Caring for cadets: AMT steps into 'drop zone'

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jasmine Reif
  • U.S. Air Force Public Affairs

Editor's note: This is the second in a three-part series highlighting military trainers at the Air Force Academy.

Growing up in rural Tupelo, Mississippi, Master Sgt. Zachary Marshall remembers having what he needed: just the basics and nothing extra.


Marshall, an academy military trailer for Cadet Squadron 10, said his parents taught him nothing is free; you earn it through work, giving back and helping-out. He’s held to this philosophy throughout his career and said it’s been beneficial at the Academy, where he provided enlisted leadership for a squadron of 105 cadets.


“It's a balance; you should never just expect anything,” he said.  


Maj. Andy Allen, CS-10’s air officer commanding, said his positive relationship with Marshall is the key component to the squadron’s success. 


 “We complement each other and provide different perspectives of Air Force operations and life for the cadets’ benefit,” he said. “I spend a lot of time at the Academy airfield for flying duties, so Master Sergeant Marshall fills in during my absence, supporting and guiding the cadets.”


Marshall said he loves the Air Force and will continue to serve as long as possible, but his path wasn’t always as clear. His parents are Air Force veterans; in 1997, when Marshall was a junior in high school, they asked what he wanted to do with his life.


“I worked as a stock clerk at a grocery store for two years before I joined the Air Force,” he said. “I hadn’t thought about what I wanted to do with my life, but two weeks after they asked me about my plan, I was speaking to an Air Force recruiter.”


Marshall was 17 when he enlisted Aug. 8, 1998 as an aircraft structural maintenance specialist. He learned to repair aircraft skin and structure to keep the Air Force flying high.


Change in Career

Fast-forward to 2013, and Marshall was not impressed by his overseas assignment options. He looked for ways to broaden his career and one option was to apply for AMT duty.


“It seemed like a great chance to leave my comfort zone and improve my communications and interpersonal skills,” he said.


Marshall's application for AMT duty was approved and he reported to the Academy in August 2013.


“I was motivated to come here to grow," he said. "It was a bit nerve-wracking at first; I just interacted with cadets like I did with my Airmen.”


Marshall said the life of an AMT has benefits and challenges, such as regularly working on weekends, but the cadets keep him motivated.


“My favorite part of being an AMT is the interaction with the cadets” he said. “They are all very bright and have great stories about what got them here. The things they get to do here are just amazing. It makes me happy when they want to know about what I’ve done in the Air Force or just need advice in general. It's neat to have developed that rapport.”


Marshall said the long days fuel a workaholic mindset among AMTs. He feels he’s coped well, but knows it’s more difficult for AMTs who are married and have families.


“One thing I’ve grown used to is what some might perceive to be the lack of visible value in what AMTs do,” Marshall said. “The cadets are busy and we pour all our time into them, but the positive results of our influence are not always immediately seen. Later in their careers, I’m sure they’ll reflect on their time here and appreciate what their AMTs and AOCs did for them.”


Last semester, Cadet 2nd Class Zach Maginnis, the-then CS-10 superintendent, worked with Marshall on a variety of issues and said he gained immense respect for his AMT’s leadership abilities.


 “He takes his role as an AMT very seriously but doesn’t take himself seriously, which I view as a gift,” Maginnis said. “He was very easy-going and approachable about things, but whenever there was an issue to deal with, he didn’t hesitate to drop whatever he was working on to help us reach a solution. He’s a great professional when it comes to standards and setting an example. I have no doubts about turning to him for advice when a problem comes up.”


Despite his busy schedule, Marshall enjoys working on cars, cooking and brewing homemade beer. He recently stepped out of his comfort zone to complete the jump program via the Academy’s Airmanship Program.


 “The thought of [parachuting] will scare you, but I give all the credit to the great cadet and leadership at the airfield," Marshall said. "The training and encouragement gives you the confidence to stand in the door and let go.”


Allen watched Marshall’s first jump, something he said was as a great way for his AMT to experience a premier Academy program with the cadets.


“I was all for it, but I knew it wouldn't be easy because the jump program is physically and mentally demanding, and he still had to fulfill his duties as an AMT,” he said. “I knew how rewarding it would be for him to develop professionally and personally in that way. It was great seeing the look on his face walking off the drop zone." 


Marshall’s said his mother taught him to focus and his dad taught him hard work is good for the soul. He said he applies their advice on a daily basis and can see this attitude translate to his cadets.  


“These are mostly 18 to 26 year-old men and women who balance school, military life and anything extra we put on their plates,” he said. “Their day starts at 6:45 a.m. and ends at 11 p.m. Every hour is accounted for and has a purpose. Cadets who can handle that level of commitment succeed. This place is not for most people, but that's why it's the U.S Air Force Academy.”


Maginnis said his AMT sticks to the high standards he expects cadets to achieve.


“He has set the bar extremely high,” Maginnis said. “I know I will compare every senior NCO I meet during my career to him. It has been an honor to work with and to be mentored by him.”