I recently attended my Air Force Academy Reunion. I was struck by the number of Air Force Academy grads in aviation – in significant positions.
If we start at the top, I must mention General Arnold Bunch, the Head of Air Force Material Command. I was able to catch up with Arnie at the reunion and he shared some the joys and struggles of being “at the top”. It can be lonely and fulfilling. One of his primary goals is to develop “a deep bench” as he does succession planning for the next 5 to 7 years.
The Aerospace Industry
My friend Carl is one of the smartest cadets I ever knew. Carl was the type who didn’t hardly crack a book. He would skim the book the night before the exam and “ace” the GR. “Farq” as he was often known, had a fine career as an Air Force fighter pilot. Since that time he has moved onto Boeing where he is tasked with directing their International Weapons Program. Carl travels the world to ensure that American weaponry is modernized to the highest level possible.
Then there is Clay. Clay is putting in multiple hours as a program manager at a large private firm in the southeast. Clay manages millions of dollars in projects and people. His biggest takeaway from the reunion was the fact that the needs to get some help. He is carrying too much of the load at his present employer. Isn’t it just like an organization to find a workhorse and load him up and let him carry the load as long as he can?
With the rise of online shopping and the use of the internet, companies such as FedEx, UPS and now Amazon are becoming bigger and more important for our economy. Several classmates live hear Louisville (UPS) and Memphis (UPS) flying those all night trips in those big cargo planes.
This seems to be the bulk of my class. The number of Delta, American, United and Southwest pilots were too numerous to count. After surviving the very lean years post 9/11 (2001 to 2006) they are now in “the catbird seat” as well as the captain’s seat. On my Delta flight from Colorado Springs to Atlanta there were over ten Air Force Academy pilots onboard.
The major airlines are making record profits and through attractive contracts, and in some cases profit sharing, most of my friends are making well in excess of six figures. Additionally, they are primarily occupying the captains (left) seat and flying most of the lucrative routes (especially international). They all hope to ride this wave for eight more years until they reach mandatory retirement at age 65.
There are also some graduates at the helm of airlines themselves. Most notably, Scott Kirby (USAFA Class of 1989) serves as President of United Airlines. The follows the trend of Air Force Academy graduates from the 1980s filling major roles.
Heather Wilson (Class of 1982) recently served as Secretary of the Air Force. Mike Goldfein (Class of 1983) is the Air Force Chief of Staff and Jay Silveria (Class of 1985) the Superintendent of the Air Force Academy.
Which led me to two conclusions about my classmates and the professions they found themselves in after 35 years. First of all, we have been blessed to have been given key positions of leadership and responsibility in the aviation industry. Secondly, if it wasn’t for the Air Force Academy, who would be filling all of these positions?