First Sergeant finds a way to serve others and pay for college

Master Sgt. Robert Simmons spends time with Airmen during family day at the 118th Wing Tennessee Air National Guard in Nashville, Tenn., May 6, 2018.

Master Sgt. Robert Simmons spends time with Airmen during family day at the 118th Wing Tennessee Air National Guard in Nashville, Tenn., May 6, 2018. Robert has been in the Air National Guard since 1998. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Darrell Hamm)

Nashville, Tenn. -- Simmons interest in the military started in high school when he spent three years in Air Force Junior ROTC at Hixson High School in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Once in college, he realized he could relieve some tuition costs through the military.

“I tried to figure out how am I going to pay for college, cause this is adding up”, said Robert. “I went to see a recruiter at the 241st Engineering Squadron. I joined those guys and the plan was basically, hey, I’m going to pay for my college this way.”

Simmons joined the Air National Guard in 1998. The training he received with the 241st ES was instrumental in helping him secure a job with the phone company in Nashville, Tennessee. In 2002 Simmons made the decision to permanently move to Nashville and transfer his military service to the 118th Wing.

“I was travelling back and forth from here to Chattanooga because I was doing a lot of work on the weekends with the phone company”, said Robert. “I decided to look at this particular unit. It was recommended to go to the aerial port, so I was there until the [base realignment and closure] happened.”

From there Simmons moved over to the command post where he stayed for a few years. When things began to change in Simmons personal life he started to look for more opportunities to serve.
“Things started happening in my life. Religious wise I was trying to figure out how can I be a better servant? ”, said Robert. I tried to be a chaplain assistant. Then I was approached by a first sergeant, actually it was Chief Master Sgt. Mark Harris. He pulled me to the side and said ‘Hey man, I think I have something you may be interested in.’”

Simmons began mentoring the student flight, getting them ready for basic training until an additional duty first sergeant position became available. In January 2016, Simmons received his training for additional duty first sergeant. Then in February of 2018, Simmons graduated from the first sergeant academy.

Simmons sees his time as a first sergeant as a blessing.

“Some days are tougher than others depending on what’s going on”, said Simmons. “For me, I have to be one hundred and ten percent engaged, so everybody here, I try to connect with them on a personal level.”

Simmons has this simple piece of advice for incoming airmen: “Stay ahead of the curve”, said Simmons. “Don’t let the Air Force wait for them. Find a mentor! Find someone in the position you want to be in and connect with them.”