Posted on Wednesday, March 31, 2021
Talking with Col. Chris Buckley '99, a chemistry graduate, was nothing less than amazing. What he's seen in his life - and how he approaches gratitude - is unmatched. Take a look at our Q&A session below. We hope it will encourage you to find your own wings.
Please tell me a little bit about your life after graduating from Westminster College. I got my commission as a Lieutenant in the US Air Force, and then was sent to Navy Flight School at Pensacola Naval Air Station. After I got my wings, I was assigned to the B-52 Stratofortress as a Navigator and Bombardier. For 7 years, I flew the B-52 through many combat deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2008, I was selected to attend the US Air Force Test Pilot School, and then I spent the next decade doing research and development of new aircraft, software, weapons, and whatnot at Edwards Air Force Base in California. That decade was frequently interrupted by more deployments to the Middle East. Over the years I have had the privilege to lead, be it small teams in combat, large aircraft formations, or an entire squadron. The Air Force keeps challenging me.
As you look back on your life, what’s been the proudest accomplishment or moment that you’ve ever experienced? There is no one particular moment. For the past 30 years, I got to walk in the footsteps of legends. Those legends trusted me to take the work and move it further down the road. It has been an honor to lead teams that have literally changed the world.
Looking back at all that you’ve done and accomplished, what are you still in awe of that many people haven’t had the opportunity to experience? The rest of the world. You would be surprised at how many people stay where they are placed or relocate to things very similar to what they grew up knowing. The real world is vast and incredibly different from everything you know. In my opinion, travel destroys ignorance. The more you can experience different ways of life, the more likely you are to accept differences in all mankind. This experience breaks down the barriers that build racism, sexism, and the hateful way lots of people see other people. Those things are born in ignorance, travel destroys that. See as much of the world as you can and experience it from a local’s perspective.
What quality about yourself have you leaned on the most throughout the various roles that you’ve had in your life? Curiosity. My job has been to find a way to do things that have never been done. I love the challenge. Nothing is impossible. Sometimes you just need billions of taxpayer dollars, unlimited resources, and a literal army behind you to get it done.
You’ve quite literally moved up the ranks quickly in your life, moved to many new places, and have had the importance of people’s lives on your shoulders. What is your advice to others about how to stay grounded in the midst of change and pressure? First, learn to love failure. I have failed at more things in more time zones than anyone I know. Failure is not losing, it is learning. But you must learn from it. There is a world of difference between failure and defeat. No one moves up without a healthy dose of failure to build their foundation.
Second, understand that leadership is service. Some people mistakenly believe subordinates are there to serve the leader. This is wrong. Leadership is a responsibility to serve your subordinates. My job is to serve my troops. Pressure and change forge great leaders. Avoiding challenges means you will never really make a difference in the world.
Which of your qualities do you feel were sharpened during your time at Westminster College that have allowed you to go on and do amazing things? Westminster introduced me to several key attributes that have served me well. The first is the concept of a liberal arts education. In my experience, the more focused a person is in their field, the less likely they are to see anything else. A broader understanding opens possibilities. The second is public speaking. Chemistry majors had a weekly seminar where getting up in front of a crowd and talking was a regular occurrence. Those who fear public speaking will always have a limitation to how far they can rise. The last one is leadership. I was privileged to learn how to lead others while at Westminster, under the guidance of some great mentors. Those three things made Westminster worth every penny.
With your life experiences backing you, why do you find it important to give to things that you’re most passionate about, particularly to Westminster? Not all people are good. When you find a place that does good things and is run by and filled with good people, you have to support it with whatever you can. The world that we need is not going to be easy to build, and some people are going to try to stop us from building it. Places like Westminster produce the people that are willing to fight to build it.
Keep reading the April Wake Up with Wiley.