfurt. "Your leadership style has to change a lot."
Sgt. 1st Class Dontonio Roberts, first sergeant for the 172nd Support Battalion rear detachment, has put in his time as a platoon sergeant and company first sergeant.
"I didn't take it so highly, because I was looking to deploy with the Soldiers," Roberts said of the moment he was informed of his selection to the rear detachment. "But I went into a briefing, and they made us understand that rear detachment is a tough job also."
Roberts, who has deployed twice in his 10-year career, has learned quickly the challenges of both being a sergeant first class as a first sergeant and of handling a battalion rear detachment.
"I thought being downrange was the hardest job," Roberts said. "But now that I'm back here and have been deployed twice, I get to see both sides and know that the spouses back here and the rear detachment go through a beating. Being deployed is easy," he said.
His ability and willingness to listen and learn are the clear marks of a future command sergeant major, according to Lee.
"He listens. If you don't listen as a sergeant first class, and you make the next rank, you're going to have trouble. And he asks advice from his seniors," Lee said.
A wheeled-vehicle mechanic by trade, Roberts relishes the role of the noncommissioned officer - especially the first sergeant - as a team builder.
"We're all one team. We're all about building that team concept," he said, adding that he enjoys helping younger Soldiers understand that.
"A good leader can convey that to them, and make them understand the ultimate goal that you're trying to get to," he said.
When asked to describe a model NCO he had in his career, Roberts is quick to describe 1st Sgt. Keevin Fields, with whom he once again serves. Fields is deployed with the 172nd FSB.
"He was also into the team-building concept. He taught me all the things that a Soldier needs, and that a leader needs, at an early age," said Roberts, who as a young Soldier maintained a unit arms room under Fields.
Having learned more about dealing with families and outside agencies while also leading Soldiers, Roberts calls his current assignment "where it's at."
He is still the same NCO, though, at all hours of the day.
"I'm that guy that stays under the radar. But I'm the guy you can wake up at 2300 to deal with Soldiers, and I will jump up like it's eight o'clock in the morning," he said.