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Deployed AMC first sergeant shows the way

OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM -- Merlin the Magician was King Arthur's most trusted counselor, offering insight about the subjects of Camelot to help guide the king and make the kingdom prosperous. He served the people, and occasionally used magic to help those in need and protect the realm.

In today's Air Force the first sergeant is to the commander what Merlin was to his king. On call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the first sergeant is there to listen, advise, mentor and, when needed, serve as disciplinarian.

For Master Sgt. Joseph Sites, being a first sergeant carries rewards far beyond the demands and sacrifices his distinctive diamond insignia represents.

Currently deployed to the 416th Air Expeditionary Group in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from the 89th Mission Support Squadron, Andrews AFB, Md., Sergeant Sites has to use compassion, integrity and technical expertise in all aspects of his job.

With 20 years in the Air Force as a personnel specialist and five years as a first sergeant, Sergeant Sites is well suited to meet the needs of both the enlisted personnel and officers in his unit.

Standing nearly six feet tall, his piercing chocolate-brown eyes seem to see the needs of his troops while his broad shoulders carry the weight of meeting those needs.

He grew up in Fairfield, Penn., graduating from Fairfield Area High School in 1979, and joined the Air Force because of family tradition, following his four brothers. Sergeant Sites first demonstrated his determination while still in basic training when his brother was killed in a tragic accident. Despite the pain of his loss, Sergeant Sites refused to give up his dream.

That commitment is still demonstrated in the Sites family, and the youngest Sites brother, Master Sgt. Andy Sites, now serves as a recruiting superintendent at MacDill AFB, Fla.

Asked his reasons for becoming a first sergeant, Sergeant Sites is quick to talk about his own mentor, retired Master Sgt. Paul Piske, his first sergeant while assigned to the 416th Organizational Maintenance Squadron at Griffiss AFB, N.Y.

"[Sergeant Piske is] the main reason I stayed in the Air Force because I wanted to do everything he did - take care of the people. He was the best," Sergeant Sites said. "I became a first sergeant because of his example."

He also attributes his success in the Air Force to the support and understanding of his wife, Myong Cho, and daughters, Jessica, 17, and Tanya, 16.

While deployed, the first sergeant encourages his airmen to do more than just their day-to-day jobs. Heavily involved in humanitarian aid programs, Sergeant Sites and his unit regularly visit local orphanages and schools.

"His role as a first sergeant has set the example for steady leadership in a turbulent combat zone," said Col. Tim Vining, 416th AEG commander, deployed from Little Rock AFB, Ark. "His constant contact with people of all ranks, both officer and enlisted, has helped support members facing difficult family situations and brought them support quickly instead of waiting for the problem to become a crisis."

Colonel Vining explained that he is particularly proud of the first sergeant's dedication to his people, even at the risk of his own health. A few weeks ago Sergeant Sites began to lose the vision in one eye and was evacuated for medical treatment.

"He could have requested to be returned to his home unit and he knew I would support his request," Colonel Vining said. "Instead, he asked the doctor to release him from the hospital, still with a serious vision problem, to return to his folks and his deployed unit. He literally had his plane tickets home and chose to return to duty in a combat zone. Proud of my first Sergeant? You could say that!"

Sergeant Sites has no plans for retirement. His goals include supporting the needs of the Air Force and the troops in whatever unit he is assigned.

He also hopes to set the example for others who may wonder if they have what it takes to wear the distinctive first sergeant's diamond, and offers this advice: "Be ready to sacrifice everything for everybody at any time. A first sergeant needs to be ready to stop whatever they are doing, whether it's having dinner with the family or watching your daughter play the most important basketball game of her life. When the phone rings or the pager goes off you need to be ready to go and take care of whatever the issue is.

"I wouldn't trade my position as a first sergeant with anybody," Sergeant Sites added. "It's the best job in the Air Force!"