Military family maintains long, proud heritage

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Joseph Kerzic III
  • 336th Training Squadron Detachment 6
By definition, heritage is a tradition or culture that can be inherited, passed from generation to generation.

Additionally culture is the sum total of activities of any specific people. So the heritage of an Airman is basically the Air Force culture he or she inherits. But in my particular case, I think it is goes even deeper than that.

With Airmen, it's as though when the recruiter has us raise our right hand, that is conception. Basic training is the belly of the Air Force, nurturing and molding us. Finally, the day we march across the field at Lackland Air Force Base, we are born as Airmen. At that time, we inherit the culture left by our forefathers who shaped the Air Force into what it is today. The Air Force branch was born with the National Security Act of 1947, but my family tradition of honor and service to country began 10 years earlier.

In 1937, my grandfather, Joseph Kerzic, joined the Army and served for three years.

Later, after Pearl Harbor was attacked, like many young patriots, he heard the call to duty, but this time he joined the Navy, became a carpenter's mate, and fought valiantly and honorably in the Pacific. According to the story I have, he had a ship shot out from under him but vowed to serve until at least after V-J Day. In the late 1940s, the Air Force was breaking off from the Army and starting up by itself. It sounded exciting and new with many new fields to work in, and they were looking for personnel with military experience, so he switched services yet again. He later remarked, "It doesn't matter what service you end up in, as long as you are serving your country, ready to protect its principles and ideals." He quickly advanced through the enlisted ranks to master sergeant when that was the highest enlisted grade. In 1962, he honorably transferred to the retired reserves of the Air Force. I'm sure he didn't know it at the
time, but he was starting a legacy of valor.

His son, my father, Joseph Kerzic Jr., was faithful to a proud heritage set before him by his father. He joined the Navy in 1968 to defend the principles of freedom and our country during the Vietnam War Era. In 1976, the year I was born, he was promoted to chief petty officer. Throughout my childhood, I was always reminded of the pride of being "The Chief." On Pearl Harbor Day 1979, he was compelled to discharge from the Navy, but never lost his sense of duty. In 1984, he reentered the service of his country, though this time in the Army. Although he grew to love the Army, he always said, "There's nothing like being a Navy Chief." He retired in 1994 and because of his love for his country and for tradition, he convinced me to be faithful to a proud heritage, too, and I joined the Air Force in December 1995. When I joined the military, both my father and grandfather said that out of all the services, the Air Force was the best for taking care of its troops.

In 2010, while stationed with the Navy Seabees in Gulfport, Miss., I was selected for promotion to master sergeant like my grandfather had been. It was then that the Navy chiefs in Charlie Company heard my father was a Navy chief back in the day and my grandfather a Navy builder, maybe even one of the first Seabees during World War II.

The Navy is rich with tradition and heritage is one of the chief's guiding principles. So, the Seabee chiefs asked me if I would be interested in going through the Navy chief initiation. It is the process the Navy E-7 selects go through every year in order to earn their anchor. I remembered hearing stories from my dad almost my whole life about being "The Chief." So I asked him if I should go through it and if it was worth it. All he did was laugh and say, "If you don't, you're a (wimp)," but he didn't say wimp. So I accepted. I put my Navy request "chit" in and my Navy leadership training started.

On Sept. 16, 2010, after six weeks of Navy chief's leadership training and the "Final Night," on what is known as "The happiest day of my life," I was accepted and anchored as a Navy chief petty officer. On April 1, 2011, the Navy Chief birthday, my master sergeant line number finally came up. That day I was wearing master sergeant stripes like my grandfather and a Navy Chief anchor like my father.

This last induction season, I carried on the tradition of honor. I helped train and initiate the next generation of chief petty officers. On Sept. 16, 2011, I was a "sideboy" during the chief pinning ceremony. I got to salute this year's chiefs as they walked across the red carpet and between the ceremonial bullets as newly-pinned chief petty officers, and I did it wearing master sergeant stripes and a Navy chief anchor.

My father often tells me how proud he knows my grandfather is and that he hopes my sons will carry on the family heritage of honor and tradition. If they do he says, he can't wait to be there when they get pinned. Even if only in spirit as he is sure my grandfather was with me. Heritage doesn't pass on with time as we mortals do -- it grows.