CMSGT Laurent retires after 30 years of service
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- "The part of my career I've valued the most is having an impact on service members and their families," he said. "Knowing that I was out there trying to do good for Airmen helped motivate me to continue to serve."
Those are the words of a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, retired Chief Master Sgt. James A. Laurent, Command Chief Master Sergeant for United States Forces Japan and 5th Air Force. On March 10, 2016, Laurent retired from service, leaving behind a legacy of positive and motivating leadership as well as heartfelt service to Airmen.
Laurent's career has seen much recognition for accomplishments such as magna cum laude graduate from Park University and two-time First Sergeant of the Year. He has also received decorations, such as the Meritorious Service Medal with seven oak leaf clusters. However, Laurent said that he does not consider any recognition to be the valued part of his career. Laurent loved serving Airmen. Driven to see a positive influence in the lives of those he encountered, Laurent served as a first sergeant for 10 years before becoming a command chief.
"I think nearly anybody who has even briefly met him would agree that Airmen are at the forefront of his mind," said Airman 1st Class Cody Laurent, 517th Airlift Squadron loadmaster and James Laurent's son. "He's always looking out for ways he can improve the quality of life for anybody and everybody under him."
Yet, Laurent was not always motivated by the chance to impact lives.He began his career out of need for a job and he did not see it as much more than that. He was familiar with the demoralization that can come with challenges such as long hours and budget cuts. Laurent related a memory from his years before becoming a first sergeant, when he spent nine years in security forces.
"Once, as a young Airman at Langley Air Force Base, VA, I was just getting back from a two-week exercise," Laurent said. "We were out in the field the whole time and didn't even get to take a shower. When we got back, the wing kicked off another exercise before we could even turn in our weapons. My wife was there to pick me up and I had to tell her to go home. I was very demotivated at that time."
Although Laurent explained that discouraging challenges have persisted throughout his career, there was a point when he experienced an eye opening event that changed the rest of his career.
"When my kids were growing up I was deploying to Turkey for OPERATION Northern Watch. I had been gone quite a bit and my kids were upset that I was going again. When I told them that kids their age in northern Iraq were going to school for the first time without having to worry about being killed, they were glad I was able to assist. Iraq was where I realized that what we, the Air Force, were changing the world."
Laurent explained that his perspective of his job began to shift. He explained that after seeing the faces of people he was helping, he realized that what Airmen do as part of the Air Force is really about serving people even when you don't see them. The actions of Airmen affect the world in ways that they often cannot see firsthand.
Gathering from his experience, Laurent explained ways he maintained the change in perspective that shaped his career. He suggests considering the bigger picture behind the customer one is assisting.
"Take Yokota for example," Laurent said. "A C-130 crew flies into a remote area to deliver life-saving supplies to a village in Nepal. Before that, a team of maintainers made sure the aircraft was capable to fly. Before that, a team of logisticians determined what was needed. There are also intelligence, plan-ners, schedulers and more. Those Airmen all worked in an office that our engineers made sure had power and light. Don't forget, those are not computers monitoring the air traffic and controlling skies. Those are Airmen. Every day, each of our Airmen supports other Airmen who supports other Airmen and when all is done, pallets float safely to the ground. Lives are saved. That is the impact Airmen have."
According to Laurent, that holistic perspective of Airmen's value has defined his approach to them as individuals. As a first sergeant, he viewed the importance each man and woman he worked with in light of his or her impact on other Airmen and on the Air Force mission at large. That perspective motivated him to serve better.
Further, as Laurent explained, there has been another key to his leadership. That key has pushed him forward in situations like the Langley exercises, which for some could have been a breaking point. It is also perhaps one of the most simple and time-honored concepts of progress.
"You deal with the cards you're given and move on," Laurent said.
Laurent explained that fighting the bad tends to drown out the good. Airmen might forget that they are in Japan, along with all the opportunities they have to enjoy it. They might forget that they are able to change lives of people in the Philippines or Nepal through humanitarian missions.
"The most successful groups have a positive attitude," Laurent said. "It's not about being cheesy; it's about being honest and dealing well with what you've got. I learned early on that the organization you lead, big or small, is going to take on your personality. If you've got a negative personality, you're going to have a negative squadron. If you have a positive personality, you're going to have a positive squadron."
According to his son Cody, the personality that Laurent projects is genuinely the kind of man he is.
"He truly is an outstanding Airman and a great dad," Cody said. "It's been awesome getting to follow in his footsteps and getting to know him in a professional manner, but he will always be my dad."
At the end of the day, the one thing Laurent wants Airmen to understand the most is the message that, perhaps, has defined his career.
"I've watched the impact of service members over my career," Laurent said. "I can honestly say that the world would not be the same today without what they do every day. I don't think we can thank service members enough for the sacrifices they and their families go through."