15 months ago, I decided to end a 10-year run of decorated military service in favor of gaining my independence as a person back. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the military overall and I experienced a tremendous era of personal growth during that decade. A great deal of my success in the Air Force was a result of a particular person who crossed my path early in my career, setting the stage for my ascension late. In today’s post to The 24 To 30 feature, I’ll cover the story of Lairent Williams…
THE BACKGROUND. My history with Lairent goes back to South Georgia…the Moody Air Force Base days in good ol’ Valdosta. After leaving Wichita Falls, Texas and Sheppard Air Force Base as the Distinguished Graduate of my technical school block, I was assigned to what was then known as the 347th Civil Engineer Squadron. When I reported for my first day of duty, I found out that Lairent was my immediate supervisor…he went by the last name of Jones in those days. I remember our very first initial feedback session. He asked me all the basic questions supervisors ask of first-term Airmen. Why did you come into the Air Force? What do you expect from the Air Force? What are your goals while in the Air Force? I told him why I decided to enlist into the Air Force…told him what I expected the Air Force to do for me personally. I also told him that my goals were clear: (1) to be the best Operations Manager at Moody AFB, (2) to get my degree, (3) to travel, and (4) to get to the rank he currently had (Staff Sergeant). He told me all of my goals were attainable as long as I didn’t f*** up along the way. Of the subordinates that fell under Lairent in the 347th CES Customer Service Office, I was the newest, youngest, and most junior…a trifecta no Air Force enlisted servicemember ever wants to have. Despite that, he didn’t treat me any differently than the older, more senior-ranked people. He had a great relationship with all of us. He joked around with us in the office, often targeting us with his trademark “you motherf***er”. During a Prime BEEF Readiness Training Day, in which we were learning about GPS machines and waypoints, he purposely put in the wrong coordinates into the machine I was assigned to and had me and my partner in one of the no man’s land spots on the base…our E-Z-Go ran out of gas behind that stunt. My personal relationship with him was really laid back. I respected the rank and authority he had over me but he didn’t push it around the way I saw a lot of Staff Sergeants do with their junior enlisted subordinates back then. I felt at ease with him. It was literally like having a boss you could hang out with and it not feel like one was the supervisor and the other the subordinate. We joked around on each other all the time. There was the time he hosted a boxing party for the Mike Tyson vs. Kevin McBride fight and I skipped out early without paying the agreed $5, leading him to snatching my notebook computer from my desk while I was on a bathroom break and holding it hostage until I paid up…something that sent me into a panic that included real tears and a Security Forces report. There was the time, when I was briefly an in-house controller for the HVAC Shop, that he called me every time the crash phone rang to run all the way up to the main office just to answer it. I got him back big time on that one, hitting him where it hurt a little bit…those famed chicken wings from the Georgia Pines Dining Facility. As I was one of his few subordinates who was on the meal card, he always instructed me to bring him back wings from the dining facility since I essentially got them for free. On this particular occasion, I brought him back a large carry-out box with 1 wing in it. I got a good laugh out of it and he chided me with a “you motherf***er”. Though our professional and personal relationship was pretty good, it had its tough moments. Under his supervision, I received 11 letters of counseling, 3 letters of reprimand, and a score of verbal counseling sessions. I had a bit of a reputation for being rebellious and quite the nonconformist. Ask him and he’ll tell you that I was easily one of his most talented subordinates and easily one of his most difficult subordinates. Not long after he ascended to the rank of Technical Sergeant, he got reassigned to another base and I came under the supervision of another NCO in the office. Before he left, he called me into his office and handed me the contents of my Personnel Information File, which included the aforementioned LOCs and LORs. His parting gift was wiping my slate clean. For the rest of my time at Moody—and the Air Force, at large—I kept in close contact with him. I always found myself asking him for professional advice on a process and he almost always had the same answer: “you motherf***er, you know how I taught you to do that $#!+”. Even today, while we’re both removed from our days of military service, we still keep in touch. Word on the street is that he’s an actor making his way through the industry now.
THE MOMENT OF IMPACT. When it comes to impact moments with Lairent, only one stands out. That’s because it was that particular moment that set off a chain reaction for years to come. In March 2007—only weeks away from leaving Moody AFB for the assignment in Japan—I found myself in a world of trouble. I had made the mistake of misusing the Government Travel Card…one of my youthful mistakes. I ended up getting subject to Article 15 actions. Though I was no doubt guilty of the charges before me, the Area Defense Counsel suggested I plead with my commanding officer for leniency and that multiple letters speaking to my character would help along with a personal appearance. That’s when I reached out to Lairent, who had left over a year prior for his assignment in Florida. He chided me for my indiscretions but wrote a personal letter to the 23rd Civil Engineer Squadron commander (the organization had shifted from the 347th to the 23rd by that point), speaking to my character. In my personal appearance before the commander, after I pleaded my case, I ended up getting just a verbal reprimand for my actions. The commander made sure I knew that among the factors that contributed to such a light penalty was Lairent’s letter, which chronicled my history as his subordinate. Because I received the lightest of penalties in those proceedings, I was able to go on with my assignment to Japan. In essence, Lairent’s letter action allowed me a chance to restart my career as my mindset towards military culture and professionalism changed along with my work ethic. It eventually resulted in me winning Airman of The Year.
HOW IT GOT ME TO 30. When I look back on it, I can’t say where I’d be if I didn’t have Lairent as a supervisor. If it was anybody else my first 2 years in the Air Force, I would’ve got the boot. I mean, I did have 14 total LOCs and LORs on me. That surely spelled out troubled Airman. I think he understood the immense talent underneath the surface and did as much damage control as he could…in protecting me from my own destruction and the wrath of those above him in the chain of command. I think he saw how much of a sponge I was as far as taking in all that he taught me about the role of a 3E6X1 and how precise I was about the actual performance of the work and figured my career was worth saving. If that was the case, I owe him a debt of gratitude because in him saving my career—both in the early days and when the Tokyo assignment was on the line—he allowed me the chance to find my niche in facilities management.