First sergeant reflects on deployment experiences, encourages others to serve

  • Published
  • By Capt. Marnee A.C. Losurdo
  • 512th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Master Sgt. Kevin Morrow, along with thousands of servicemembers at Bagram Airfield, lined the base's main street in the pre-dawn hours of June 21. They were there to honor a fallen comrade who died in combat. While they waited for the humvee, carrying the flag-draped case, to pass them on its way to the flightline, he said he heard a faint whistle emerge from the darkness, followed by an explosion.

The attack that night took the lives of two soldiers who were attending the solemn ritual.
It was a night Sergeant Morrow said he will never forget.

"It was so sad," said the 326th Airlift Squadron first sergeant who deployed to Afghanistan from May to September. "We were there to honor one life, and lost two more while doing so."

This experience brought home the reality of war for the Air Force reservist who served as the first sergeant for the 455th Expeditionary Mission Support Group, part of the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing.

Sergeant Morrow was responsible for advising his commander on the safety, health and morale of 230 Airmen assigned to the group's four squadrons. The units were charged with duties ranging from airfield management to services functions to base security.

The reservist said he volunteered for the deployment out of a sense of duty.

"I've always had this longing to serve and deploy during wartime," said Sergeant Morrow who served in the active-duty Marine Corps from 1976 to 1980 before joining the Air Force Reserve in 1984 when he worked as a jet engine mechanic in the then 512th Field Maintenance Squadron. "I had deployed with the Marine Corps but not during a time of conflict."

While at Bagram, he said he worked on a variety of issues he typically didn't encounter at home station.

"Something came up every day," said the sergeant who added he handled matters ranging from billeting and divorce to rocket attacks and Red Cross notifications. "I learned so much because of what I had to deal with but it was very humbling."

He also was responsible for death notifications. One in particular was extremely hard for him, he said.

"I had to tell one of my sergeants about the death of his teenage daughter," he said. "His wife had passed away five years before, so telling him about the loss of his daughter was one of the most difficult things I had to do in my life."

As a first sergeant, he is tasked with leading, inspiring and mentoring Airmen while also charged with advising the commander on issues ranging from promotions to administrative actions.

"I work on behalf of the commander, and my job is to report to him or her, give them good counsel, and provide them with the pulse of the people," he said. "But, I also work for my Airmen, because my job is to also ensure they are taken care of and are getting a fair shake."

He did have to give out some administrative actions while at Bagram; however, he said he was there for those Airmen to encourage them and let them know they could recover from their setbacks.

"We had a saying there, 'Start right; finish strong,' and I was committed to that," he said. "People over there are so dedicated to that mission."

He said he made it a priority to get out into his squadrons to work with his Airmen, whether it was pouring concrete with the civil engineers or loading cargo with the aerial porters.

"It's important to get out there and know your people, so they know who to go to if they need assistance," he said.

The former Air Reserve Technician, who now works as a civilian in the 436th Maintenance Squadron, said he'd always had a longing to become a first sergeant. After working in the 512th Maintenance Squadron for 24 years he said he was ready for a change.

"People told me I had the personality to make a good first sergeant. So, in 2007, I put in my application and was fortunate to be selected," said Sergeant Morrow who in December 2007 was a distinguished graduate from the U.S. Air Force First Sergeant Academy at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.

Not just anyone can fill the vital role of first sergeant, said Sergeant Morrow. To be considered, members must be a master sergeant upon attendance at the First Sergeant Academy, have a passing score on their fitness assessment, and have the ability to clearly and effectively communicate.

326th AS Commander Lt. Col. Craig LaFave said Sergeant Morrow is a great resource to him and his 120-person unit.

"As a commander, I rely on Sergeant Morrow for advice on enlisted matters concerning discipline, mentoring, career progression, recognition and professional development of our Airmen," said Colonel LaFave. "His deployment experiences have given him a unique perspective on his first sergeant duties here in the 326th Airlift Squadron. We're very happy to have him safely back. He's an extremely sharp first sergeant who motivates the entire squadron."

Now that Sergeant Morrow is back in the states serving the men and women of the 326 AS, he said he doesn't handle as many of the complex issues he had to when deployed.
"I spend a lot of my time here working family care issues, and if we have an administrative action it usually concerns the physical fitness program," he said.

As the 326th AS first sergeant, Sergeant Morrow said he frequently works with 512th AW agencies such as the chaplain, Military Equal Opportunity, family readiness and the military personnel flight to assist his Airmen with their personal and personnel issues.

"If you really want to grow as a first sergeant I highly recommend volunteering for a deployment," said Sergeant Morrow, who, despite the dangers of multiple rocket attacks, plans to volunteer for another rotation in the future.

Whether he's deployed or at home station, Sergeant Morrow said he still applies the same principles for being a good first sergeant.

"It's a job that takes someone with a positive attitude, who is outgoing, enthusiastic and proactive; someone who get outs there with their people and goes out to the units to check on them," he said. "It's all about core values; having integrity and being selfless. It's a great job for someone willing to take on the challenge."

The 512th Airlift Wing has a need for first sergeants. Master sergeants and eligible technical sergeants who are willing to take on a key position outside of their career field can submit an application to personnel employment. The next first sergeant board is Feb. 7. For more information on application requirements, call (302) 677-3512, (302) 677-3500 or (302) 677-3513.