CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
The 2017 Air Force First Sergeant of the Year never saw himself joining the military but instead started as a struggling artist.
Celestino Madrid wanted to avoid obligations and think freely with his craft but was unsure of what to do with only a semester’s worth of credits, despite having three years in college. He didn’t think following in his family’s military footsteps was in the cards for him. His mother retired as a technical sergeant in the Air Force, and his father was still a chief master sergeant at Lakenheath Air Base, England.
Finding that transition from what he wanted to be versus what he should do was difficult, but he did think back on one aspect of the military he enjoyed listening to his mom talk about—flying. His father knew about it and brought it up at a formal wing event at Lakenheath.
“Son, I think you need to join the Air Force,” he told Celestino.
“I can’t do the military thing, Dad. I’m not going to become a pilot anytime soon,” Celestino replied.
“Well, actually, there is a job for you,” his father replied.
It was then he was introduced to Chief Master Sgt. Richard “Taco” Sanchez, and the career that Celestino would eventually serve in for nearly two decades: a C-141 Starlifter loadmaster.
Today, more than 20 years after speaking with CMSgt Sanchez, Madrid is now the first sergeant of Cannon’s 27th Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron and recently selected as the 2017 Air Force First Sergeant of the Year.
“My family taught me credibility, compassion and taking care of your people,” Madrid said. “It wasn’t something given to me or told to me by my family specifically, it was just things I witnessed in them.”
Staying at work with his family and observing their leadership styles became an opportunity for him to learn how to lead Airmen as he later became a service member.
“I was in their offices a lot,” Madrid said. “Watching how my parents handled their Airmen influenced how I handle mine.”
Whether it involves morale, welfare, discipline or good order, as a first sergeant, Madrid tries his best to aide Airmen through challenges and successes. He ensures his commander is being just and fair to subordinates and that the Airmen are doing what they’re supposed to do.
Madrid discussed how first sergeants are not solely disciplinary figures, but are also part of the recovery process. He plays a key part in helping Airmen get back on their feet. Along with expectations comes pressure for Airmen that can be difficult to balance and Madrid is all too familiar with the feeling.
Going into Basic Military Training, his father made a bet with him that if he earned honor graduate that the family would purchase Madrid’s mess dress.
Six weeks later, he was one of two in his flight to graduate with honors, and it wouldn’t be the last time he would be recognized for his strong work ethic and moral fortitude.
It was in the middle of a volleyball match between Cannon first sergeants and Airman Leadership School students when he received a phone call that he was selected by Air Force Special Operations commander, Lt. Gen. Marshall B. Webb.
With earning the award as the Air Force’s First Sergeant of the Year, it may be hard to believe that at one point Madrid had sworn off ever becoming a first sergeant.
As a technical sergeant, he had served as an acting first sergeant for a year. He didn’t have much say in it, but he told himself it was an opportunity for growth. After promoting to master sergeant, he had been selected to return as a first sergeant, separated from his unit once more.
After helping to make changes to the council and better the atmosphere, Madrid came around to realizing this was potentially a job he should have done more with earlier.
“The things I’ve learned the last couple of years have been tremendous,” said Madrid. “I feel it’s also made me a better person, in and out of work, including toward my squadron and my family.”
For non-commissioned officers and Airmen who are interested in the duties of a first sergeant, Madrid advocates becoming involved sooner and that NCOs should focus on getting to master sergeant first. Madrid also recommends looking into opportunities like visiting first sergeant symposiums.
“Get that opportunity to get that phone in your hand,” said Madrid. “You need to become an acting first sergeant, whether it’s for a weekend, a week or months. You don’t know what it’s going to be like until you sit in that seat.”
For Airmen, it’s about overcoming adversity.
“Just keep pressing,” said Madrid. “Set your sight on that goal you have, take care of your people, be competent in your job and enjoy what you do.”