Show Your Colors: My Time with the Air Force
At AMU, we don’t field sports teams and you won’t find a stadium with our name on it. We’re a worldwide team of students and alumni who proudly serve their nation and their communities. AMU’s slogan, Our Athletes Don’t Play Games, illustrates how every day is game day for our students and alumni.
As we kickoff Super Bowl 50 we’ll be sharing stories over the next five weeks from different members of AMU’s community each week with their story on why they’re proud to show their branch colors. We encourage you to show your pride, like Wes O’Donnell, and your colors. Check out the new AMU ‘athletes’ gear today! A portion of the proceeds will go to Team Semper Fi.
By Wes O’Donnell
Editor, In Military and Alumnus, American Military University
As a veteran, I am fortunate to have served in two separate branches of the military: the U.S. Army and the Air Force. Serving in the Army infantry challenged me and taught me a lot about myself, both physically and mentally, when I first started out. Later in my military career, I transitioned into the Air Force and was presented with all new challenges that helped me develop who I am as a leader and lifelong learner.
Everyone who serves belongs to a special cadre of men and women who have each other’s backs. At the same time, each branch has its unique culture, nicknames, and reputations, whether they are deserved or not. Some are based in truth, others are myths, but most of all, branch rivalries add a depth of color and camaraderie between the branches that will never fade. This is good, because it keeps military life fun and interesting. There’s plenty of humor to go around.
If you’re in any branch of the military, you’ve heard the good-natured phrase calling the Air Force the U.S. “Chair Force,” because we’re top-notch when it comes to all the sitting around we allegedly do. If you can’t dazzle them with bullets, dazzle them with brilliance. Admittedly, the majority of Air Force jobs, including the most well-known job, the fighter pilot, are performed while seated.
Having served in two different branch cultures—Dude, where’s my tank?—I enjoy the banter, but I’m also in the unique position to report that the stereotypes are definitely (not) true. Sure, while serving in the Army, I had to rub my eyes to make sure I wasn’t dreaming when we arrived at an Air Force base in Kuwait. It appeared more like a temporary country club with an Olympic-sized inflatable pool, air-conditioned tents, and a golf course, than a forward-operating war base.
Wes is pictured in Air Force colors for AMU’s new ‘Our Athletes Don’t Play Games’ collection.
From my dual point of view, the Air Force was anything but a place to rest in a chair and put your feet up. I met some of the smartest individuals and hardest-working leaders that I have ever known while I was in the Air Force. In my personal experience, it was a branch that consistently engaged your problem-solving mindset at every level. Your ability to think creatively and quickly became your most valuable asset. The phrase “work smarter, not harder” was adopted as the unofficial motto of nearly every squadron that I encountered.
“I’m proud of my time serving my nation in the Army and the Air Force, just like I’m proud to have served the greater mission of supporting all of my fellow servicemembers, no matter which branch they represent. We’re all in this together, whether inside the military or as veterans.”
My leaders placed a special emphasis on higher education. College was encouraged, and those Airmen interested in such pursuits were nurtured and given time during duty hours to complete education-related tasks and classes. Thankfully, with a slower “ops tempo” in the Air Force compared to my job in the Army, I was able to give serious consideration to higher education. While the Army strengthened my resolve, the Air Force polished my educational and leadership skills that led me to post-military success as an entrepreneur and public speaker. Here’s how it happened.
From Jets to Higher Education
I started my job in the Air Force repairing and maintaining the RADAR system of the E3 Sentry AWACS jet, an airborne warning and surveillance aircraft. It was during this time that I learned extremely valuable electronics skills that would later land me a job with Siemens Medical, repairing and installing MRI machines.
The Boeing E-3 Sentry, commonly known as AWACS, seen here in Manta, Ecuador
It was within my first year in the Air Force, when I was ready to pursue higher education that a colleague recommended that I check out American Military University (AMU). I performed my due diligence and research to ensure that AMU was accredited and submitted my credits from previous classes that I had picked up in the Army, as well as any CLEP tests that I had taken.
“The single biggest legacy from my time as an Airman was the permanent shift in my internal value structure. Today, I no longer place a special emphasis or increased value on brawn or beauty, but on brains.”
AMU was a great decision for me, whether I was serving in the Army or Air Force, especially considering that I studied online with peers from all of the branches stationed around the world. The university challenged me more than the traditional brick-and-mortar institutions. It was an amazing experience. Lifelong friendships were made and the passionate fire for lifelong learning, created by the Air Force, was reinforced by my mentors and instructors at AMU.
Leaving a Legacy
All humor aside, there’s more to my story of personal growth, and how my time in the Air Force shaped who I am today. The single biggest legacy from my time as an Airman was the permanent shift in my internal value structure. Today, I no longer place a special emphasis or increased value on brawn or beauty, but on brains. This is reflected in my hiring practices at the companies I own, Warrior Lodge Media and Modern Workspace, along with my role as an Ambassador of AMU and Managing Editor of AMU’s site, inmilitary.com/inmilitary.
For me, each branch contributed to my success in different ways:
- The Army provided me with hard leadership skills and a number of intangible traits that inform many of my decisions to this day.
- The Air Force opened the door to higher education, gave me solid trade skills that got me employed rather quickly once I left active duty, and perhaps most important, changed the way I approach the strategic-thinking process.
So you see that those two service branches represent important and equal parts of the whole person I am today. I’m proud of my time serving my nation in the Army and the Air Force, just like I’m proud to have served the greater mission of supporting all of my fellow servicemembers, no matter which branch they represent. We’re all in this together, whether inside the military or as veterans.
Why it’s Much More Than the “Chair Force”
And finally, as a former enlisted Airman, I’m occasionally asked what made the Air Force so smart. I respond that in the Army, the officers would send the enlisted out to fight. Since flying as an Air Force pilot is restricted to officers, we, the enlisted, send our officers out to fight. “Have a nice flight, sir.” That’s pretty smart to me…
Ready to Show Your Colors?
A portion of proceeds from the sale of AMU Campus Store items will be donated to Team Semper Fi. This charity supports recovery through sport for more than 1,000 servicemembers from all branches of the military who have overcome significant challenges in their service to our country, and have embraced the fighting, athletic spirit on their road to recovery.
About the Author
Wes O’Donnell is a serial entrepreneur who has successfully started three companies. He is the author of RISE: The Veteran’s Field Manual for Starting Your Own Business and is a professional keynote speaker discussing such topics as veteran empowerment and the necessity of the entrepreneurial spirit. Wes is also a professor of predictive analytics and leadership at a small Michigan university. Wes is a proud graduate of American Military University and credits AMU’s business program for much of his financial success as an entrepreneur.