One sharp rock among many: first sergeant finds direction in the Air Force

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

While joining the Air Force can be a goal for some, for others the military can provide a sense of a direction when the future seems undecided. Master Sgt. Matthew Rush, the 18th Aircraft Maintenance Unit first sergeant, fell under the latter group.

As a military dependent, whose two of his parents served a combined 50 years in the military, Rush had never envisioned joining himself. From ages 15-21, Rush worked 22 jobs while trying to find a career. He was expecting to go to college on a music scholarship, however his plans changed when a series of bad decisions resulted in his scholarship being revoked.

“I just remember having the thought of, ‘what would they say about me if I died tomorrow?’” said Rush. “I realized that I wanted more and wanted to serve a purpose that meant something and will make a difference.”

Rush’s goal during his enlistment was to mentor, inspire, and have an impact on the life of Airmen while commissioning. He dedicated himself to this goal by finishing his degree in business management administration and passing the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test. Despite his efforts, Rush was not able to commission.

“I took the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test and did very well and even had a two star general sign my letter of recommendation,” explained Rush. “But I didn’t get it. When the second and third board went by they disqualified me because I didn’t have a STEM degree.”

Although his initial goal was shut down, Rush was able to find a new avenue to support his goal through some advice from a mentor, retired Chief Master Sgt. Michael Bobbit. Bobbit, explained that there was still a need for enlisted leaders and how Rush could still mentor, inspire, and have an impact on the life of Airmen while being enlisted in a different capacity. It was then that Rush’s goal changed to becoming a first sergeant. 

“I was a staff sergeant at the time and became singularly focused on being a shirt,” said Rush. “So my goals were to make technical sergeant so I could make master and then put on the diamond.” 

Rush was stationed in Chantilly, Virginia when he was selected for promotion to the rank of master sergeant and asked his former supervisor, Capt. Jason Kimball, 81st Training Group Chief Technology Officer, to officiate his promotion ceremony.

“Jason Kimball was the epitome of an awesome leader and we were both tech sergeants together,” explained Rush. “He got picked up to commission and left so when I made master sergeant I asked him to come down to promote me. He helped me reach that goal, so it was important to me that he be a part of it”

Rush and Kimball shared similar backgrounds as military children that created the foundation for their friendship, including their love for New England sports. Bill Belichick is the head coach for the New England Patriots and Robert Kraft is the owner of the team. The term ‘do your job’ is a staple of the team’s identity and of Belichick’s coaching philosophy. 

“I wanted to make the occasion unforgettable so as a typical lieutenant does, I brainstormed some crazy ideas and settled on the craziest one: getting Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft to sign his master sergeant stripes,” said Kimball. “I explained the significance of his promotion in the military and how Tech. Sgt. Rush could routinely be heard providing mentorship to his Airmen in the tune of ‘do your job’ and to my surprise, they both replied with signed blues master sergeant chevrons, and Bill Belichick even drafted a personal letter to Matt.”

After achieving the rank of master sergeant, Rush was able to pin on the first sergeant diamond while at his next assignment.

“It wasn’t until we got to Eglin Air Force Base that it became a reality. As excited as I was to be finally realizing my dream, every conversation you can have as a family doesn’t prepare you for the toll that it takes,” explained Rush. “But even on the worst days, it’s still the best job because you’re still helping people and striving to make a difference.”

The special duty of a first sergeant is critical to the execution of the unit's mission. A first sergeant responds to the needs of Airmen 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Candidates are required to have supervisory and leadership experience.

“Rush has an exceptional ability to connect with people through humor and approachability while maintaining an unparalleled work ethic and a drive to excel beyond expectations,” explained Kimball. “His success and character are further exemplified through his ability to lead by example and consistently demonstrating a strong commitment to teamwork.”

Rush is the vice president of the first sergeant council at Eielson. The council is where all first sergeants on base come together to provide a positive impact on the base for units, commanders, and for each other. The council also provides an avenue for first sergeants to seek advice from one another.

“Very few people understand what a shirt has to do and there’s very few people that you can actually talk to about it,” explained Rush. “The first sergeant council allows us to support each other and help one another.”

Through his six assignments and two deployments, Rush’s experiences and resiliency throughout his 19-year Air Force career fueled his success. It was also his family that supported him and joined in the journey of multiple moves and time apart that allowed him to achieve success. 

“My wife and I have been married as long as I’ve been married to the Air Force,” explained Rush. “My family has sacrificed a lot and once I’m done being a first sergeant, what we do next is 100% up to them.”