NAHM: TSgt. Hai-zhon Laughter: A leader among leaders

  • Published
  • By By Karen Petitt
  • 375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. – From the moment Hai-zhon Laughter was born into the Navajo Nation’s Bitter Water Clan, he was destined to become a leader of leaders.

As a 32-year-old Tech. Sgt., currently serving as the NCO in charge of Executive Administration for Air Mobility Command’s Chief of Staff, he has successfully built a career through his expertise in task management and human resource skills.

He and his wife, Corsica, who is part Arapaho and Hispanic, are raising three boys and are looking forward to the day when they can return to the Inscription House Reservation to help make improvements in their community.

“I was taught from a young age, mostly by my father, to be independent, don’t be shy, stand out, and be a leader,” said Laughter. “His influence, guidance and example in my life helped me to endure being separated from my parents while attending boarding school as a child due to the long distance from our homes. It was a hard thing when I was young to do that, but my father kept reminding me of my heritage in the ‘leader clan’ and what was expected of me. His counsel has served me well over the years.”

The Navajo Nation is the largest Indian reservation in the United States with 300,000 people spread across 16 million acres in Arizona, New Mexico and Southern Utah. They rank second only to the Cherokee. Currently, there are 574 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and more than 100 state-recognized tribes across the United States. Each have their own unique history, beliefs, governance structure, and culture.

Sharing his culture with others is something Laughter has done throughout his 14 years of service in the Air Force, and something he strives to pass along to his own children.

“Our culture is centered around family and part of that is knowing the language, and understanding and participating in ceremony, rituals and dance. For instance, as a child we used to ‘snow bathe’ and that was to help you stay young and keep your skin glowing. I introduced that to my children and now at each first snow they look forward to this tradition. I teach them to pray in the morning and to be thankful., and they’ve learned to enjoy favorite foods such as lamb and fried bread.”

He said he and his wife work to blend her Catholic beliefs and Hispanic heritage with his Native American Church, which also adds depth and breadth to their family life.

“In both our backgrounds and culture, it’s all about family, which is why the past few years have been especially painful to lose my father and two older brothers. I was able to attend their funerals but it has only been recently that I was able to take part in their remembrance ceremonies. This is part of our healing and it makes us stronger. We know they are watching over us, and it makes our prayers more meaningful because we know they are on the holy side.”

American Indians and Alaska Natives serve in the United States’ Armed forces at five times the national average. For a community that has persevered through decades of challenges, American Indians and Alaska Natives have remained steadfast in their defense of the United States as members of the Armed Forces for centuries.

This is no different for Laughter and his community. When it came time to decide what to do after high school and some college, he followed the example of his grandfather, who was an Army Air Corps gunner during World War II, and his father and three older brothers who served in the Marines.  Since joining the Air Force, he has been stationed at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., Offutt AFB, Nebraska and Kadena Air Base, Japan before arriving here a year ago.

“The military is very similar to what my life was like on the reservation especially at boarding school,” he said. “There’s a sense of duty and discipline, and there are structures and standards. I found it an easy transition into the military life.”

He said he plans to take advantage of the education benefits the Air Force provides and finish his degree in Human Resources with perhaps a business focus so that he can use those skills to mentor the youth on the reservation.
“I want them to know how important education is, how to have a good head on your shoulders, and how to make an impact on our tribe. I’d like to become a council delegate for my tribe’s governing system and represent our area to improve roads, provide better access to running water, rebuild schools and bring in more business.”

For Laughter, honoring his Native American heritage, ancestors and culture in this way is another reason why he is a leader among leaders.