KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
Between the vast waters of Lake Superior and woodlands stretching over 890,000 acres sits the Bay Mills Indian Community, traditionally called Gnoozhekaaning, Michigan, home to the Ojibwa or Chippewa tribe.
Staff Sgt. Zachary Leblanc, 81st Security Forces Squadron supply NCO in charge, grew up in the Bay Mills Indian Community where he learned some hard truths at a young age.
“You experience racism no matter what race you are,” said Leblanc. “When I was growing up, people off the reservation would say ‘Go back to your reservation,’ and I was called all kinds of names, like redskin or savage, and it didn’t make sense to me.”
LeBlanc left for the Air Force after three semesters of college as an escape from the environment of drugs and crime plaguing the community. Soon after leaving, he set his goal of improving the community with the knowledge and experience he would gain from his time in service.
“Leadership capabilities are a big part of the Native American culture,” said Leblanc. “From a young age, people are taught to be brave leaders. It comes natural to some people. Others are timid and quiet, but this does not mean they aren’t leaders. Two words I use till this day are ‘Keep going.’ There’s plenty of hardships I’ve encountered, but I just keep going.”
Leblanc has learned from his fair share of challenges throughout his personal and Air Force career, and believes that learning about other’s personal difficulties could make the Air Force a stronger and better team.
“To know somebody, you have to know where they came from, their hardships in life and why they do the things they do,” said LeBlanc. “Everybody has a purpose and is here for a reason. They bring different resources and skill-sets to the table.”
By embracing the different people Leblanc has met during his time in the Air Force, he learned a new definition for family.
“Family means home, but family also means these people will always be there for you no matter what,” said Leblanc. “I’m proud of where I am, I’m proud of where I came from and everything I’ve been through because it made me what I am today. Every time I go home, I see a change. It’s a lot more built up and close-knit and it seems to be a better place than when I left.”