Col. Scott Bridgers ’89 and Capt. Jason Pukalo ’08 of the 157th “Swamp Fox” Fighter Squadron pose with an ECU flag in front of one of their F-16CM Fighting Falcons. The 157th is part of the South Carolina Air National Guard. Photo by Airman 1st Class Megan “Gina” Floyd
By Doug Boyd
Leadership isn't something that can be loaded into the hold of a C-17 Globemaster and airlifted to an international hotspot.
So where does it come from, and how does it get where it's needed?
For the military, East Carolina University is one place leadership has come from. Alumni in uniform have climbed through the ranks in all branches of service and in the Guard and Reserves, taking with them lessons learned at ECU and many times passing those on to today's students.
Col. Scott C. Bridgers '89, commander of the 169th Maintenance Group, 169th Fighter Wing, South Carolina Air National Guard, agrees.
"Probably the main thing is lead from the front," he says. "You have to be a credible leader who your supervisors and subordinates can respect. Sitting back and not volunteering for contingency operations while you send your folks downrange will make you an ineffective leader."
And Bridgers points out that leaders shouldn't lead simply from a position of authority. "You have to treat your folks like they are volunteers, we are all part of a team, and everyone is needed for mission success," says Bridgers, who piloted an F-16 in the Nov. 12 Military Appreciation Day flyover at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Hunter Rudd ’15, a College of Business graduate and former Green Beret, expressed similar thoughts about leadership skills learned at ECU. As part of his management 4343 class with faculty member Lee Grubb, Rudd led a team of volunteers to collect food for the Food Bank of Central & Eastern N.C. and TABLE, a nonprofit that provides healthy, emergency food aid every week to hungry children living in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. The project was close to his heart, having lived through war and seen the devastation wrought by nutrition deficiency.
“In my leadership within the military, you don’t readily realize how easy leadership is in such a hierarchical and compulsory environment,” he says. But leading student volunteers is different. “That presented a number of challenges for me, but in the end I was successful in not only raising more than 4,500 pounds of food donations, but I also learned a great deal about the art and science of leadership in the civilian world.”
From left, J. Jacob Hinton, president of the undergraduate veterans group at UNC-Chapel Hill; Lara Taylor, a veteran and President's Fellow at UNC; Edward Blayney, then a graduate student in the School of Government at UNC and a veteran; and Hunter Rudd, a veteran and business student at ECU, pose with some of the 4,650 pounds of food collected for the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina as part of a project in Rudd's senior leadership class.
His example illustrates that part of leadership is service. Farfour gives his own example.
“My senior year, the Air Force announced budget cuts as the Cold War started to come to a close,” he says, putting Detachment 600 at risk of closing.
“Lt. Col. Bill Patton, our commander, told us cadets that now was the time to show everybody what we’re made of. Be professional, extremely dedicated to our mission and be proud of our roots. ECU was one of the first AF ROTC units and one of the first to admit females. We worked hard, and the Air Force reconsidered their decision, and the detachment is still open.
“Every time I face a challenging situation, I remember what we were able to do with sheer dedication, commitment, professionalism, hard work and pride in our heritage,” he says. “‘To serve’ is ECU’s motto, and the Pirates have always fostered and contributed to the high calling of service to our nation. I am both humbled and proud to be a part of that legacy.”
Capt. Korey J. Silknitter, operations flight commander of Detachment 600, says academic classes focusing on leadership as well as practical experience help cadets learn how to lead.
“As cadets rise in grade level so does their leadership role and responsibility,” he says. “This ensures that by the time they are
ready to graduate from ECU they have the strongest foundation of leadership skills to build upon as they start their careers as Air Force officers.”
Gartrell Anderson, a senior and one of nearly 200 Army and Air Force ROTC students on campus, says each class of cadets leads the class that comes after it while seniors plan, supervise and organize the detachment.
"Through that you learn leadership skills by trial by fire," says Anderson, an Army ROTC cadet.
Air Force Capt. Natassia Cherne '08 said her time in Detachment 600 was her first opportunity to be a leader and helped her shape her leadership style.
"When you're about to be an officer, so many people have advice on what type of leader you should be," said Cherne, assistant director of operations with the 1st Combat Camera Squadron at Joint Base Charleston in South Carolina, where she leads training for 86 airmen. "At ECU, I learned the harder I tried to be someone else, the harder it was for me to be a good leader and get the mission done."
Perhaps as much as anything, eastern North Carolina is just fertile ground for growing leaders who have an eye on military service.
"Our proximity to several major military installations, with their associated resources, and our strong partnership with the National Guard and Reserve components also create an excellent environment for the production of outstanding commissioned officers year after year," says Tim Wiseman, an Army veteran and assistant vice chancellor for enterprise risk management and military programs.
ECU Provost Ron Mitchelson says ECU's combination of service and leadership provides unique opportunities to learn.
"When you combine leadership with service- learning, your ability to influence, your ability to contribute in a volunteer world is completely different," he says.