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361st ISRG Airman: A humanitarian on, off duty

Capt. Michael Black, commander's executive officer for the 361st Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group, joins his youth t-ball team, he and his wife coach, in a pre-game huddle.

Capt. Michael Black, commander's executive officer for the 361st Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group, joins his youth t-ball team, he and his wife coach, in a pre-game huddle.

Capt. Michael Black and his wife, Kara Black, show off their youth t-ball coaching jerseys.

Capt. Michael Black, commander's executive officer for the 361st Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group, and his wife, Kara Black, show off their youth t-ball coaching jerseys.

Capt. Michael Black, commander's executive officer for the 361st Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group, prepares the groundwork to lay sod on a project with Habitat for Humanity.

Capt. Michael Black, commander's executive officer for the 361st Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group, prepares the groundwork to lay sod on a project with Habitat for Humanity.

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. --

Capt. Michael Black is a husband, a father of three, and an Airmen with the 361st Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group. He serves as the 361st ISRG commander’s executive officer and maintains non-stop readiness to deploy at any time in support of worldwide special operations. Like many before him, Black has done quite a bit for his country and for the men and women that serve with him, but it’s what he’s done to enrich his community that sets him apart.

Black can regularly be found coaching t-ball at the Y, building homes with Habitat for Humanity, supporting the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and mentoring high school students. When asked what drives his passion to help others, Black humbly responded, “The need to pay it forward.”

“Paying it forward isn’t to check a box or gain an accolade; it’s to make a lasting impact on the community that leaves it better than it was before you PCS’d (permanent change of stationed) there – this is my responsibility as a military member in the community,” Black said.

It’s easy to see how Black embodies the Air Force core values of Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence In All We Do, but the reason he dedicates himself to these causes is rooted in his character.

Raised in a home with two parents who worked double shifts and still made it to every practice, recital or game, Black grew up with awareness that not all families are as fortunate as his. This is why, when he receives PCS orders, he immediately searches for volunteer opportunities within his new community.

For example, Black and his wife, Kara, both former college athletes, naturally felt compelled to coach a t-ball team at the Y. They both felt they could impact the lives of young children by teaching them teamwork, discipline and sportsmanship.

“In many cases, this was the highlight of their day and mine,” said Black. “They would tell me all about their day at pre-K, or how they have been practicing with their parents all week just to show me at practice… it was an absolute honor to see all the kids grow in terms of confidence, self-esteem and skillset.” 

As a member of the military, Black said he appreciates not only having the platform to mentor young boys and girls, but to earn their trust; it’s why he’s never late to a mentoring session, returns phone calls in a timely manner and is always willing to stay late after practice.

“The principle of cultivating trust is something I have witnessed in the military. It has, in turn, made me a better husband, father, mentor and officer,” Black said.

These characteristics might make Black the ideal addition to any volunteer organization, but there was a time when Black was the recipient of the same assistance he gives others.

On Jan. 4, 2017, Black received a phone call at 4:30 a.m. informing him that his parents’ house had caught fire. His mom, dad, sister and her infant daughter watched as their home of 28 years burned.

The next day, there was only a partial roof remaining on the home, and they had little time to make repairs due to a looming winter storm. Black said he and his father set out  with nothing but a cup of coffee to assess the damage, and unexpectedly, they were met by numerous friends and family who were willing to help in any way necessary.

“As I watched this response from the community to selflessly get out in the cold to help a family in need, a fire was lit inside me,” said Black. “Words could not explain how grateful I was to have a team of people help my family overcome this unfortunate circumstance.

“It was then that I rededicated myself to partnering with my local Habitat [for Humanity] to give someone else that same hope and optimism that I felt in the wake of seemingly insurmountable uncertainty.”

Since then, Black has helped build multiple homes with Habitat for Humanity. He is also  involved in the Habitat for Heroes campaign, an outreach that helps well-deserving veterans and civilians become homeowners.

Black also gained inspiration for his efforts from an unlikely source - a teenager at a local high school.

One day, after having a rough morning, Black went to meet his wife for lunch at the local high school where she worked. He entered the school, carrying the weight of the morning on his face, and was met with a hug by one of his wife’s students. This was the first time that Black had met the student, as he had been deployed most of the school year, but the student recapped the entire semester in his own creative way, with a constant smile on his face, and leaving the entire room in laughter.

After being so uplifted from his conversation with the student, Black told his wife the student’s parents must never be in a bad mood with stories and a smile like that. It was then that his wife informed him the student did not live with his parents, but had lived in several different homes that year and was working night shifts after school to help pay rent.

Shocked by the teenager’s optimism, Black’s outlook was forever changed.

“I had always considered what I do outside of work the bulk of my paying it forward.  However, due to a fifteen minute conversation with a 16-year-old, I saw my miscalculation in my ways,” explained Black. “Paying it forward is simply making something better than when you found it.”

Living this mantra explains why Black implemented a forum at the 361st ISRG where Airmen can anonymously request to have questions polled by the squadron, allowing their voices to be heard by leadership. It also explains why while deployed, Black trained unit members in critical lifesaving, close quarters combat maneuvers using his certification as a black belt in Marine Corps Martial Arts, directly impacting overall unit morale. And, it explains what drove him to lead the 361st ISRG’s Combined Federal Campaign initiative raising more than $8,000 for non-profit organizations.

With his pay-it-forward attitude and numerous selfless achievements, it’s not a surprise that Black was nominated for the 2018 Military Uniformed Services and Civilian Meritorious Service Award. Though he’s honored to be recognized, it’s not the reason he serves others.

“I get to coach with my wife, volunteer with my kids and serve with my family,” Black said. “There’s nothing more I could ask for.”