Two diamonds under the same roof -- serving Vance Airmen

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Christopher Ornelas Jr.
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. – For many Airmen, the concept of leaving work at the door when returning home is appealing. When first sergeants are married to each other, maintaining a work-life balance is challenging.

With two diamonds under the same roof, both Master Sgt. Kerry Wilson, first sergeant in the 71st Student Squadron and Master Sgt. Paul Wilson, first sergeant in the 71st Medical Group, use their shared perspective as first sergeants to better serve Airmen on base.

“I think we are both able to use each other as sounding boards and seek advice,” said Kerry Wilson. “There are instances when I know Paul has helped an Airman through a situation that I’m dealing with, and it helps that we can rely on each other for guidance.”

While the position of first sergeant is highly rewarding, it also requires sacrifices from those who hold it. 

“It’s a lot of phones,” said Paul Wilson. “When Kerry provided first sergeant coverage for the 71st Operations Group in addition to the 71st STUS, she had three phones, two duty cell phones and her personal phone.

“There were times when Kerry would have the three phones on her desk and then I will just stack my two on top of them. It’s just funny to see a stack of five phones, all of which require our supervision,” said Paul Wilson.

“I prefer to call it life-work balance rather than work-life balance because we strive to be fully present at home with our daughters, said Kerry Wilson. “If the shirt-phone rings, our kids understand that sometimes we must leave depending on the situation. But they have an understanding it’s our job to help people. 

“It’s important to include our kids with base events and squadron functions to give them a better understanding of what we do,” said Kerry Wilson. “We like to bring them to events such as drop night, so they can see the culture at Vance. I’m convinced they go for the popcorn.”

The thing with having two first sergeants as parents is ensuring the kids feel included, said Kerry Wilson. “I think it’s good for them to be included because it helps them be more understanding when we have after-hours work.”

What solidified Kerry Wilson’s decision to become a first sergeant was her own experience where she looked to a first sergeant for help.

“I got a phone call from my sister telling me to try and get home as soon as I could as our mom, who was terminally ill with cancer, was in the hospital,” said Kerry Wilson. “My first instinct was to call my first sergeant. When I called my shirt, Master Sgt. Michael Sumner, I was unable to get the words out to explain the situation. He simply said, ‘how can I help you and what do you need.’ That really provided a sense of calmness and support to the situation.”

This encounter drastically altered her perspective and inspired her to pursue her journey as a first sergeant. 

“The most rewarding part of being a first sergeant is helping student pilots, and Airmen in general, with different situation that arise, and then watching them proudly graduate as aviators or helping them continue serving in the Air Force,” said Kerry Wilson. 

“When people discuss how stressful it must be to be a first sergeant, let alone mil-to-mil first sergeants, I always note that it’s not my stress,” said Kerry Wilson. “As first sergeants, we are simply assisting Airmen in navigating their own stress and helping them find solutions to their problems.”

For Paul Wilson, becoming a first sergeant was a position he grew into.

“It began when, as a technical sergeant, I was tasked with covering the first sergeant’s phone for a month,” said Paul Wilson. “That ‘month’ became seven. After growing into the role, and eventually taking the official position as a first sergeant, I realized that it is much more enjoyable to work with people than to fix computers.”

Kerry and Paul have been married for 11 years. They met and married at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, and have followed each other to Royal Air Force Lakenheath, United Kingdom; Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico; and now Vance Air Force Base. 

With backgrounds in the medical and communication fields, they never imagined that their career paths would align as they do now. 

The Wilsons view their shared duties as a net positive for Airmen at Vance. They have the common goal of aiding Vance Airmen in overcoming personal and professional challenges.

And as long as the Air Force allows it, they want to continue serving as first sergeants.