U.S. AIR Force Academy, Colo. --
So you’re an Airman who wants a radical life change?
Try following Senior Master Sgt. William Rudd’s lead because it rarely gets more radical than this.
He’s slated to attend officer training school later this year at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, after 19 years of enlisted service. He’ll be 38 when he gets there.
“As I grew older, I realized becoming an officer would provide me a greater opportunity to lead Airmen,” Rudd said. “I didn’t want to look back and regret that I never tried.”
Rudd is the Academy’s paralegal manager. He’s eligible for promotion to chief master sergeant, holds a bachelors in organizational management and is enrolled in an organizational leadership masters’ program. You could say he’s at the top of his game when it comes to enlisted careers.
He’s also a family man, married for 16 years to wife Krista Rudd. They’re the parents of sons Greydon, 13, Dylan, 11, and Benjamin, 9.
“We’ve been together since I was an airman first class and she’s always pushed me to succeed and supported me,” he said.
Rudd and Krista had a lot to unravel when he first applied to OTS in 2012. Applications to OTS were placed on hold due to government sequestration, but once those applications were accepted again, he had to balance the probability of an assignment change after commissioning with one of his sons'’ diagnosis of Crohn’s colitis. At the time, he decided not to reapply.
“I felt it was more important to have [his son] in one place for as long as possible so he could get the medical care he needed,” he said.
Once his son had been placed in routine medical care, Rudd no longer met the age requirement to apply to OTS.
Still, he wondered ‘what if?’” His break came late last year, when the Air Force raised the age limit for OTS applicants to 40.
“The decision to commission and stay in the service for quite a while longer was a big one for our family and we certainly had a lot of discussions about what was the right choice,” Rudd said.
The senior master sergeant received his acceptance letter to OTS in March.
“The timing worked out perfectly,” he said. “I’m a big believer that things happen for a reason. I was relieved the wait was over.”
Accepting a commission comes with a four-year service commitment. Rudd said he plans to serve for 11 years and retire after 30 years of military service.
Rudd said most of his extended family think he’s a bit “crazy” to chase down a commission this late in his career, but they’re happy for him.
“They’re definitely proud of the success I’ve had in my career and of this accomplishment,” he said. “I think they’re a bit disappointed that I’m not retiring and moving closer, but as with everything I’ve ever done, they’re super supportive.”
Rudd said he’s grateful to Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, the Academy’s superintendent, for signing the required letter of recommendation, and to Chief Master Sgt. Rob Boyer, the Academy’s command chief, for guiding him through the application process.
"To my mind, the best quality Senior Master Sgt. Rudd brings with him is his enlisted experience," Boyer said. "He's a leader who understands and appreciates enlisted Airmen. He understands their capabilities and competencies, the tremendous asset they bring to the fight, and how to manage their efforts in accomplishing the mission."
Rudd grew up in a military family in Westwood, California (pop. 2,000) in the state’s northeast corner. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Westwood is home to about 2,000 people.
“It’s is a very small town with a close-knit community,” he said. “Many kids went from Kindergarten to 12th grade together, and most of us were together since early elementary. It was a great place. You didn’t have to lock your doors at night.”
Rudd’s family has a legacy of military service.
“All four of my brothers served in the military,” he said. “My father served and four of my nephews served, but none of us served as an officer.
One brother, Army soldier Tyler Abbott, died in his sleep in 2012 after having back surgery. He’d just returned from a tour in Iraq.
“The way the military took care of him, facilitated my leave and travel and assisted my family just reaffirmed my belief in our values,” Rudd said. “There have been several times during my career that the military has taken care of me or my family in a way that goes far above a job. The family culture and camaraderie is a huge part of why I serve.”
Rudd’s first enlistment didn’t occur without some wrangling after he spent time in juvenile hall.
“I’d wanted to enlist in the Air Force for quite a while and I thought I’d ruined my opportunity,” he said.
Rudd was able to enlist with a Criminal History or “Moral” waiver which allows recruits with some initially disqualifying situations to join the military. Federal law gives the military services leeway in determining who to accept for enlistment or commission. An applicant's criminal and "moral" history plays a large role in whether they’re eligible to enlist or commission.
“I’m happy to talk about the experience, especially to the extent that my experience can help someone else,” he said. “Some Airmen get Article 15s and tell me that they think their career is over.”
Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice allows commanders to dole-out discretionary punishments without judicial proceedings, according to Defense Department regulations. Rudd’s Moral waiver was included in his application for OTS.
“A lot of us have done bone-headed things without really thinking about it during our careers,” he said. “When I talk to Airmen about their Article 15s, I want them to know that they can recover from their situation just as I recovered from mine.”
Rudd hopes his enlisted experience will help younger officers.
“I will likely be one of the first intimate looks my OTS classmates will have of who and what a senior NCO is, so I feel a huge responsibility to represent us well,” he said. “I think experience and insight will be the things that set me apart from traditional lieutenants as a lot of what I will be responsible for as a junior officer is similar to what I do as a senior NCO. Hopefully, I’ll be able to help my peers succeed.”