KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, MISS. — While deployed to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, then-Tech. Sgt. Brandon Lambert and his squadron helped move wounded troops into hospitals and onto medical aircraft bound for Germany.
The experience gave Lambert, who was serving as a maintenance superintendant with the 73rd Expeditionary Air Control Squadron, an idea for a volunteer project: He started a penny-a-pushup fundraiser for the Wounded Warrior Project.
“We were seeing wounded warriors every day coming through, so that was an organization that we picked to sponsor,” said Lambert, who pinned on master sergeant in April.
The fundraiser soon spread beyond Kandahar, to another base in Afghanistan, then to another in southwest Asia and eventually to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., where troops raised more than $4,500 for the Wounded Warrior Project by doing thousands of pushups and collecting money from their sponsors.
While at home at Eglin, Lambert has helped collect and deliver more than 7,000 pounds of food per month to feed those in need. He also spends countless hours raising money for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life and works with local Veterans of Foreign Wars posts and AMVETS groups to highlight veterans’ struggles with PTSD. But it’s not just the hours spent on volunteer work that make Lambert Air Force Times’ 2012 Airman of the Year. His supervisors say he is a quiet leader who sets the bar high for his airmen and even higher for himself.
“I enjoy fighting for this country. I enjoy the training; I volunteer for a lot of deployments,” Lambert said. “I’ve always been on the go, and it’s kind of one of those things that I strive for.”
Born into the Air Force
Lambert was born into the Air Force. His father was a career airman stationed in Italy when he was born, and the family spent the next 12 years living in Italy, Greece, Germany and Spain. He said the lure of overseas assignments prompted him to follow in his father’s footsteps after finishing high school in 1997.
In his 15-year career, Lambert worked in maintenance before moving into air control, where he now serves as the digital maintenance supervisor with the 728th Air Control Squadron at Eglin.
He calls Rome, N.Y., his home but said he is rarely in one place for more than a few months.
“In my career, I’ve been at Salt Lake City, Korea, Italy, Guam, England and Florida,” Lambert said.
He has deployed six times to the Middle East, returning in January from a six-month stay in Kandahar, where he was a maintenance flight chief. While deployed, he oversaw more than 30,000 maintenance actions for six work centers that had $60 million in equipment assets.
Service overseas, stateside During the most recent deployment, Lambert stepped up to not only volunteer, but also to lead. He volunteered to be the first sergeant for 52 airmen in the field after serving as an assistant first sergeant. In this role, he tried to help the airmen through a deployment that stretched through the holidays.
“I was trying to boost people’s morale while in an environment like that,” Lambert said. As first sergeant, he coordinated five emergency leaves, set up parties and volunteer activities to keep morale up, and helped put together holiday parties and events such as Wii bowling tournaments and poker games. The leadership was surprising for his rank at the time, said Lt. Col. Jon Rhone, the commander of the 728th Air Control Squadron. “Even before he pinned on master sergeant, as a tech. sergeant, he was leading NCOs at our site in Kandahar,” Rhone said. “He led 50 to 55 people in the middle of a combat zone; that is an amazing feat for a tech. sergeant.”
Rhone said he would gladly have Lambert on his team on the next deployment. “He is a quiet leader. He leads by example and has pretty exacting standards. And the NCOs know what those standards are,” he said. “The best thing about him is he holds himself to those standards.”
Lambert called up his calming presence to help two airmen who survived a near-miss rocket blast at Kandahar. The airmen, who had driven a truck to the exchange on base, were returning to the truck as alarms sounded. An explosion 10 feet behind the truck shattered its back window.
“Luckily, they were safe — nobody got hurt,” Lambert said. He made sure the airmen were evaluated and called in a chaplain to help them recover from the shock of what had happened.
Back stateside, Lambert served as adjutant for the VFW near Hurlburt and “adopted” a RED HORSE squadron, hosting a barbecue for 240 squadron members and coordinating gifts for those who were deployed. He also co-organized a fishing event aimed at educating people on post-tramatic stress disorder, which drew more than 600 local veterans.
Lambert “epitomizes service before self,” wrote his supervisor, Maj. Danielle Folsom.
On the move For now, Lambert is in advanced communications training at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., before moving on to more training at Hurlburt.
He has already completed eight leadership courses and two joint service leadership seminars. He has received recognition as a top NCO throughout his career and was named NCO of the Year and USO Service Member of the Year in 2011 as a technical sergeant with the 552nd Air Control Group at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., and was nominated for the Spirit of Bob Hope Award.
The Air Force has changed a lot in the 15 years since he enlisted, Lambert said. It’s a different mindset, he said, and the service is doing a lot more with fewer people. But the combination of service to his country and other airmen, and the travel, are keeping him focused on his career in the Air Force.
“There are places I’ve been to that most people haven’t gone to,” he said. Last fall, he traveled more than one passport would allow and had to turn it in because it was full of stamps.
Now he has a new passport for wherever his service takes him next.