DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
In the back of a massive hangar packed with B-1B Lancers, maintenance personnel and the dull smell of grease is a door leading to a winding hallway. The stink of oil fades as the door shuts and is replaced with a delicate aroma of cooking meat and warm ovens. The hall lets out to a small open area with walls lined with B-1 mascots and tailflash replicas framed in black. Airmen with worn reflective belts and boots stained nearly black with hydraulic fluid gather their food and wait in line at a register run by the very chipper “King” of the Lift.
The Lift is an extension of the Longhorn Dining Facility, placed in the back of one of the hangars on the flightline. Its purpose is to provide Airmen working on the B-1 and C-130J aircraft with a close-by version of the DFAC. This gives them access to warm meals they may have otherwise not had time to get. Enter Airman 1st Class Malik King, 7th Force Support Squadron food service apprentice with a bright smile and a grateful view on life.
“I’m thankful of where I came from because it made me who I am,” said King. “People always ask me, ‘Why are you always so happy,’ and it’s just because I’m grateful for what the Air Force has given me.”
King grew up as one of four children, two older brothers and a younger sister, raised by a single mother in Cleveland, Ohio. While she did her best to provide for them, keeping clothes on their backs and food in their mouths was a struggle.
“My dad left when I was about eight years old and, since then, my mom has been raising us from being underfoot small children to grown adults,” said King. “She’s done a lot to give us a good life, y’know, a better life than what we had growing up.”
Originally enlisting to become a survival, evasion, resistance and escape instructor, King was reassigned after failing the swim portion of the course. The change from SERE to a career in services originally left him unsure, but he attacked the possibilities that came with the switch.
“At first, I was definitely devastated,” said King. “[The Air Force] gave me services and, at first, I was definitely skeptical. I asked myself, ‘Why am I even doing this?’ One day, though, I stopped to look at all of the people sitting down eating the food I helped serve. Those maintainers, construction workers, crew chiefs and others that can now go out and do their jobs, fixing those planes, dropping bombs and protecting our country wouldn’t have eaten without people like me doing what I do. Everyone has their part so why not play mine?”
An outgoing personality can leave a lasting impression, especially when it comes from a member of the junior enlisted tier. Maintaining that energy, though, can be tough without the right motivation behind the individual.
“All I have now is my mom and sister to protect,” said King. “If this is my way of defending them, then I’m going to make the best of this defense that I can. I can help provide for others that protect the country they live in, so that’s what I’m going to do.”
When a person is excited about what they’re doing, their motivation is most noticeable to the people closest to them, namely their coworkers and supervisors. The positive attitude is not only pleasant to have around, it can also be infectious.
“King is the kind of Airman that self-motivates and takes the initiative,” said Staff Sgt. Marie Brown, 7th FSS food services shift leader. “You would never know if he was having a bad day unless he told you. He left any outside problems at the door and was a pleasure to work with.”
When not working at The Lift, King exercises leadership skills as council president of the Soulfire Café.
“I do my best to make sure Airmen have somewhere nice to hang out when they’re not at work,” said King. “It’s a type of spiritual resilience provided through the chapel. We talk to the Airmen and ask how we can make it better, and they give us plenty of good feedback, so we’re always trying to improve it and make it better. It’s just another way I can support the men and women who fight for and protect our country.”
Goals can be established early on in a career and often help set up a path for progression. A desire to succeed is an absolute must in achieving them and, when paired with the willingness to work toward them, are a positive influence.
“I want to stay enlisted and I definitely aim to push past 20 years,” said King. “It’s been a great ride up to now and I have no complaints. I do want to try to get back into SERE at some point soon, too. It’s what I signed up to do in the first place and I promised myself I’d try. Being in services is a great way to help and protect people, but I’m a physical person and, if I could go back, I would in a heartbeat.”
While career progression is a heavy focus, the pursuit of education was not lost to King. With plans to work toward his Community College of the Air Force degree underway, he intends to wrap up something he never really had an opportunity to work on back home.
“Because I was raised in a big town, I never really needed, or got, my driver’s license,” said King. “Just recently, I passed the drivers course and just have to wait for that to come in the mail. Once I have it, I plan on using my tax return to help me get a car and then I can focus on my CCAF.”
With all the positivity surrounding him and his future, King says he owes it all to the Air Force.
“I’m just grateful for what [the Air Force] has given me,” said King. “A roof over my head, free food, free healthcare and free education. I’m thankful for it all.”