Military service brings people from different backgrounds together unlike most other career paths can. Reserve Citizen Airmen are united in uniform and cause but are often uniquely different out of uniform.
One Reserve Citizen Airman with the 944th Fighter Wing maintains bombs while on duty, however, is a creator off-duty. Staff Sgt. Stephen Zanzucchi, 944thMaintenance Squadron munitions support equipment maintenance crew chief, is a published author of six children’s books, of which an estimated 50,000 copies have been sold.
Zanzucchi is a Phoenix, Ariz., native who joined the Air Force Reserve in 2016 at the age of 34.
“Teaching was a passion of mine so I began working at an elementary school eight years ago,” he said.
Zanzucchi, husband, and father of six, was pulled to educating the younger generation.
“It’s the best age range,” Zanzucchi said about the elementary age students. “They’re young enough that they’re not overly defiant, there’s still a sweet little kid in there.”
Zanzucchi did not set out to write children’s books. He admits the inspiration came from one of his charges.
“One of my sweet students came up to me one day and was pretty upset about having to read one of the school’s books,” Zanzucchi said. “When I asked him why, he said ‘because it’s boring’”.
He initially thought nothing of it but decided to pick the book up and read it for about five minutes.
“He was right,” Zanzucchi said, referring to his student. “No wonder kids don’t want to read.”
This was in 2010, well before Zanzucchi had decided to join the Air Force, but his desire to serve was already strong and in this case, in service of his students.
“Hearing that student’s disappointment, I thought to myself I can write better than that,” Zanzucchi said. “That was when I decided I was going to write a kid’s book.”
As Zanzucchi modestly put it, he didn’t do it to become famous or a millionaire. His books are about the common experiences and adventures of young adolescents that he saw daily.
“I hoped the kids would enjoy it and I always like picking up new hobbies for the characters,” he said. “They seem to love my books.”
Although the journey may have started with his students at school, Zanzucchi said it really hit home for him when he saw his own kids enjoying his books.
“Seeing them sitting there on the couch, reading the book and giggling at it ñ I did that,” Zanzucchi said. “Even if the books were a huge flop, that moment made it all worth it.”
Tech Sgt. Gage Carter, 944thMXS ordnance equipment mechanic and Zanzucchi’s supervisor, jokes with Zanzucchi, telling him that he is like Superman’s alter ego, Clark Kent.
“I found out he was an author shortly after he joined the unit,” said Carter. “I was a little surprised.”
Carter explained that he wasn’t so much surprised that the intuitive Zanzucchi was an author, but the genre caught him off guard, he thought he would have been more in the realm of horror novels or science fiction.
Zanzucchi no longer teaches as he now maintains advanced weapons systems. He also hasn’t written a book in a while, but he did pull his books out during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I read my books on YouTube for others to enjoy during the first mandatory quarantine, in an effort to ease pandemic fatigue for the children,” Zanzucchi said.
While Zanzucchi hasn’t had the opportunity to sit down and put pen to paper, he hasn’t completely stored the hobby.
“I still have some ideas floating around and would like to get back at it,” Zanzucchi said.
Carter explained that he is always reminded that Airmen come from all walks of life.
“Zanzucchi is the shining example of this and he brings all of his experience from his civilian life to the Reserve and brings a unique perspective to work,” Carter said.