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Diamonds in the rough learn how to shine

Tech Sgt. Brian Gilbert of the 103rd Maintenance Group answers questions from a board of First Sergeants during the annual Diamond Award selection process on January 1, 2014, at Bradley Air National Guard Base, East Granby, CT.  Once a year, the Connecticut Air National Guard’s first sergeants present the Diamond Award to an individual who has shown a great deal of potential for future leadership, had a positive impact on his or her unit, and represents what the Air Force’s core values.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Emmanuel Santiago)

Tech Sgt. Brian Gilbert of the 103rd Maintenance Group answers questions from a board of First Sergeants during the annual Diamond Award selection process on January 1, 2014, at Bradley Air National Guard Base, East Granby, CT. Once a year, the Connecticut Air National Guard’s first sergeants present the Diamond Award to an individual who has shown a great deal of potential for future leadership, had a positive impact on his or her unit, and represents what the Air Force’s core values. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Emmanuel Santiago)

BRADLEY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE - East Granby, Conn. -- There is very little that can suppress the level of nervousness just before knocking on a door to a room that contains a panel of non-commissioned officers. The diamond board provides an opportunity to experience those uneasy feelings and learn to operate under the same stress in future scenarios.

Once a year, the first sergeants present the Diamond award to an individual who has shown a great deal of potential for future leadership, had a positive impact on his or her unit and represents what the Air Force is all about.

Once an individual is nominated by the first sergeant in charge of their unit, he or she will have to report to the diamond board. The board is made up of five first sergeants. After delivering a reporting statement at the position of attention and once in front of the board, the nominee will undergo a series of questions spanning across topics such as common courtesies, rank structure, Air Force history and current events. It may appear the nominee is thrown into an intensely stressful interview made up of a panel of elite sergeants, but that is not the case.

To help ease some tension, the nominees are notified approximately a month ahead of time about what to study. The best part about being nominated for this board is not actually winning the award, it's the process. Essentially, what the nominee is undergoing is a "how to" style board. Once the nominee has answered all questions given by the board, the nominee will be asked to stand by. At this point, the first sergeants will get together and score the nominee, assessing the candidate's answers to the question, apparent sharpness of the nominee and his or her service dress uniform. Immediately after the scoring, the first sergeants summon the nominee back into the room to let the individual know what they did well and what may need work.

Considering that the award is given to the ranks of technical sergeants and below, most of the candidates have never boarded prior to the diamond board, making the critique session at the end an extremely valuable experience, win or lose.

"The bottom line is it's all about mentorship, it's all about grooming future leaders, also acknowledging people's accomplishments, the unsung heroes and the quiet professionals that normally you wouldn't see or know about unless this board was actually taking place," said Senior Master Sgt. John Gasiorek, president of the first sergeant council.
One of the unsung heroes who benefited from this process is Senior Airman Thomas Buckley, a 2013 Diamond Award nominee.

"It was very gratifying--it makes you want to uphold those standards that you've been living up to at that point, and it makes you want to continue that and improve on yourself and keep growing," said Buckley when asked what insights he gained from the process.
Buckley also had the opportunity to provide guidance on being in front of the board to one of this year's nominees, Senior Airman Daniel Ellingwood.

"There were some nerves," said Ellingwood. "Especially walking in the door."
If Buckley was able to lift a fraction of the tension that accompanies this process for Ellingwood, his mentorship was a success. The mentorship that Buckley was able to provide to Ellingwood is the pith of this award, and expresses what the Air Force is all about.