One sharp rock among many: From building structures to building up Airmen

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Ricardo Sandoval
  • 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

There are generation defining moments throughout history that one may experience during their life. All are permanent images in memories but some also serve as a call to action or invoke some change. 

For Master Sgt. Juan Pablo Robles, 354th Operations Group first sergeant, it was the terror  attacks on September 11th that motivated him to join the U.S. Air Force.

“The one thing I remember the most is the newscast and you see the plane hit the second tower,” said Robles. “The military was not on the radar for me at all but that was a defining moment.”

Robles graduated basic military training as a Structures Airman and was stationed at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, for his first assignment. But it wasn’t until he got to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, his second assignment, when he left for his first deployment to Iraq. Robles was recently married and only at Nellis for a month before deploying.

“We had bullets flown over, had a rocket-propelled grenade go over my head and land behind my trailer but it didn’t go off,” said Robles. “It brings a different perspective and view. You tend to value the smaller things in life a lot more.”

Aside from his five deployments to Europe, Guam, Afghanistan, and twice to Iraq, Robles has been stationed at five different bases throughout his 20-year career. It was during his time at various assignments that his interest in becoming a first sergeant was sparked.

“During my time, you never really saw the first sergeant unless you were in trouble,” added Robles. “But this first sergeant would just walk around, go to your work areas, just mingle with the people and that left an impression on me.”

Robles would hold the phone whenever the first sergeant was gone on temporary duties for a couple of weeks at a time and also attended council meetings at Macdill Air Force Base, Florida. This is when other first sergeants began to approach Robles about how interested he was in becoming a shirt.

“I was in for 17 years at that point and had my interview with the command chief,” added Robles. “I did it because I wanted to help other Airmen.”

Being a first sergeant requires maintaining morale and checking on your Airmen under your leadership while being available at a moment's notice. 

The Air Force instills leadership qualities into all Airmen but leadership styles can differ. Finding leadership qualities that speak to your style often come by learning from those above in rank and choosing to incorporate what works.

“Something I tell everyone is that you’re always leading by example,” said Robles. “Whether I’m a good or bad example, I’m still leading by example and it’s up to the Airmen on what they want to take away.”

Robles found his motivation to become a shirt when he was well into his career but it was his experiences up to that point that allow him to succeed in his position now.

“I love my job, whether it’s as a first sergeant or as a structures guy,” explained Robles. “Twenty years have come and gone and I still feel like I have a lot to give.”