A day in the life of a senior non-commissioned officer

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. James M. Hodgman
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs
The phone rings at 2 a.m. Disturbed and now awake, a master sergeant answers. The voice on the other end of the telephone informs him that one of his Airmen needs help. Without hesitation, he quickly dresses and heads for the door.

In the Air Force, Airmen fortunate enough to achieve the ranks of master sergeant through chief master sergeant represent the service's third and highest tier of enlisted leaders.

Much is expected of these leaders. Not only must SNCOs meet the same requirements of non-commissioned officers, they must also provide trusted counsel to senior leaders, be active leaders in their units, and according to Air Force instructions, epitomize excellence while providing a role model for all Airmen to emulate.

Airmen in these ranks work hard to ensure mission accomplishment and that their people are taken care of.

Master Sgt. Russell G. Dowe, chief of quality assurance for the 55th Strategic Communications Squadron's standards and evaluations office, has spent the past four years of his 23-year career ensuring Offutt's communications warriors have what it takes to accomplish the mission. Sergeant Dowe and his three-man team evaluate almost everything Offutt's communications Airmen do.

"We validate and evaluate technician skills, (multiple) programs, equipment installs, security, maintainers of critical systems and training," Sergeant Dowe said. "We make sure everything is done appropriately, equipment is clean and serviceable and parts are ordered properly."
According to Sergeant Dowe, his team conducts more than 100 evaluations every year.

Along with being the chief of the 55th SCS QA office, Sergeant Dowe supervises the unit's commander's support staff and occasionally performs first sergeant duty. As a temporary first sergeant, Sergeant Dowe said he has an excellent opportunity to help people.

"Helping people is my favorite thing to do so being a SNCO is nice because it gives me (many) opportunities to help Airmen and (their families) with problems such as personal or financial issues," he said. "Being a SNCO and being able to help people is amazing to me."

He recalled a time when he helped a senior airman obtain funds he needed to fix his car.

"One of our Airmen was attending training at Keesler AFB, Miss., and while he was there his vehicle broke down and he didn't have the money to fix it," Sergeant Dowe said. "We put him in contact with the Air Force Aid Society and he was able to obtain a no interest loan to fix his car.
"We gave him the support he needed (which) prevented him from placing an undue burden on his family," he explained.

When Sergeant Dowe isn't at work he volunteers regularly in the Offutt and Omaha communities. In the past few years, he's helped organize the annual Henry Doorly Zoo Clean-Up, the 55th Communication Group's Halloween Haunted House and assisted with Operation Stand Down for homeless veterans.

While the past 23 years have been amazing for Sergeant Dowe, he said, there have been some challenges to overcome in his career. For example, during the first four years of his marriage to his wife LeeAnne, he missed spending the holiday season with her three times.

"Those deployments were hard for my wife," Sergeant Dowe said. "I took her away from her home in California to South Dakota where she didn't have a lot of family around. I took her out of her environment then kind of deserted her, which was stressful and painful for her.

"But we've gotten through that, so the rest of the (15 years of) marriage and military life (has been) kind of easier from there," he said.

Another SNCO here spends her days trying to benefit the lives of Offutt's warriors and families as the superintendent of the Airman and Family Readiness Center.

Master Sgt. Stephanie R. Bergstrom, 55th Force Support Squadron, has a wide range of responsibilities. She is a supervisor, a mother and the principal enlisted advisor to Offutt's AFRC director. She also develops and provides readiness briefings to deploying servicemembers and helps returning servicemembers and their families through the reintegration process.

"I love my job," Sergeant Bergstrom said. "When I finish helping a family who needs assistance, whether it's for financial problems, daycare or shoveling snow, I feel so good inside."

For Sergeant Bergstrom no two days are alike. One day she may be driving all over base attending meetings, giving briefings or delivering teddy bears to children at the child development center. On another, she may be commuting to Lincoln or Gretna, Neb., to pick up supplies for the AFRC, helping families deal with the loss of a loved one or assisting Offutt's Top 3 organization.

Along with her contributions to the AFRC, Sergeant Bergstrom is a victim advocate for the sexual assault, prevention and response program; a victim hotline worker for the YWCA domestic violence hotline and a volunteer cardio pulmonary resuscitation instructor, as well as a volunteer emergency medical technician instructor.

On average Sergeant Bergstrom contributes more than 500 hours every quarter volunteering throughout the local community.

Juggling her military responsibilities, volunteer commitments and spending time with her family can be challenging, she said.

"I often have to choose between my family and taking care of the needs of deployed families. I try to involve my family in events and activities, but it's not always possible or appropriate, so sometimes I have to ask my daughter Mackenzi to skip volleyball (practice) or miss a school event because we're unable to take her due to work commitments," she said.

Another challenge for the Bergstrom family, is finding time to enjoy a holiday or vacation together.

Since Sergeant Bergstrom's husband, Brent A. Bergstrom, a firefighter with the 55th Civil Engineer Squadron, works 24-hour shifts every work day and doesn't get holidays or down days off, life can be challenging.

"This causes us to use extra coordination for daycare, holiday observances or vacations," Sergeant Bergstrom said.

Sergeant Bergstrom, who is a dental assistant by Air Force specialty, has deployed twice and been a part of nine humanitarian missions from Ecuador to Thailand during her nearly 20-year career. Those times away from her family were difficult, she said, but were also proud moments.

"I've gone on some (missions) that separated me from my (family). Of course, that (separation) brought loneliness, sadness and anxiety, but also a tremendous sense of pride and honor," she said.

(This is the final article of the three-part series of the day in the life of an Air Force enlisted member.)