1st Sergeant Spotlight: Maintenance welcomes new first sergeant

MOFFETT FEDERAL AIRFIELD, Calif. -- An avionics technician with the 129th Rescue Wing here was recently selected to serve as the first sergeant for the 129th Maintenance Squadron.

Master Sgt. Anja O'Neil, the new 129th MXS first sergeant, has been assigned to carry out the responsibility, accountability, and discipline of a first sergeant after graduating from First Sergeant Academy at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, Ala., November 2009.

First sergeant is not a rank, but a special duty held by a senior enlisted member who reports directly to the unit commander and is responsible for the morale, welfare, and conduct of all the enlisted members in their squadron.

Sergeant O'Neil joined the California Air National Guard after serving 12 years on active duty. With a short break in service the full time mother of five and part-time business owner in her home state of Washington, decided to return to the military in a smaller capacity.

"Once I separated from active duty I missed being in the military," she said. "I chose Moffett because of its incredible mission. I've never worked in rescue, I have some fire background, but nothing quite like the 129th."

After being in the military for 23 years, Sergeant O'Neil discovered that she was a better leader than she thought she could ever be.

"I was always a maintenance troop. I always enjoyed working on the aircraft and didn't think of myself as much of a people person," she said. "After attending training for information management I realized that I'm just as good at taking care of people as I am taking care of planes."

After graduating from the First Sergeant Academy, which Sergeant O'Neil believed to be the best military school she's attended in her Air Force career, Sergeant O'Neil is now ready to represent and support Airmen within the 129 MXS and extend a helping hand to all Airmen at the 129 RQW.

"I always knew what I wanted to do for my squadron, not always how I wanted to do it," she said. "After attending the academy, being able to discuss issues with fellow first sergeants and paying special attention to those who have a maintenance background has truly given me a huge toolbox of skills that empowered me to go back to my command with an idea of what I want to see done for my Airmen."

Focusing on the dissemination of information from leadership to Airmen, Sergeant O'Neil is hoping to bridge the gap in her chain of command in both directions.

"After becoming a first sergeant, I really began to notice that important things didn't get communicated in a timely manner," she said. "The flow of information wasn't dependable or very consistent."

Encouraging all Airmen with ideas, complaints, complements, or even constructive criticism to speak up, Sergeant O'Neil is enthusiastic about ensuring Airmen morale and readiness is at its peak.

"Everyone has an important perspective and opinion about how things are done," said Sergeant O'Neil. "Every input and can make a difference, they need to be communicated to supervisors and continued up the chain of command."

Beyond overall morale and readiness issues, Sergeant O'Neil strongly emphasizes the idea of Airmen focusing on their education and succeeding in their career. Completing professional military education is by far the most important part of making yourself competitive for promotion, she said.

"I'm still a part-time student two semesters away from receiving my bachelor's degree and I can't stress enough that I wish I had finished it sooner in my career," said Sergeant O'Neil. "Too many people are not ready for promotion because they didn't think they would be in that position, don't ever think that the next grade, or the next position is unattainable."