In honor of Black History Month, the Veterans Society, a student organization, hosted a virtual community conversation with father and son alumni Dr. Nick Lezama '75 and Alex Lezama '05 about diversity and inclusion in the U.S. military. Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Nick Lezama '75 was a military physician; his son, Alex Lezama '05, is a former U.S. Army captain, current Army Reserves captain, and State Department foreign service officer stationed in South Africa. Thomas Bailey '22 and Mary Tyree '23, who organized the event, served as moderators.
“In the army there is zero tolerance for intolerance,” Alex Lezama said. “You are with people from everywhere: every background, every socio-economic group, and the unit you get is the unit you’re in. The military benefits from having an authoritative hierarchy, so when a commander says we will all work together and work effectively together, that's it. The military has a very unique ability to be a driver for social change issues.”
How does their Hotchkiss experience relate to the military? Alex observed that each institution has its own set of values and a common purpose that everyone understands and contributes to. ”There is a lot of parity between the two,” he said, “even if it’s not something that you would automatically think of.”
In response to a question about experiencing military service as a person of color, Nick Lezama referenced his upbringing and time at Hotchkiss. His father was from Trinidad and his mother from Cuba, making him a first-generation American. Lezuma’s mother didn’t want him to have a Spanish accent because she worried it would create difficulty for him.
“There was tension there, because as I went through high school I struggled with my racial identity, trying to figure out: Who am I? But at Hotchkiss I learned a lot culturally and a lot about who I am. Hotchkiss very much set me up for success in terms of the confidence that I would have moving forward. Once I got into college, I was just honestly Nick Lazama trying to get into medical school and the same thing in the military: I was Nick Lazama, trying to do the best I could,” he said.
“You're judged on your performance and how well you do -- and honestly I agree with Alex, I think the military has really been a leader in terms of diversity.” Lezama mentioned two current African-American leaders, Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr. and former Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, recently confirmed as Secretary of Defense in the Biden administration.
Father and son shared photos depictng family milestones in the military over the years, including one of Nick meeting Gen. Colin Powell, a photo of the family just before Alex’s deployment to Afghanistan, and father and son together in fatigues.
Both expressed satisfaction with their choices to serve in the military, and highlighted military career opportunities that may be less familiar. Including medicine, there are career pathways in the military for jobs in finance, law, business, or engineering. Also, if a student joins ROTC in college, after graduation they could enter directly into the National Guard or military reserves, which would allow for a civilian career.
Alex Lazama offered encouraging words. “I can tell you from my personal experience that there is no better choice in terms of setting yourself up for future success and really developing as a person, as a leader, and as a manager, for whatever you want to do after the military.”