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Airman of the Year is a Knight of Columbus who was instrumental in liberating Iraq

CAPTAIN JULIAN GLUCK
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Julian Gluck flew dozens of missions but always found time to help those in need.

Many elements played a role in the liberation of areas of Iraq and Syria from the Islamic State group. That included, of course, many military personnel from a coalition of nations including the United States. One of those military personnel was U.S. Air Force Captain Julian Gluck.

Gluck flew a B-52 Stratofortress on bombing missions over the last major strongholds of ISIS: Mosul in Iraq and ar-Raqqa in Syria, the jihadist group’s self-declared capital.

Though there are worrying reports that ISIS has gone underground and is waiting for the right time to make a comeback, their defeat on the battlefield has given some citizens, including those of minority religions that were targeted by the Islamist group, hope for rebuilding their homes.

Asked how he felt about flying close air support missions over the two besieged cities, Gluck offered, “I would say for any person of faith there comes a time when you have to take a serious look both within and at the conflicts that are going on around you. I felt a great sense of pride in being able to participate in the actions in the Middle East that we were doing, particularly against ISIS, because to me, the work of the United States and our allied partners that we were carrying out in those regions was for the defense and liberation of the wonderful people of Iraq and Syria, so that they could live their lives free from the tyranny and oppression of ISIS.

“The work we were able to do in the Middle East has been the most meaningful part of my life up until this point; being able to serve with my crew down range was something I will always look upon,” he continued. “It can be difficult for people as they shoulder the responsibilities of war and combat, but you have to look at the greater purpose.”

The 28-year-old Air Force officer, who flew 35 combat missions as part of Operation Inherent Resolve (and one for Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan), was recognized recently not only for his duty to country but also his service to humanity—at home and in the places he’s been deployed.

As the Air Force Times wrote recently, “Serving in a war can be a time-consuming experience — flying a B−52 Stratofortress bomber in two different combat zones even more so. When service members do find spare time, it’s typically reserved for the weight room, phone calls with family, or catching up on television shows from back home. For Air Force Capt. Julian Gluck, though, it’s also a time to find service opportunities in a new community.”

It’s why the Air Force Times chose Gluck, out of nearly 500,000 members of the Air Force, Air Force Reserve, and Air National Guard, as Airman of the Year for 2018. It’s also why the Knights of Columbus awarded him their inaugural College Councils Distinguished Alumnus Award. The latter is given to a former College Knight who has shown “continued commitment to the Knights of Columbus after college, and has dedicated himself to the service of his church and community.”

“By honoring Captain Gluck, we hold him up as a model knight: a young man who takes his faith seriously, who is willing to stand for what is right when the stakes are high and when the stakes are ordinary,” said Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson at a ceremony in New Haven, Connecticut, September 28. “He has answered his country’s call in time of war and he has helped neighbors who thought their needs were unknown. He’s an everyday hero—every day.”

A native of LaGrange, Georgia, Gluck moved around a lot as a kid, but there was one constant that left a lasting impression on the young man: the example of service he observed from his father—a disabled veteran and professional pilot—and his mother, an occupational therapist.

“My parents were always involved in volunteering—my mother at church and my father with the Civil Air Patrol and various other causes,” Gluck said in an interview. “So I was always interested in giving back to the community.”

Like his father, Gluck too was involved in Civil Air Patrol—a civilian auxiliary branch of the Air Force that supports communities with emergency response; aviation and ground services; youth development and promotion of air, space and cyber power—and it’s where he learned a love of service. That love led him to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, where he studied political science and Japanese. He sang in the Academy’s “In the Stairwell” acappella group, which performed twice at the White House, and was a boxer. He also joined the Knights of Columbus at the Academy.

“I wanted to be involved in a volunteer organization that I thought was there to help the community,” he said. “I was very impressed with what the Knights had done after 9/11 for the first responders and what the Knights have done in response to disasters.”

He quipped that there was another reason for joining: “I thought a sword would be really awesome.”

In addition to being active locally, including a term as the grand knight at the Academy, Gluck represented his council at the College Councils Conference in New Haven, where the Knights was founded and is headquartered. He also served as chairman of the College Councils Advisory Board, which represents some 250 college councils in five countries.

After graduating from the Air Force Academy in 2012, Gluck stayed on for post-graduate research at the Eisenhower Center for Space and Defense Studies and Department of Political Science while waiting for pilot training. He then flew the T-6 Texan II and T-38C Talon at Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas. Upon graduation, he was assigned to fly the B-52 and moved to Barksdale AFB near Shreveport, Louisiana.

Off hours, he transferred to the local Knights council, focusing on efforts to help with young adult recruitment and retention statewide. He also renewed his involvement with the Civil Air Patrol. In the Shreveport area, he is the deputy commander for cadets at Barksdale Composite Squadron, where he teaches and mentors about 35 12-to-20-year-old cadets in leadership and aerospace education.

“I try to help them realize their dreams, whether it’s to join the service or to go to college, technical school, or the world of work, and help them be the best people they can be inside and outside the organization,” he said.

His first deployment was to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar with the 96th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron. In his six months there he flew over 350 combat hours, but he still found time for volunteer service. There were a number of Knights on the base from various councils back home, and Gluck found ways to organize with them for service projects. Qatar is a magnet for many migrant workers from other places in Asia. There were also a number of immigrants, particularly from the Philippines and Nepal, employed on the base—in its dining facilities or in the janitorial services, for example.

“Many came from overseas with very little, so we had clothing shipped in from various donors back home and helped package it together and distribute to the various places where these individuals worked,” Gluck explained.

At the same time, Gluck noticed that a large number of care packages that church groups and other volunteer organizations back in the States were sending contained items that weren’t needed or desired at the base by the military members or workers: canned goods, baby supplies, playing cards, etc. The base chapel was overwhelmed with such donations too.

“So I thought, ‘There’s got to be someone in Qatar we could help,'” he said. “There’s a lot of folks in Qatar in the city of Doha, who could really use these, particularly folks who come from other countries in search of work here. So I found out that there was an outreach program to roughly 200,000 migrant workers through Our Lady of the Rosary, which is the only Catholic church in Qatar.”

Collaborating with a deployed chaplain, chaplain assistant, and the clergy at the Doha religious facility, Gluck was able to distribute goods to the migrant workers in the city who were seeking help.

After Qatar, Gluck deployed with the 20th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron to Andersen AFB on the Pacific island (and U.S. territory) of Guam, as part of the “continuous bomber presence” for the Pacific Air Forces’ deterrence and assurance mission. It was at the height of tensions between the United States and North Korea, whose leader, Kim Jong Un, had been carrying out a series of nuclear weapons tests and was threatening that he could hit the mainland United States with one. He was also threatening the island of Guam.

“We were deployed to the region during a lot of the negotiations,” Gluck said. “I was glad to be out there, and hopefully our squadron aided in the peace process due to our presence in the area.”

He said that during the deployment he was “buoyed by having a great squadron and wonderful crew members to fly with. I felt confident that if called upon, the members of the B-52 community would do everything they could to ensure that our missions were successfully accomplished and that peace would be reached.”

In general, Gluck calls it a “wonderful experience” to be able to be a part of a B-52 crew. “We have some of the most dedicated and highly trained individuals in our community,” he said. Although he says there are “thousands of others who are more deserving” to be recognized as Airman of the Year, he said, “I’m very proud to be an Air Force member and an aviator and officer in the greatest service in the world.”

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