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Course change fails to daunt determined Airman

Senior Airman Robert Lawson, a knowledge operations specialist with the 910th Communications Squadron here, poses for a photo at his desk on May 14, 2019.

Senior Airman Robert Lawson, a knowledge operations specialist with the 910th Communications Squadron here, poses for a photo at his desk on May 14, 2019. Lawson was accepted into the U.S. Air Force Academy and begins studies on June 27. (U.S. Air Force photo/Eric M. White)

YOUNGSTOWN AIR RESERVE STATION, Ohio --

Three years ago, Robert Lawson had to change his course.

“While I was in high school, I realized I wanted to be a military fighter pilot,” said Lawson. “I did some research on how I could do that, and I found out about the U.S. Air Force Academy when I was a sophomore in high school.”

Lawson grew up in Toledo, Ohio, the youngest of eight siblings, all of whom were adopted by their great aunt, Lula Shelton. His youth had some challenges as his family often didn’t have a lot, but Lawson did have a supportive community of teachers, church leaders and family members who had a positive impact on his outlook and drive. Their support contributed to him persisting when the odds were against him.

During his senior year, Lawson set his sights on Colorado, the home of the Academy. Once there, he’d complete his four-year degree with the hope of being accepted into pilot training. When he didn’t pass the physical fitness assessment required for acceptance into the Academy, he was disappointed but undaunted. Toward the end of his senior year, Lawson decided to join the military anyway and pursue a college degree with the hope of eventually commissioning and going to pilot training. That’s what led him to the 910th Airlift Wing.

He visited a recruiter and found an opening with the 910th Communications Squadron here. He shipped to basic military training in September 2016, then attended technical school before arriving at his new unit for duty. He didn’t know much about the 910th CS before signing up, but he’s glad it’s where he landed. He said it’s a great unit to be in and offered him a lot of support.

Maj. Rus Whitlock, commander of the 910th CS, sees high leadership potential in Lawson, which is why he got behind the young Airman’s efforts to attain an Academy appointment.

“I would describe him as the quiet professional,” said Whitlock. “I think a number of people were surprised when they learned of his pursuit of an appointment to the Academy. It wasn’t a surprise when they thought about his character and the example that he set every time he was here for a Unit Training Assembly.”

After learning his CS job in knowledge operations and climbing the skill ladder, Lawson began to feel the Academy calling again. His commander and supervisor both backed him one hundred percent.

Tech. Sgt. Laura Stredney is the chief of knowledge operations for the 910th CS and Lawson’s supervisor.

“Senior Airman Lawson has so many good qualities behind his quiet exterior,” said Stredney. “I’d say the best one is that he’s dependable. Whenever he is asked to do something, he’s efficient and thorough. He has a big heart and a welcoming smile and a quiet confidence that isn’t showy.”

Lawson started working through the application process with Stredney and Whitlock’s help and took his fitness assessment again, this time with a few years of military fitness experience behind him. A few months ago, the Mission Support Group held a commander’s call during the UTA. There, Col. Don Wren, 910th Mission Support Group commander, called Lawson to the stage for reasons unbeknownst to the senior airman. There, in front of his MSG peers, Wren announced that Lawson had been accepted into the Air Force Academy.

It was a proud moment for Lawson, but also for his supervisors and peers.

“One of the reasons that I think that Senior Airman Lawson is such a good fit for the Air Force Academy is because he faces every goal with perseverance and doesn’t complain about the adversity that he’s had to overcome,” said Stredney. “Getting accepted into the Academy wasn’t just the act of applying and being accepted, he’s been working on it for a very long time and hasn’t lost sight of the finish line.”

Lawson’s studies began June 27, 2019, and should last four years. Upon graduation, he’ll begin a five-year active duty Air Force commitment as an officer. His sights are still set on the skies as he hopes to be accepted to pilot’s school toward the end of his Academy tenure, but for now, he’s focused on succeeding through the rigors of college.

“I’m feeling pretty excited,” said Lawson. “I know it will be challenging, but I’m excited for the challenge.”

Lawson’s leadership at the 910th CS will miss his character and contributions to mission success, but is excited to see where he goes in his career and glad the Air Force will gain his leadership once he graduates and receives his commission as an officer.

“He has a calmness about him, kind of an inner peace,” said Whitlock. “Very warm and personable but thoughtful, always thoughtful. There’s always a smile on his face. While he is an Airman of few words, it’s always evident that he is very observant. Never once did we have an instance of him not setting the example for behavior and meeting the commander’s expectations. He was really a pleasure to have around, and I got the sense he enjoyed being here.”

As for his family at the 910th CS, Lawson will always be welcome.

“The cyber beasts are extremely proud to call Robert Lawson one of our own,” said Whitlock, “and we have already had a discussion about planning to attend his graduation in four years. He should make the finest example of an officer and a leader for the next generation of Airmen.”