Selfridge Airman Boosts Career With Degree

  • Published
  • By TSgt. Dan Heaton
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs

There was no one piece of information learned through bachelor's degree that helped Senior Master Sgt. Russ Childs advance his military career. Rather it was the fact that the degree, he said, changed the way he thinks.

"The degree made me think bigger," said Childs, financial management superintendent of the 127th Comptroller Flight at Selfridge Air National Guard Base. "It helped me to get past just what do I see today, but to gain input from other sources and see the bigger picture."

Childs is one of hundreds of Citizen-Airmen in the 127th Wing at Selfridge who has taken advantage of military tuition assistance programs to go back to school to earn a degree of some sort.

"Initially, I wanted to get the degree because no one in my family had one," said Childs. "As I got going, I realized it was helping me to become a better leader."

Childs' experience is not uncommon, said Jack Bronka, a retired Air Force Reserve lieutenant colonel who now serves as the program center manager for Northwood University's satellite office located at Selfridge.

"Education makes a difference not only for the individual, but for the organization as a whole," Bronka said.

Bronka described his role as part guidance counselor, part administrator and full-time encourager of the students he interacts with.

"I ask them what their goals are," he said of his military students. "Then we develop a road map and say here's what it is going to take to reach that goal and then I just stay in communication with the student and encourage them to keep going."

For Childs, who earned his bachelor's degree in business management from Northwood in 2010, the extra work in the classroom paid off - he was promoted to his current position earlier this year and now supervising a team of 18 people.

"As the superintendent of the 127th Comptroller Flight, we need a person who has both a high degree of technical expertise and an ability to see beyond the day-to-day activity," said Lt. Col. Constantine Leon, commander of the 127th Comptroller Flight. "I believe earning his degree has helped SMSgt. Childs gain the ability to think strategically about our mission as the financial center for the 127th Wing and has also sharpened his personal skills as a financial manager and as a leader and mentor to the Airmen who work for him."

Operated from an office and classroom space on the base, Bronka said Northwood's Selfridge center primarily serves students who are either currently in the military or their dependents, along with a few recent veterans. The center offers 20-odd classes a year on the base, after duty hours and on the weekends. Bronka helps students navigate the paperwork of receiving military education benefits, review any credit they may have earned through their military training and also helps advise students on class scheduling, based on any known upcoming deployments.

"We understand the commitments our students have made to our military first," Bronka said. "That's one of the reasons why we try to work closely with each person so that we can decide how we need to work on the schedule to meet their personal goals while they continue to serve."

Childs served on active duty in the Air Force for 10 years. He's been a full-time member of the Air National Guard for the past 12 years. As a young Airman, he took his first college class while stationed at the former K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base in 1991. There was a more than 12-year break between that class and his next one.

"I realized after a while that I was not being all that I could be," Childs said. "It was silly for me to not take advantage of this benefit available to me."

That's a point stressed by Chief Master Sgt. Robert Dobson, the command chief and senior enlisted member of the 127th Wing

"One of the great things the Air Force does is to provide pathways for a person to live up to his or her full potential, said Dobson, who hold a bachelor's degree from Regents College in New York and a master's degree from the University of Phoenix. "Off-duty education, be it working toward degree or some type of professional certification, really helps an Airmen take the next step and realize that potential. Given the benefits that are provided by the Air National Guard, a person is really doing him or herself a disservice by not at least exploring what options are available."