RICKENBACKER AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Ohio - Michael Zinsmeister and Lance Perone were just two young boys from a small town near Zanesville, Ohio, who rode the school bus together. Mutual friends led them to hang out with each other. However, once college came around, they went their separate ways. Little did they know their paths would cross again, as they both enlisted in the Ohio Air National Guard.
Now, 33 years later, they will soon be chief master sergeants at the 220th Engineering Installation Squadron in Zanesville.
Chief Master Sgt. Michael Zinsmeister went to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and Senior Master Sgt. Lance Perone attended Ohio University in Zanesville.
Although they had plans to finish school, the Ohio Air National Guard was brought to their attention during college.
One Saturday, Zinsmeister’s friend, Robert Gilger, was getting ready for drill. Zinsmeister didn’t know what this meant or what drill entailed.
“When he got home, we all hung out at my house, and I asked him what it was all about,” said Zinsmeister.
That same night, Zinsmeister hung out with Gilger’s Air Force buddies.
“The following week or so, I started talking to a recruiter,” said Zinsmeister. “This was right around 1989. I think I signed up around February.”
About the same time, Perone was taking college classes at night and working full-time at a distribution center.
“I was like, Wow, this is going to take forever,” Perone said.
One of Perone’s coworkers happened to be Robert Gilger. Coincidentally, he also told Perone he should consider joining the Air National Guard.
“I asked him what he did, and he said he climbs towers and drives big trucks,” said Perone.
Gilger suggested Perone go through with it with Zinsmeister.
“It was just that spontaneous,” said Perone. “I said sign me up.”
Fast forward a few months, Perone and Zinsmeister left for Basic Military Training on the same flight.
“I was on one side of the dorm, and he was on the other,” said Zinsmeister. “We battled through, and we supported each other.”
After BMT graduation, Perone and Zinsmeister returned to their home unit in Zanesville to complete their job training. They shared a hotel room and completed roughly eight weeks of training together during the summer.
Now, 33 years later, Zinsmeister is chief master sergeant, and Perone will be promoted soon.
“He is chief of operations, and I am chief of plans,” said Perone.
There are only two chief master sergeant slots at the 220th.
“For 10 years, there were a lot of qualified people and we just kind of waited it out,” said Perone. “I don’t really look at it as waiting it out, though, because I really like what I do. The only thing I’ve done longer than this is breathe.”
The same is true for Zinsmeister.
“I told them they would have to drag me out,” said Zinsmeister.
Zinsmeister and Perone said the camaraderie is what has kept them at the 220th for so long.
“The people you meet in the Guard are that percent of people you want to hang out with constantly,” said Perone. “I hadn’t found that on the civilian side.”
Perone and Zinster explained that their favorite part of the job is the people.
“It’s almost like a family reunion every drill weekend,” said Zinsmeister. “It’s easy to stick around as long as we have if you have a culture like that.”
“I think we have the same mentality, as far as both wanting to be there,” said Perone. “Seeing this family atmosphere at the base is what always kept us there.”