By Dave Smith
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colorado — Giving back to the community where he lives is important to Tech. Sgt. William Gazzaway, deputy chief of Infrastructure for the 21st Communications Squadron.
In recognition of his community involvement, Gazzaway was honored May 13 as 2015 Best Enlisted Personnel in the Pikes Peak Region, E5-E6 category, by the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance Military Affairs Council. He was chosen from a group of five finalists.
Gazzaway’s community involvement is no secret so when his supervisor, Senior Master Sgt. Brian Smith, 21st CS Operations Flight superintendent, got wind the MAC was soliciting nominations, he knew his group had one.
“We saw it was based on what they do in the community, and he was already the mission support group NCO of the year, so me and Chief Persichetti wanted to nominate him,” Smith said. Persichetti is the 21st Mission Support Group superintendent.
The career side of the package was solid. Gazzaway was a multiple NCO of the year winner, but where his credentials for the honor really shine is his involvement with the community. There are two areas of the community where Gazzaway dedicates the most time and effort: providing hospitalized children Christmas presents and raising funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society by coaching a Team In Training marathon team.
“He’s always constantly doing stuff. I don’t know where he gets the energy,” Smith said.
Keith Klaehn, a retired Army command master sergeant, heads the panel that selects honorees, said the group considers the entire nomination, but casts an eye toward the community service portion.
“We look at the whole package, but what stands out to us is involvement in the community,” Klaehn said. “We put emphasis on people out doing great things in our community.”
“When I heard them say ‘technical’ I knew he’d won it,” Smith said. “I think I was more ecstatic than he was. He was composed; I was jumping up and down because I knew he earned it with everything he’s gone through.”
The honor is not the first in Gazzaway’s career, but he said it may mean the most to him because it is for giving back. His parents were examples of giving back to their communities, modeling the attitude before him as he grew up. But as life moved on, other things began to compete for his attention.
“I kind of lost (the giving spirit) when I joined the military,” he said. “Not that I don’t love the Air Force, but I worried about making rank, showing up and not getting in trouble.”
It took a family tragedy to bring him back to the attitude he grew up with. A little more than a dozen years ago, Gazzaway and his wife, a master sergeant assigned to U.S. Air Force Academy, got news every parent dreads: their first born son, Kadin, was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of five months. He fought the disease until it claimed his young life when he was four years old.
He recalled all the people who helped out and did so many things when Kadin was sick that made an impact on him.
“It seemed like the right thing to do,” he said. “There was a family who went around and gave gifts to kids in the hospital around Christmas and now we carry that on.”
Now each Christmas season the Gazzaways do some word-of-mouth fundraising for gifts to give children who are in the hospital over Christmas. They contact a hospital near where they are stationed to find out how many kids will be there, and between donations and money from their own pockets, they provide gifts for those kids.
“Sometimes when we raise enough money their siblings get presents too. It’s so cool,” Gazzaway said.
Going before the retired colonels and chiefs on the selection panel was nerve wracking, he said, but they made him feel relaxed. There were more personal questions and fewer military career questions during his interview. Gazzaway was prepared to talk about Kadin, but he didn’t expect it to come on the first question.
Along with questions about leadership, current events and education, they asked him who his professional and personal heroes are. He said naming his professional heroes was easy, it is the Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines serving this country. He noted that he has a special admiration for the members of the Special Forces, with whom he worked on deployment.
When it came to his personal hero the answer was even easier, his son Kadin.
“Mostly it’s because through the whole time he was doing treatments and chemotherapy he never complained about being at the hospital or staying over Christmas. He had tubes all over him and he still played,” Gazzaway recalled. And that is what guides his community involvement.
“My volunteering has to mean something. I don’t just check it off of a list. I don’t do it for the recognition, but does it mean something. Anything that deals with children… I try to think about how old Kadin would be and what he’d be doing. Kids at Christmas and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society are really my base,” he said. Kadin would be 13 now.
Gazzaway continues his personal mission of giving back at work as well. He said he is blessed to be trusted enough to help and mentor younger Airmen, opportunities technical sergeants don’t normally get.
“I am still giving back, helping younger Airmen to avoid some of the mistakes I made,” he said. “I love the maintenance side, but I love the teaching and mentoring side of the house. I am probably better at that,” Gazzaway said.