Air Force officer has commanding presence among CCOB instructors
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Talk about a resumé with cachet: Dr. Mark Clifford’s list of responsibilities and achievements is such a head-turner, it gives hiring managers neck spasms.
- National collegiate boxing champion
- Fuel loader for Air Force One
- Executive officer in the physical education department and assistant boxing coach at the U.S. Air Force Academy
- Special operations deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Qatar and Africa
- Squadron commander
- And, for the last year, lieutenant colonel at the air base in Daegu, South Korea.
Now he has added one more important task: He’s an adjunct instructor who from halfway around the world teaches online classes in the Colangelo School of Sports Business at Grand Canyon University.
“I always wanted to keep one foot in academics,” Clifford said. “It’s definitely a program I’m glad to be part of.”
He became part of it because of his connection to Dr. Randy Gibb, dean of the Colangelo College of Business. Gibb was Clifford’s boxing coach at the Air Force Academy, and the two later coached together there.
“He’s been a great friend,” Clifford said.
Gibb said, “We need to support our growing sports business program with high quality online faculty. Mark brings his amazing international experiences, sports business Ph.D., and NCAA Division I athletic administration perspective to the classroom — this all in addition to his current role as a servant leader in the U.S. Air Force. He is just one of many impressive online faculty we have teaching our CCOB students. We are blessed to have him part of our team.”
Gibb wasn’t Clifford’s only GCU link. Clifford earned a Ph.D. in Sports Administration at the University of New Mexico and was in the same classes there with Dr. Brian Smith, now the director of GCU’s sports business school. They didn’t know each other well at the time, but they became better acquainted this summer when Clifford brought his family to GCU for a visit.
“Just a really, really impressive guy,” Smith said. “He’s in a leadership position with the Air Force and is directing an important operation. With the leadership and knowledge he has exhibited, it’s a perfect fit for us.”
You would expect an Air Force lieutenant colonel to be good at logistics, and Clifford has had to apply that skill to his GCU role. He has made it part of his morning routine at Daegu, where he supervises 800 people handling munitions, bombs, missiles, specialized vehicles and airways across five bases.
This is his second tour of duty in the Far East. He earlier was in fuel operations, managing C-130s, at Yokota Air Base in Tokyo. He and his wife, Alix, and their two sons, Kaleb, 13, and Jaiden, 11, live in Camp Walker, 30 minutes from Daegu Air Base. The boys play flag football, baseball and basketball, so much of the Cliffords’ time is spent at games at other bases throughout South Korea.
Home is Blythe, Calif., just across the border from Arizona. The family moved to Blythe from Detroit when Clifford was a teenager (he’s still a big Detroit Lions fan), and it’s where he met Alix and where his parents, Tom and Edie, still live. Tom served 30 years in the Air Force as a fighter pilot, retiring as a two-star general (the Air Force’s fourth African-American general officer/major general).
So it was only natural that Clifford would follow in his dad’s footsteps. All freshmen at the Air Force are required to take boxing, and Clifford went on to become a three-time All-American and national champion under Gibb’s coaching.
“Randy made us run all the time, and he ran with us. He’d smoke us, but that was after we had done a two-hour workout,” Clifford said, laughing.
Gibb kidded back, “That is too funny. Of course, he also mentioned the prior workout excuse: As the wise, old coach, I had to get the advantage on the younger boxers.”
The friendship is now a partnership as Clifford looks to help his old friend continue to grow the CCOB program. And the best part of all for Clifford is that he gets to work for an institution that is faith-based.
“I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t speak about religion in the military because of concerns about favoritism,” he said. “At GCU, I’m able to talk that so openly that it almost rejuvenates my faith. It’s comfortable being part of GCU and how open they are. It’s a good fit. And I admire their entrepreneurial spirit. If I were retiring now, I’d love to get on board more fully.”
Clifford is eligible to retire in less than two years, and he said his decision at that point might depend on how Kaleb is doing in high school. But there is one overriding factor.
“I miss being home,” he said.
Though very far away, he has found a home at GCU.
Contact Rick Vacek at 602-639-8203 or [email protected]