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From Junior ROTC to Chief Master Sergeant

  • Published
  • By Courtesy Story
  • 8th Air Force Public Affairs

I was raised in the streets of East Orange and Newark, New Jersey where I lived with my mother and two sisters.  Growing up, my grandfathers and uncle were the only positive male role models I had as a constant in my life. That was, until I slowly began my journey into the United States Air Force. Even though my official military service didn’t begin until October 7th 1993, I like to say my unofficial service date began three years prior.


It was my freshman year of high school and like many of my peers, I did not know what to expect. I was unsure of what clubs I wanted to join, what elective classes I should take, and if I wanted to participate in any extracurricular activities or not. Sometimes, I would observe other students around me and notice things that might interest me. The one class that stuck out to me the most was the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.


By the time JROTC was on my radar, it was too late to sign up for the course as my freshman year was nearing an end.  However, I made sure that it would be one of the classes I took in my sophomore year.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that the JROTC course was something I truly found interesting. My two instructors in the class were a lieutenant colonel and a chief master sergeant.  These two individuals turned out to be my mentors during JROTC and also positive role models that I looked up to on a daily basis.  They taught me about discipline, the importance of giving back to the community, how to be a hardworking team member, and most importantly how to take care of one another. My main roles in JROTC were being a part of the drill team and honor guard.  I quickly rose through the ranks of JROTC over my high school years and ultimately graduated as the deputy commander.  It was only natural that a few months prior to graduating high school, I went to the recruiter’s office and enlisted into the Air Force.


I took my chances and joined the military under an open general contract.  In basic training, I selected 10 jobs that interested me and was assigned the job of Aerospace Control and Warning Systems, which would later become known as a Command and Control Battle Management Operator. I’ll never forget my first supervisor Staff Sgt. Charles Caldwell, someone who I believe was instrumental to my success in the military. He laid out the general expectations as an Airman, but was also transparent about things I needed to know on how to succeed being an African-American airman. I took his advice to heart and always stayed true to who I was and who I wanted to be. Even though my initial reasons for joining the military was to travel and get an education, my children were my biggest motivation to continuing serving all those years. I wanted to make sure I was able to provide them with everything they would need in life and more.  


Over the course of my career I had nine permanent change of stations and five deployments.  Each base came with its own rewards and difficulties.  I always kept an open mind each time I received a new assignment and tried to make the best of it. I made sure to experience what each place had to offer. From fishing for peacock bass next to cargo ships in the Panamanian Canal, to ice fishing with grizzly bears in Alaska.


With all of these different assignments also came many different supervisors over the course of my career.  I was fortunate enough to work under both good and bad leadership, because I was able to learn what not to do as well as what I should do.  One of the main things I learned early on was to treat people the way that I would want to or expect to be treated. For example, I had supervisors that would belittle me or take my accomplishments and give them to others.  Whenever I would face any of these obstacles, I remembered my talks with Sergeant Caldwell and all the mentoring sessions with my two JROTC instructors. Once I realized that I wanted to make a career out of the Air Force, my first goal was to make master sergeant. After achieving that rank, I simply continued to do the things that I liked to do which included being the best at my job and taking care of people. I believe these two things helped me make my next two stripes.  


Overall, being a chief master sergeant in the Air Force has been extremely rewarding.  I have been able to help so many people and change lives daily.  Some words of wisdom I like to pass down to Airmen is to be humble, be able to empathize, be willing to mentor, and always give and receive constructive feedback. I know first-hand that being in the military is not always a Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 type of job.  Some days require coming in early or staying at work late to get the mission done. With that being said, my biggest piece of advice would be to always make sure you find time in your schedule to spend quality time with your family and loved ones; because when it’s time to hang up the uniform they will be the ones that will be there for you.


As I reflect and prepare for retirement, I feel confident passing the torch on and driving off into the wild blue yonder, enjoying the sunsets from the beaches of the panhandle of Florida.  I plan on relaxing, healing, and getting all my aquariums up and running the way that I’ve wanted them to look ever since I took my first oath of enlistment.


Chief Laz