By Tech. Sgt. Jared Marquis
21st Space Wing Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — United States Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh often says every Airman has a story, be it active duty, reserve, guard or civilian. During his speech at the Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium, he highlighted several of those stories, including one of Peterson AFB’s own, Master Sgt. Gareth Davis, 21st Comptroller Squadron financial services flight chief.
Davis’ Air Force story began when he was eight years old. Davis spent the first years of his life growing up near London. Up to that point, Davis, his mom and his brother had lived a very difficult life. Without much money, they were homeless more often than not, even spending six months in a homeless shelter, said Davis.
“At the time, I didn’t feel like it was a hard life,” he said. “It was how my family lived.”
Davis’s path at that point would not reflect the success he has had since. He described his future as redlined. His grades were poor and his goals didn’t extend past leaving school at 16, an option in the United Kingdom and one most of his family had taken. At age eight, his life and future took a hard right turn. His mom started dating an enlisted Airman stationed at Lakenheath Air Force Base. They met, dated and married. Now retired Chief Master Sgt. Carl Buchanan would be the difference maker in Davis’ life.
“His core values became mine,” said Davis.
Although it didn’t happen immediately, his stepfather’s influence and a move to the United States gave Davis the second chance he needed, he said.
Growing up in the United States, with Buchanan’s influence, Davis started making changes. His grades steadily began to improve and he found a new love in basketball. By the time he graduated high school, his grades had improved to the point he was able to leave school two weeks early and still earn straight A’s. He was also a highly sought after basketball recruit. Davis chose to pursue a basketball scholarship to East Tennessee University where he completed his bachelor’s degree in business administration. He was also offered the opportunity to play professional basketball in London, which he pursued for a short time.
In the end, Davis said he decided the hard and fast professional basketball life wasn’t for him.
“My life didn’t have balance,” David said. “That lifestyle was filled with falsehoods. I knew what I was doing was wrong.”
Because the life he was living conflicted with his values, Davis made the decision to return to his family in the United States.
“I knew I wanted to be a part of something bigger and I wanted to serve,” Davis said. “My plan was to become an American citizen and apply for officer training, then 9/11 happened.”
Davis said he was in his family’s living room in Guam when he saw the planes hit the towers.
“At first, I thought it was a TV show, until I flipped through the channels,” he said. “I went in my parents’ bedroom and woke up my stepdad. He was performing first-sergeant duty at the time. He immediately put on his uniform and went in to work.”
The attacks during 9/11 motivated Davis even more to serve. Because he didn’t have his citizenship, he would have to enlist. He chose financial management as his career and to this day is grateful to be a part of the FM community.
Since enlisting, Davis has earned two Community College of the Air Force degrees and completed his master’s degree. He has also become an advocate for the Air Force, sharing his story and experience across the Air Force. He has become a sought after public speaker as well, which is partially what led to his recognition by Welsh at the symposium.
“I was contacted by Gen. Welsh’s speech writer, Lt. Col. Michelle Libby, to ask if I was available during the AFA,” he said. “When the Chief of Staff asks if you are available, you are. She told me she had heard about my story from several people and asked if I would come to Orlando for the AFA symposium. From there it was a whirlwind.”
Davis said he travelled to Orland for what he called a forever memory. Standing in the auditorium, he was approached by Welsh.
“I was star struck,” Davis said. “Here was the senior military member in the Air Force and he knew me on a first-name basis. The first thing he did was ask me how I was doing. He is a sincere and amazing person.”
Following his greeting with Welsh, Davis was ushered to the green room, where he continued to be star struck.
“There truly were some amazing individuals there with me, from active duty, reserve and civilian,” he said. “They are some of the best Big A Airmen in our Air Force. The experience was incredible.”
Little did Davis know it was about to get more memorable. Prior to the start of Welsh’s speech, Davis was told to leave the seat to his right open, and he soon found out why. During his speech, as Welsh spoke about Davis’ life and his growth, he directly referenced the person who had started Davis on the path, his stepfather. Then he turned to the audience and asked retired Chief Master Sgt. Buchanan to stand and join his son on stage.
“It was incredibly emotional,” Davis said. “I had no idea he was there. It truly was a special moment.”
From the sharpness of his uniform to the passion in his voice when he talks about the Air Force, his service and Airmen, anyone who talks to Davis can see his pride and dedication. He strives every day to set the example of the values his stepfather instilled in him all those years ago.
Perhaps the best way to highlight Davis’ belief in those values is through a quote he provided shortly after Welsh’s speech:
“If you believe in our core values, then live our core values; if you believe in our Airman’s Creed, then live the Airman’s Creed,” he said. “Live your life worthy of what you say you believe.”
Davis’ Air Force journey didn’t start on 9/11, it didn’t start when he enlisted at the age of 25. Davis’ Air Force career started when his mom met and married a U.S. Airman. The values Buchanan instilled in the 8-year-old from the United Kingdom who faced adversity on a daily basis shaped Davis into the Airman he is today.