Commandant leaves his legacy in the schoolhouse

  • Published
  • By Jillian Coleman
  • 72nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Military culture is known to involve moves and changes, trials and tribulations, pride and sacrifice. There is no story that mirrors another; each is unique. The uniqueness that accompanies each Airman, little by little, is what serves as the building blocks to a smarter, innovative and culturally diverse United States Air Force.

For Senior Master Sgt. Bobby Kazmir, his 19 years in the Air Force have been nothing short of challenging or trying. They have, through the highs and lows, brought him some of the most rewarding experiences and life lessons to date.

Kazmir, who has called Tinker Air Force Base home for the last 10 years, is due to permanently change stations in September. It’s through the last decade that Kazmir found his true calling and his life’s purpose. His heart for service intertwined with a calling to serve. The rest fell into place. He has led the Airman Leadership School, bringing the schoolhouse to new heights throughout his Tinker tenure.

He joined the Air Force at 23 years old. He was married and had one child and managing a fast food restaurant. There was notability in being the youngest manager in the company’s history, but Kazmir felt like he was just existing.

“I was treading water,” Kazmir said. “I was working to pay bills…working to just go back to work. It was a cycle that left me unfulfilled. So I talked to my wife and we never looked back.”

 Originally from Texas, Kazmir admittedly joined the Air Force to “see the world,” and see what opportunities could come from a career in the military. After Technical School in Mississippi, Kazmir was stationed only four hours from where he called home, at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas.

“It didn’t take long to fall in love with the Air Force, and it was early on that I would really feel excited about my future and the future for my family,” he said.

Kazmir found his niche in the communications career field, and his first chance to embark on a life outside the U.S. came with his second assignment, Kadena Air Base. 

“We were in Japan for four years,” Kazmir said. “I was attached to (Air Force Special Operations Command) and I deployed a lot. I pretty much lived out of a suitcase, but I was able to see my kids grow up and that’s something you can’t get back.”

He was working theater deployable communications, which involved things like satellites in tree tops and radars off the grid. It was a good experience. So much so, that Kazmir tried to stay overseas on a more permanent basis. The Air Force had other plans.

After Kadena, Kazmir and co. moved to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, where he was assigned to the base communications squadron. In retrospect, a lot of lessons were learned during the years back stateside.

At the time however, Kazmir spent most of his energy focusing on what was different about Luke AFB and what he didn’t like. The opportunities he didn’t take advantage of are things Kazmir still looks back on as “missed opportunities,” but the lessons would shape him in the years that followed.

The grit and perseverance that cushions Kazmir’s humility and work ethic were largely born out of the deployments that took him to the Middle East. He deployed to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, returned home just briefly before deploying again with the Army to Afghanistan.

“My family considered that span to be a 10-month deployment,” he said. “It was a growth experience in every sense of the word. It made me appreciate a lot of things, but it certainly made me a better father, a better husband and a better noncommissioned officer.”

While deployed, Kazmir interviewed for an instructor position for a detachment at Tinker. It was 2010 and the role would involve standing up a new communications flight to train the 3rd Combat Communications Group.

He made it to Tinker, hired a new team and they were then all deployed to different areas in Afghanistan. Kazmir spent eight months in Kabul and it was during that time that the 3rd Herd was decommissioned.

This was arguably a curve ball thrown to any normal individual, but it was almost expected with military life. Kazmir didn’t have a choice to think about what could have been. Instead, it was, “ok, what’s next?”

He pinned on Master Sgt., had completed two years of instructor school and found himself assigned to the 752nd Operations Support Squadron here at Tinker. He would serve as the plans and programs superintendent before the opportunity with ALS came along in 2015.

It would be the three years as commandant of the schoolhouse that would reignite and reinvigorate Kazmir’s passion for people and willingness to serve. It would be the hallmark of his illustrious Air Force career, the success he had only dreamed of.

“My first nine months in the seat, we had an 80 percent turnover in the cadre, including myself. It was challenging, but the bright side to that was that it allowed for major innovation. We had fresh eyes looking in, we brought in a new perspective which led us to start new programs and really develop our mission,” he said.

“We are delivering education passionately, opting to always go above and beyond. We are here to equip our Airmen to be better, more effective leaders. I do have an important role as the commandant, but none of it happens by myself. It’s all because of the team I work with that makes this schoolhouse so successful.”

He attributes the prosperity of ALS to his cadre of four instructors as well as the leadership team. Through the autonomy offered from the upper level, Kazmir and his team have the opportunity to take risks. Did mistakes come along the way? Of course. But so did innovation beyond measure. That, he said, isn’t possible without people believing in you.

“I’ve been so fortunate to leave this base having worked for the best command chief, Chief (Melissa)Erb,” Kazmir added. “I have had some of the best mentors in my life come out of this opportunity, and Chief Erb’s influence is right on par; she’s at the top.

“I also have never been a part of such a high performing team, ever. The cadre here is truly limitless and never ceases to amaze me. I learned that intentionally hiring people who disagree with me (or others) has made the schoolhouse better. It’s easy to hire the ‘Yes Man’ but at the end of the day, where is the growth from that?”

The ability to control the diversity has allowed the unit to improve. Disagreement is positive, depending on your perspective. For Kazmir, that opposition allows for constructive conflict and there, iron truly sharpens iron.

The right interaction with another person spurs improvement. Improvement creates positive environments. Positive environments are contagious.

Whether it’s the development of the Sharp Image Award, which is measured by the least amount of cumulative demerits through inspections and curriculum, or the adaptation of integrating civilians into the schoolhouse, Kazmir has led vigorously, bravely and honestly. He is raw and he is open. He has made robust change and he has made horrible mistakes. He is human.

Kazmir has been at Tinker longer than he’d been at his last two bases, combined. There is comfortability in Oklahoma, in the schoolhouse, in the job. There’s hesitation with moving on because it means unfamiliarity is on the horizon. There’s fear because it means relearning a career field that once was all he knew. There’s also patience, maturity and experience however, that will allow him to embrace the change that will eventually come.

Growth doesn’t come from complacency, it comes from newness, from struggle, from stepping outside your comfort zone.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s the importance of embracing change. Don’t be scared. It’s okay to be nervous; that means you’ll approach it smartly. But don’t hinder yourself because you’re afraid to step out of your comfort zone.

“I always felt happy with work, but I never felt truly fulfilled until I found my calling to pour into others. There is so much gratification, both personally and professionally, when you realize you found what you were born to do.

“A wild ride it has been, the last 19 years. But it’s not over yet.”