AFGSC First Sergeant of the Year: Putting on the diamond to serve others

  • Published
  • By Joseph Coslett Jr.
  • 90th Missile Wing

In case you missed it, Master Sgt. Britni Burnette, a distinguished first sergeant in the 90th Operations Group, earned Air Force Global Strike Command’s award for “Outstanding First Sergeant of the Year” earlier this year. 

Throughout her tenure as a first sergeant, Burnette demonstrated exemplary performance, providing expert advice to one group and five squadron commanders, thereby upholding morale, welfare, and discipline, according to the award narrative. Her guidance maximized the readiness and lethality of the 444 Airmen responsible for delivering intercontinental ballistic missile nuclear deterrence for the United States.

One of the key aspects of a first sergeant’s role is ensuring the welfare and readiness of Airmen, according to Burnette. They act as trusted advisors and advocates, addressing personal and professional challenges faced by service members. By providing guidance, resources and support, first sergeants help Airmen navigate the complexities of military life, fostering a sense of belonging and resilience within the unit.

“She is visible and accountable,” said Master Sgt. Kevin Hale, 90th Operations Support Squadron senior enlisted leader.  “Anything we need, she’s there for us and she’s happy to help. Simply said, she is the most amazing first sergeant ever.”

One of Burnette’s notable achievements is the development of an anonymous feedback tool for a maintenance squadron, supplementing their Defense Equal Opportunity Climate Survey with actionable information. This initiative significantly enhanced squadron morale, welfare and mission effectiveness, benefiting 130 Airmen under her watch.

In addition, Burnette showed commitment to her fellow Airmen by addressing six cases of suicidal ideation with rapid response, expertly connecting affected individuals with helping agencies and implementing care plans that facilitated healthy recoveries, according to the award narrative. All six Airmen were able to return to duty.

“I want Airmen to really understand what their purpose is,” she said. “When I walk around, I put a smile on my face and ask people how they’re doing. Showing Airmen we care can make their day, month or year.” 

Burnette's dedication extends beyond individual Airmen, as she has also provided support during family emergency events. Collaborating with organizations such as the Red Cross, Military and Family Readiness Center, and the Air Force Aid Society, she secured over $3,000 in funds to assist nine Airmen and their families who were experiencing financial strain.

“I think she's amazing. She's definitely a good example of what a first sergeant should be,” said Airman Jenna Lawson, 90 OSS commander’s support staff. “Her personality and her ability to do the job very well as a first sergeant is not easy by a long shot, but she is always helping Airmen and families, making the world a better place.”

The First Sergeant’s Council elected Burnette as the vice president. During her time with the council, she chaired multiple courses and seminars, including the First Term Airmen Center, Airman Leadership School, and NCO Professional Enhancement programs, according to the award narrative. Through these initiatives, Burnette aimed to develop and cultivate essential Airman leadership qualities.

She represented the wing at the First Sergeant World Wide Conference and served as a  member of the 20th Air Force's Women's Initiative Team. Her involvement directly improved the quality of life for more than 2,700 Airmen across four wings.

“First Sergeant Burnett is awesome because she works tirelessly to take care of her Airmen,” Chief Master Sgt. Christopher Sutor, 90 OG senior enlisted leader. “She doesn’t do it for recognition, but rather to  truly help others.”

Furthermore, Burnette spearheaded the "Feds Feed Families" food bank initiative, collecting 4,300 donation bags, according to the award narrative. Additionally, she established an emergency food pantry specifically catering to the 444 Airmen assigned to the 90 OG, ensuring they had access to essential supplies during challenging times.

She also served on the Adopt an Airman committee, mobilizing 24 civic and Air Force leaders to organize community familiarizations providing support, meals, and holiday cheer to 110 Airmen. The program participation increased by 39 percent, fostering a stronger sense of belonging and community among Airmen.

“She's definitely a selfless leader who really lets her work speak for itself,” Sutor said. “Her efforts ensured that Airmen’s families were taken care of so that they're not worrying about their families at home while they're out in the field for a week at a time.”

Reflecting on the Journey

Once a young Airman responsible for protecting nuclear assets at just 20 years old, Burnette experienced firsthand the transformative power of purpose and pride in the Air Force. Reflecting on her journey, she recognizes the need to connect young Airmen to the mission, showing them the impact they have in serving their country.

Burnette acknowledges new Airmen may initially struggle to grasp the significance of their roles, and she remembers her own surprise upon discovering that her job as a security forces member went far beyond her initial expectations. To bridge this gap, Burnette emphasizes the importance of daily reminders, ensuring Airmen understand the larger purpose of their service.

“The daily routine can sometimes overshadow the sense of pride and purpose,” she said. “In the face of repetitive tasks and occasional rudeness, it can be easy for Airmen to lose sight of their contributions andI believe leadership plays a vital role in countering this by actively demonstrating care and appreciation for their Airmen.”

By investing in their support, Burnette believes the mission will thrive when Airmen feel valued, supported and truly seen. As an example, she helped an Airman struggling to meet expectations. Rather than focusing solely on corrective actions, Burnette took the time to connect with the individual, understand their aspirations and create a plan to help them succeed. 

“This experience taught me the power of genuine conversations, proving that taking the time to truly care and understand can change someone's perspective,” she said.

Recognizing the unique characteristics of the younger generation, Burnette emphasizes the importance of effective communication and personalized feedback. Rather than relying on rigid and impersonal approaches, she encourages supervisors to invest time in getting to know their Airmen on a personal level. By building connections and demonstrating care, leaders can create an environment where Airmen feel valued and motivated to excel.

“The Air Force must undergo a cultural shift to empower and invest in the next generation,” Burnette said. “Leaders must acknowledge the changing dynamics and actively foster a sense of purpose and belonging within their units. By recognizing the value of Airmen and inspiring them through daily interactions, leaders can reshape the Air Force's culture and ensure its continued success.”

As she continues to wear her diamond with pride, Burnette remains driven by the ability to transform an Airman's worst day into a positive turning point. Her belief in their value and contributions fuel her drive to make a difference.

“To all Airmen, you are our most valuable asset,” Burnette said. “You are what makes the mission successful because of everything you do every single day. Having a sense of pride while you do it. That is the reason I wear this uniform, and that is what makes serving this country so great.”