By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
“Thank you for your service.”
United States military personnel probably hear those words more than a few times on Veterans Day. Let’s hope so. But what about tomorrow? And the next day? And the next?
There’s no shortage of daily appreciation – from firsthand experience – in Grand Canyon University’s vet-friendly Colangelo College of Business, which features two former Air Force officers (Dr. Randy Gibb and Dr. Mark Clifford) in leadership and faculty members with military backgrounds.
“I think it’s pretty cool that we have leadership with that perspective,” said Gibb, a retired colonel who served for 26 years in Air Force aviation leadership and academic administration roles and is now the CCOB dean. “When I talk to groups of online graduate students, there always are a good number of vets who really appreciate it. It’s like breaking down a barrier, like, ‘Oh, they get me. They understand.’
“I think it really helps to have that conversation. We’re not just seen as an academic.”
Clifford, a former lieutenant colonel and squadron commander who now is the CCOB Assistant Dean and Director of Sports Business, proudly puts his military service in his bio.
“It defines some of the things I’ve done,” he said. “It’s an instant connection and makes the student more comfortable and open to be able to have those conversations, especially in the sports world. When they ask how I transitioned from active military to sports business, it opens that door to communication.”
The CCOB military connections don’t stop there.
Two of the college’s instructors, Dr. Leslie D'Anjou and Kenneth Hein, are Army veterans, and Erin Boling, CCOB’s Academic Program Manager, knows that life firsthand, too: Her husband, Tim, was an E5 Airman in the Air Force before leaving the military a year ago, and his deployment had them living on a base in Japan before her employment at GCU.
These days, Boling sees military exploits all the time on the resumes she receives from candidates for adjunct teaching positions. She remembers having a military veteran in her classes when she was a GCU student, and she admires how Gibb and Clifford have emerged from their service to the country to serve CCOB just as diligently.
“It’s pretty inspiring,” she said. “Look at Randy’s background: Even though he was a pilot, look at how far he has come in academia.”
Gibb, for his part, wants to show that the skills veterans learn in the military are highly transferrable to civilian life.
“I encourage veterans to use the military as a springboard to bigger and better things as civilians," he said. "We at GCU are so supportive of helping students make that transition. I am so proud that we have hired faculty and staff with military background – they are all ‘operators.’ They know how to get things done -- do the mission of teaching!
"Lt. Col. (retired) Ken Hein exudes servant leadership given his Army service, and Dr. D’Anjou brings incredible cybersecurity expertise from his Army experiences.”
Clifford also is one of those veterans applying military-inbred skills to his classroom instruction.
“I’m very upfront and very honest. I expect a certain level of work ethic and a certain level of academic excellence, and that’s based on the standards I came from in the military,” he said. “I have a very high standard. The Colangelo College of Business has a very high standard, and I’m going to hold you to it. That helps define my approach with students.”
Veterans Day means that much more to Clifford because his father, Tom, enlisted in 1949 and during his 30-year stint became the Air Force’s fourth African-American general officer/major general.
“It means a ton because of the sacrifices that he’s been through,” Clifford said. “We talk about the social injustice now; think about it in 1949 when he actually joined the military, when we were segregated.
“For me, to honor him and to honor those who are still serving and knowing and understanding what the sacrifices are, it is a bigger thing than any of us can really imagine. Service to our country, for me personally, is one of the highest things that we could ever do for our country.”
Gibb said that the older he gets, the more emotional he gets about Veterans Day.
“Just know that there are people all over the world going to work with the U.S. flag on their shoulder and representing our country in places we don’t even know about. We’ve got to respect that,” he said. “They’ve left behind their families, who are trying to move forward, while they’re in places they can’t call from.
“It’s an Army guy in a tent somewhere. It’s an Air Force crew going into a remote base on the other side of the world. That’s happening right now as we speak, and it’s happening every day.”
It’s a day to celebrate the spouses, too.
“Erin says she didn’t serve,” Clifford said, “but when you’ve been in positions like Randy and I have as commanders, you know and understand that we have spouses who are supporting active duty. Tim couldn’t have done his job 100% without the support of Erin because if he was worried about stuff at home, he was not 100% on the job.”
Not long ago, Veterans Day was on Clifford’s mind as he spoke to a crowd at a high school in Missouri.
“One of the things I try to talk about with young people is, ‘Don’t honor veterans on Veterans Day alone,’” he said. “People forget that there are 365 days a year when people are out there sacrificing.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve, not only the Colangelo College of Business but the Air Force and our country.”
And that service, in turn, is honored by CCOB. Because its leaders know what it's like. They've been there. They, like all veterans on Veterans Day, deserve thanks.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].
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