From gang member to Air Force Airman: You can choose your destiny

Airman 1st Class Khennan Richards is a former gang member but now part of the 375th Force Support Squadron. Since he’s joined the Air Force, Richards has been successfully working in the Official Mail Center, and is responsible for processing an average of 323,000 pieces of mail and over 250 pounds in packages each year.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Melissa Estevez)

Airman 1st Class Khennan Richards is a former gang member but now part of the 375th Force Support Squadron. Since he’s joined the Air Force, Richards has been successfully working in the Official Mail Center, and is responsible for processing an average of 323,000 pieces of mail and over 250 pounds in packages each year. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Melissa Estevez)

Airman 1st Class Khennan Richards is a former gang member but now part of the 375th Force Support Squadron. Since he’s joined the Air Force, Richards has been successfully working in the Official Mail Center, and is responsible for processing an average of 323,000 pieces of mail and over 250 pounds in packages each year.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Melissa Estevez)

Airman 1st Class Khennan Richards is a former gang member but now part of the 375th Force Support Squadron. Since he’s joined the Air Force, Richards has been successfully working in the Official Mail Center, and is responsible for processing an average of 323,000 pieces of mail and over 250 pounds in packages each year. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Melissa Estevez)

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- The moment Khennan Richards knew he needed to turn his life around came when he saw his younger brother trying to join the same gang he was a member of.

Richards, an Airman 1st Class with the 375th Force Support Squadron, said he didn’t want that type of lifestyle for his brother. Seeing his brother begin to go down the same path he did made him realize he needed to be a better example for his younger siblings.

“I did some things I’m not proud of,” Richards explained. “I’m happy that I got away from that environment because it wasn’t leading me anywhere positive.”

Growing up, Richards said his mom and three siblings bounced around from home to home; at times they lived with grandparents or out of their car. They received both food stamps and section eight housing, both programs the government has for low-income individuals designed to provide them with basic food and shelter.

“My childhood was rough; my mom was a single parent raising four kids with me being the oldest ... I was always accountable for them,” said Richards. “My mom was struggling trying to raise us by herself. I remember we eventually got an apartment but we didn’t have any food in the refrigerator. We ate bread and syrup ... or syrup sandwiches.”

While growing up, Richards was surrounded by gang members, and it wasn’t long before he joined one himself.

“I kind of just adapted to my environment and basically blended in to it,” said Richards. “We stayed right in the middle of the hood, and so I knew everybody and everybody knew us. They’d call when they were walking by the house and say ‘what’s up auntie’ because they would call my mom auntie.”

Once he decided to leave the gang he took the advice of friends who had served in the Air Force, and decided to join up.

Since he’s joined the Air Force, Richards has been successfully working in the Official Mail Center, and is responsible for processing an average of 323,000 pieces of mail and over 250 pounds in packages each year.

Richards’s supervisor, Staff Sgt. Corey Alexander Bratcher, said, “Airman Richards is a floor lead here at the official mail center, which means we have given him more responsibility than his duty title holds.

“During the time I’ve supervised him he has been the go-to Airman, he still processes and delivers mail just like all the other Airmen here, but he is the (liaison) between the Airmen in the shop and the noncommissioned officers.”

Bratcher said Richards is someone who leads by example.

“Airman Richards embodies the Air Force’s core values by being an example to all the Airmen in the OMC,” Bratcher said. “He definitely has the ability to become a great supervisor one day and with his ‘service before self’ attitude, he will definitely continue to be someone who is valued.”

Richards said hopes to complete his enlistment and achieve the rank of technical sergeant in the next five years. He said he aspires to be the best leader he can be for his siblings and his future Airmen, which is something he said the Air Force is helping him to achieve.

In addition, his brother did not join the gang, and he is now on the honor roll at his school and hopes to join the Air Force one day, too ... just like his brother.