By the time the Army launched its March to Service campaign earlier this spring, Sgt. 1st Class Michael Lambert was well on his way to serving as a role model for local youth.
March to Service, held March 21-31, 2022, is a nationwide recruiting initiative designed to generate support for the Army by reconnecting service members with their communities.
In early 2021 Lambert, a Soldier with the Fort Bragg-based U.S. Army Security Assistance Training Management Organization (SATMO), began volunteering with his Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) alma mater at Purnell Swett High School in Pembroke, N.C.
Stationed an hour down the road from his former high school, Lambert understood the harsh reality concerning his old stomping ground in Robeson County. It leads the state of North Carolina with the highest rates of crime, violence and poverty. And according to Army statistics, fewer and fewer youth nationwide meet the minimum qualifications to serve in the military because of societal issues like obesity, drug use, criminal records or health problems.
For this reason, “I decided that if only one person benefits from my presence or from something that I have said, then I would have done all I set out to do,” said Lambert, “and all the time I’ve invested would be worth it.”
Lambert said it has been a privilege to mentor Purnell Swett students, and a fitting honor since this is “where my military career actually began.”
But JROTC mentorship was just the beginning. Lambert wanted to do more.
As part of the annual March to Service Campaign, Lambert and his sister, Glenda Lea, launched Operation Mindset, challenging the community to step out of its comfort zone and join him in running and walking on his old high school’s running track for 24 hours. The event was a success, raising awareness and donations for the school’s JROTC program and its ports teams.
“We were able to reach our donation goal within 48 hours. I traveled a total of 64.35 miles in 24 hours, and the longest I’d ever run at that point was 18 miles. I ran 20 miles straight from the start,” said Lambert, who was joined by fellow SATMO coworkers who both participated in the run/walk marathon and provided medical support.
Lambert also took the opportunity to speak with the JROTC cadets and members of the track and ladies softball teams. He gave a shout-out to the cadets who had recently won a local athletic and military-style engineering and logistics competition held annually in Robeson County. “These were the youth I had been coaching throughout the school year,” he said proudly.
Lambert is a fires support specialist for the Army, responsible for leading analysis of intelligence for artillery target processing and brigade maneuvers. He was assigned to SATMO as a fires and effects advisor. Soldiers assigned to SATMO are senior non-commissioned officers who are considered experts in their field and are deployed in support of U.S. security assistance missions. They train and advise allied and partner militaries all over the globe, but Lambert was unable to deploy due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. This blessing in disguise, however, allowed him to make a positive impact in the community he grew up in.
“Throughout my career in the Army, I have been fortunate enough to work with and be in the presence of great men and women (who) challenged me at something, (who) continued to push me to become more than I thought was possible,” he said.
Lambert credits SATMO’s senior enlisted advisor, Command Sgt. Maj. Tom Dow Jr., with getting him to plan for a future.
“Command Sgt. Maj. Dow asked us to write down where we wanted to be in 15 years both professionally and personally so we could plan for the steps necessary. That was the first time someone had done that,” he said.
“Sgt. 1st Class Lambert is an outstanding NCO who is steadily fighting to make a difference,” said Dow. “This is one of the most profound ways I have seen an NCO impact a community The Army is fortunate to call him one of its own. He is a leader and a citizen who is not only passionate about his profession, but also his community. That is a win for the U.S. military, and for our Nation.”
Lambert also credits his best friend, Dustin Porter, who recently passed away, with giving him the idea to work with the youth in his community.
After hearing Lambert complain about local youth who seemed to be trapped in a cycle of poverty, negative thinking and destructive behavior, his friend simply asked him, “What are you going to do about it? You grew up in the same area and you’re now in a position to make change. So what are you going to do?”
Lambert knows that a person’s future will be determined by the choices they make, and he hopes his mentoring and his message resonate throughout the community. He said JROTC and the Army gave him stability, work/life balance, a sense of community, and continuous challenges for life-long training and development, and he hopes others will see that it can do the same for them.
“One of my military instructors told me that by applying discipline and consistency you can achieve anything that you set out to do!’”
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