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Student Veteran of the Year Leads by Example

Sgt. Marvin E. Lazo Plays a Key Role In Upholding the Quality of Dental Services in the Air Force

Gil Klein
By Gil Klein

Technical Sgt. Marvin E. Lazo has played a role in upholding the quality of dental services within the Air Force—even in the face of staff cuts—through oversight of dental support services. Lazo, who uses the pronoun they, is the non-commissioned officer in charge of Dental Support Operations at Robins Air Force Base.

But Lazo’s real passion is in communications and the essential way it touches every aspect of life, both professionally and personally.

“Whatever field you’re working in, communication is part of it,” Lazo said. “How you interact with people, public speaking, whether you’re leading something, it’s always going to come into play.”

Lazo has combined advanced Air Force work with a University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) education, completing a bachelor’s degree in communications studies this year and launching right into a Master of Science in Strategic Communications program. For that achievement, they have received a high accolade: UMGC's General John W. Vessey Student Veteran of the Year Award.

“Lazo represents the type of student who excels at UMGC,” said University President Greg Fowler. “They are committed to their military service while still looking to explore academic fields that will help them both in the military and in life.”

Born in Heidelberg, Germany, Lazo was raised in a military family. Their father was career Army for 20 years.

“Growing up in a military environment, going to [Department of Defense] … schools, I developed a connection to the military that I felt deep down,” Lazo said.

But they didn’t enlist right out of high school. Openly gay, Lazo could not abide the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in force at the time and did not see how they could be part of an organization “that didn’t see me and didn’t represent me.”

When the military dropped the policy in 2012 and recruited openly gay candidates, Lazo responded by enlisting. Their first overseas assignment was as a general dentistry assistant at Royal Air Force Lackenheath in the United Kingdom. It was there that they met and, six years ago, married Technical Sgt. Dandexter Lazo.

Marvin Lazo then served in Okinawa for five years before being transferred stateside in 2020 to the 78th Operational Readiness Squadron at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia. At Robins, they manage the operations for 11 dental providers and 19 technicians who perform 48,000 clinical procedures a year.

Lazo governs six sections of dental operations—including clinical care, records, reception, instrument processing and the dental laboratory—and audits the management of 35 programs, rooting out financial waste and faulty equipment. After completing a course in epidemiology, prevention and infection control, they recently were named infection control program manager.

The work of Lazo’s unit was recognized as the Air Force Material Command Surgeon General Clinic of the Year.

Lazo, who expects to complete their graduate degree in 2023, said their UMGC education moved seamlessly with them as they moved from assignments in Europe to Asia to the United States.

“They definitely take the time to reach out to you, whether it’s your success coach or its your instructor,” they said. “Everybody has been pretty awesome in terms of engagement and making sure you have all the resources you need, setting you up for success.”

The master’s program, Lazo said, focuses on how to take a multidisciplinary team and cross paths with advertising and marketing to achieve a shared communications goal. Lazo said the UMGC degrees will help whether they stay on active-duty with the Air Force and become a communications officer, retire and return to civilian life, taking a corporate job or start their own business with their husband.

Lazo has plenty of advice for students starting a UMGC career: Start a degree program early before life’s responsibilities make demands that take time away from being able to focus on your studies, figure out what you want to do and then build steps toward getting there and, especially, don’t compare yourself to anyone else because that will just take you off track.

“Focus on you,” Lazo said. “Focus on what your path is. Take the initiative, establish a goal and work towards it. Once I know where I want to go, there’s no stopping me.”

As a corollary, Lazo said it is important to take what you learn and apply it to your life.

“Don’t let that college degree sit there gathering dust,” they said. “The field I am working in and the field I am studying are directly related. One affects the other. My military drive, my determination, really help me focus on my studies.”

The education a servicemember gains is there to help even outside the military, Lazo added.

“I know that with the level of experience and qualifications and the opportunities I have been given, I will be an asset to any company that I join.”