Graduation is a special time at any school, but at the nation’s service academies it takes on an even greater significance. It is more than just the culmination of four years of academic work. Graduates not only receive their degree, they also receive their commissions as officers in the Navy, Marine Corps, Army, or Air Force. On that day, these young Ensigns and 2nd Lieutenants will set out to do the work that the American people paid to train them to do. Some of them will become aviators. Some will hit the ground and go into armor, infantry, or artillery. Others will take to the seas on warships deployed around the world. A few more newly-minted officers will find their way into roles that directly support those on the front line, such as in intelligence or supply. There are a number of ways to serve.
Each of these pursuits can be arduous at times, with dangerous tasks to be completed on long deployments away from home. But the work can also be as rewarding as it is difficult. There is a special satisfaction that comes from knowing the importance of what you’re doing. The American people know how important it is, too. These aviators, soldiers, and sailors are among the most celebrated figures in American society. There are organizations like the USO that support them. Hollywood tells tales of their exploits. We have national holidays to honor them. America appreciates what it takes to defend itself, which is why it pays for service academies; a top-notch education is worth paying for if it results in men and women willing to commit to one of these challenging careers.
Sadly, some of those in uniform aren’t shown the same appreciation as the rest. They toil in virtual anonymity, their contributions unknown to the general public. The work they do is vital to the defense of this nation, yet they have nobody to tell their story… until now. I am proud to use my little corner of the internet to bring attention to these distinguished service academy graduates who make the most of their four years of military training. So read on as I pay homage to the best of the best: Air Force football coaches.
|If you thought Fallujah was hard,
Their records speak for themselves:
Head coach Troy Calhoun graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1989. Of his six years of active duty in the Air Force, four were spent as an academy football coach. From 1989-1990 he was a graduate assistant for Fisher DeBerry. From 1993-1994 he was DeBerry’s recruiting coordinator.
Blane Morgan is the quarterbacks coach for the Falcons. He graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1999 and spent the next year as a graduate assistant. After spending 2 1/2 years doing less important work at Laughlin AFB, he returned to the academy in 2003 to complete his active duty obligation as the wide receivers coach and an assistant coach for the junior varsity team.
Running backs coach Jemal Singleton is a classmate of Morgan’s. He spent two years of his active duty obligation at Little Rock AFB. The rest was spent in Colorado Springs working in the athletic department, and as an assistant coach with the USAFA Prep School, junior varsity, and varsity football teams.
Mike Thiessen graduated from USAFA in 2001 and remains on active duty while coaching the team’s wide receivers. Thiessen not only carries out this daring mission as a coach, but he had the unique opportunity to defend the Constitution by playing minor league baseball. Through the Air Force’s vital World Class Athlete Program, Thiessen more than repaid the taxpayer’s cost of his education by hitting .278 for the Lancaster JetHawks. If that wasn’t already of incalculable benefit to the American people, the former Falcon quarterback also spent the three seasons prior to 2007 as the offensive coordinator at the prep school.
Joining Thiessen on active duty is Charlton Warren, another 1999 academy graduate. Capt. Warren is the least accomplished of this elite military unit, having spent the majority of his military career doing things other than football, and in places other than Colorado Springs. Fortunately for you & me, though, he’s back serving where America needs him most: as the Air Force secondary coach.
Tight ends coach Ben Miller is a real hero. I’m not sure if he wasted any time on active duty at all. Following his 2002 graduation, Miller signed with the Cleveland Browns. He spent 2005 as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles’ practice squad, and in 2006 was a graduate assistant at Illinois.
Brian Knorr, a 1986 grad who coached linebackers at Air Force, was hired away this week by Jim Grobe at Wake Forest. Knorr should feel right at home in Winston-Salem, though, as he will be joined by another group of Air Force Academy patriots. Steed Lobotzke, the Demon Deacons’ offensive coordinator, is a 1992 graduate of the Air Force Academy that jumpstarted his military career with a two-year graduate assistant job immediately following graduation. Another new Wake Forest assistant, Steve Russ, is a 1995 Air Force graduate who, like Ben Miller, didn’t bother with the hassles of active duty military service. Instead, Russ went straight into the NFL. After spending 5 years with the Denver Broncos, Russ began his college coaching career at Ohio, where Knorr was head coach in 2001.
One would think that such an awe-inspiring collection of military might would be sure to make headlines, yet the American taxpayer never seems to hear about the fruits of their valuable investment. I know… Crazy, right? Especially when you consider how many Air Force football coaches spend their active duty time in public affairs when they aren’t coaching. But the Air Force Academy, unlike Annapolis and West Point, doesn’t release the service assignments of their graduating seniors. Why they would keep this information to themselves, I have no idea. But America should know when one of their service academies is producing this kind of excellence.
Any Air Force fan can tell you the obvious benefit to our nation’s security that comes from active duty football coaches. You see, the Air Force Academy is the most difficult of the service academies by a mile. It really isn’t even close. In order for cadets to have a chance to make it through the grueling 4-year pressure cooker that is the Air Force Academy experience, they need mentors. These mentors work best when they aren’t tainted with too much exposure to the, you know, Air Force. Their minds need to be sharpened, fresh with the memories of what it took to survive such an ordeal as found in Colorado Springs. That’s where these football coaches come in. Unencumbered with the fetters of actual operational experience, only they can deliver the kind of leadership that cadets need to make it through. Unconvinced? Navy’s APR score in the last NCAA report was 982. Even with their elite cadre of mentors, Air Force’s score was lower– 975. Imagine how low it would be without football coaches on active duty! The higher attrition clearly shows how much harder it is at Air Force! And just having a graduate assistant or two stick around for a few months while he waits for a spot at flight training (or another service school) doesn’t cut it. Unlike the Army and Navy, the Air Force needs officers whose military careers are dedicated to mentorship. They also need graduates who don’t serve a day on active duty, and instead go straight into the NFL. Because the NFL and minor league baseball, as we all know, prepares someone to lead cadets far better than operational Air Force experience.
