Grad balances military training, GCU studies

Micah Slifer, who received his master's degree in leadership, is part of a Washington Air National Guard unit that mans a 24/7 mission to protect the airspace on the Western seaboard.

Micah Slifer was no stranger to Grand Canyon University.

The air weapons officer for the Washington Air National Guard heard of GCU during his high school days in private school. But he really was introduced to the University through his sister-in-law, former Havocs leader Apryl Thimsen, who directed the Havocs’ social media accounts before graduating in 2020 with her bachelor’s degree in marketing and advertising.

Slifer's job in the military is to be an extra set of eyes for pilots, relaying to them all the information gathered by sensors and radars.

“She embraced the GCU culture, so we got exposed to it a little bit because of her,” said Slifer.

When she returned to the University for her master of science degree in leadership, graduating in the spring, that inspired Slifer to do the same.

“That was part of the encouragement, being so close to something that it became a you-also-know-you-can-achieve-it kind of thing,” said Slifer, who himself became a Lope, thanks in part to his sister-in-law’s influence.

He traveled from his home in Lakewood, Washington, near Tacoma, to walk across the Commencement stage on Wednesday after also earning his master’s in leadership. He is among hundreds of nontraditional students that the campus community is celebrating in five ceremonies over three days — through Friday — at GCU Arena.

“I love GCU, so I only spoke highly of it,” said Thimsen, who fell so in love with the campus after a Discover GCU trip that she applied to only one college: GCU.

Thanks to her Havocs connections, Thimsen arranged a tour of the basketball practice facility for Slifer through men’s basketball coach Bryce Drew.

“I’m glad I got to help a little bit in making that happen,” Thimsen said, though it took more than a little bit of doing for Slifer to make his master’s degree happen, considering his demanding job as an active-duty guardsman.

After a five-year stint as a project engineer for a construction management company right out of college, he decided to join the Washington Air National Guard because, as he said, “I wanted to serve my community and my country, and the Guard is actually a really unknown, amazing opportunity to do so.”

His unit, based at Tacoma’s McChord Field, mans a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week, 365-days-a-year mission to protect the airspace on the Western seaboard. That 24/7 unit stands out from other National Guard units, which often are part time and follow the serve-one-weekend-a-month/two-weeks-a-year model.

Slifer and his wife added two daughters to their family during his academic journey.

“So it’s a pretty unique mission,” said Slifer, whose job is to “pilot pilots” and be their extra set of eyes: “It’s like playing chess with fighter jets, if you will. Our job is to give them all the information that our sensors, systems and radars can see that they can’t out of the nose of their plane.”

What made the pursuit of his master’s just that more challenging was that he started the program not long after he joined the military and was in the middle of intense, “high-tempo” training in Florida for his National Guard job. Add to that a newborn daughter.  

“I really had a long conversation with my wife about, ‘Hey, this is going to take about a year and a half. … It was kind of like, ‘Is this something that we can do?’ My wife, 100%, was, you know, let’s go for it.’”

About two-thirds of the way through the program, a second daughter was born, and somewhere in between, Slifer trained in Florida for almost a year, completed mission qualification training in Washington, and moved his family from Florida to Washington.

“There have been times where I’ve had to work the night shift of our operation, which is from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., and trying to balance that and then come home and sleep, then knock out class assignments before I had to go back the next night at 6 p.m., in addition to trying to be there for my family and be present for my wife and help her with the kids.”

After making it over all those hurdles and finally earning that degree, Slifer said, “I’m super, super thankful we’ve come to the end” at “a great school where you can talk about your faith and use your biblical worldview as you go through your studies.”

And he’s thankful he’s come to an ending he shares with his devoted, bleeds-purple sister-in-law.

“It’s really cool we have that experience and that connection that we can share together,” Thimsen said. “Now there’s two alums in the family, and it’s really awesome to be able to say that.”

Senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.

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Bible Verse

Be not afraid, O land (of Judah); be glad and rejoice. Surely the Lord has done great things. (Joel 2:21)

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