Now that you know how crucial it is for Air Force grads to embark on a coaching career immediately upon graduating, you can understand my befuddlement when it comes to the lack of recognition that these warriors of the clipboard receive. But as any good Air Force football-trained leader will tell you, it isn’t enough to just complain. If you see a problem, point it out and offer a solution. So that’s what I’m going to do. The first step in getting our heroes recognized would be for the Air Force Academy to release the service selection information of its graduating football class. Shout it from the top of Pikes Peak! “We need mentors for our football team so we can produce more mentors for future football teams!” It’s hard to imagine a better use of service academy graduates than a self-sustaining pipeline of mentorship without any significant operational service.
The second step we can take is to create a piece of uniform insignia so that fellow airmen know when they are in the presence of the elite. Something should set these leaders apart. Why should pilots get wings while these highly trained officers go unrecognized? If I may be so bold, I have a suggestion for this badge of honor:
Nothing says “airpower through the intricacies of zone blocking” quite like a winged football. One look at this, and Hollywood will know that there’s a story to be told here. Imagine the possibilities… “You want me on that sideline. You need me on that sideline!” Finally, we’ll have an Air Force movie to compete with the cinematic masterpiece that is Iron Eagle.
It’s hard to believe, but there are actually people who don’t think that it’s appropriate for service academy graduates to spend their active duty careers as football coaches. How dare any of you think that way. For shame. Air Force fans have taught us a great lesson; the job that you do isn’t important. What matters is the clothes that you wear while you do it! Anything done in a uniform must be mission essential. If it wasn’t, then nobody would do it! Duh. And if it’s mission essential, who better than an academy grad to do the job? I mean come on, if you can’t trust the U.S. Air Force, an agency of the federal government, to make good use of your money– then who can you trust?
|If only she was in an Air Force uniform.
Then it’d be as valuable as storming the beach at Normandy!
Now, I know that I rub some people the wrong way by placing these coaches on a pedestal. All service is valuable, you might be thinking. It isn’t appropriate to “rank” the service of various Air Force Academy graduates. Well, you’re wrong. The fact is that service gets ranked every single time someone’s record appears before a promotion board. And you and I both know that assignments as a football coach are a bullet train to General. All you have to do is compare the bios of the two active duty Captains on the Air Force staff right now. Here’s Charlton Warren’s:
Warren began his military career at the Academy in the admissions office as the Southeast U.S. admissions coordinator for the minority enrollment office from 1999-2000. He then went to Warner Robins AFB, Ga., from 2000-03 where he was the C-130 avionics program manager for the Air Logistics Center. While stationed there, Warren earned an MBA from Georgia College and State University. He was also recognized as the company grade officer of the quarter in 2002.
Before returning to the Academy in 2005, Warren was stationed at Eglin AFB, Fla., from 2003-05 as the MK-82 joint direct munitions program manger for the Air Armament Center. He also worked as the anti-spoof/anti-jam program manager while at Eglin. Warren was honored as part of the weapons program team of the quarter in 2003 and the direct attack group company grade officer of the quarter in 2004.
How on earth is a record as lackluster as this supposed to compete with fellow Captain Mike Thiessen, who worked in a personnel office, played minor league baseball, and taught algebra? I mean, if you were going to promote someone to Major, who would you pick? Face it, guys–service is “ranked” all the time. California League Player of the Week is a far bigger eye-opener than something like Officer of the Quarter no matter how many times you receive that award. Air Armament Center? Avionics program manager? Please. Give me some of that career-enhancing quadratic equation action instead.
But don’t feel sorry for Capt. Warren. Chances are that he will get that promotion. The sad reality is that the grueling life of a combat football coach takes its toll. Despite being on the fast track to promotion, career Air Force coaches shockingly don’t seem to stick around beyond their active duty obligation– well, those that actually have an obligation, anyway. The reason for this is that the Air Force does a terrible job taking care of these warriors. There is no career track established for Air Force football coaches. Think about it– there’s only one Air Force Academy. Once they’ve coached there, where are they supposed to go? And who has oversight responsibility for these coaches? Who mentors the mentors? The Air Force needs to establish an Office of Football Affairs. That way, football coaches who want to continue their life of valuable service have the means to do so.
As in-tune as I am with the plight of these champions of football warfare, even I have some questions. What manner of classroom training do cadets receive about this branch of service? Are they even aware that this is an option available to them? I mean, surely this path is open to more than just members of the football team. The Air Force wouldn’t limit career choices based on extracurricular activities, would they? That would be silly. Actually, since attending the Air Force Academy is such a backbreaking endeavor, why is it that only the football team receives this elite mentoring? Wouldn’t all cadets benefit from the guidance of a specialized mentor? In fact, the Air Force Academy should probably grow by another 1,000 or so cadets just to ensure that it graduates enough career mentors to meet its needs. For that matter, why is it that only select Air Force Academy graduates get to serve as football coaches? Why can’t ROTC graduates fulfill that role? Imagine the quality of coaching the American people would receive if we expanded the talent pool from which to draw football coaches! And are coaches on active duty eligible for individual augmentation assignments? I imagine not, since coaches are far more mission critical than other Air Force officers.
Hopefully these questions will be answered. And hopefully the Air Force Academy will highlight their football coaches so the American people can give them the accolades that they deserve. Because the longer that the practice of using a service academy to produce football coaches is swept under the rug, the more some people will think that it’s just a taxpayer-funded boondoggle designed to help recruit players like Brad Padayao who want nothing to do with actual military service. And we can’t have that, now can we?