U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – Look no further than the U.S. Air Force Academy if you need proof of the shrinking education gap between today’s commissioned officers and enlisted personnel.
Senior Master Sgt. Patrick Hunt, one of 10 senior noncommissioned officers NCOs in the Academy’s enlisted faculty program, possesses credentials to impress even the most polished academic.
The Buffalo, New York, native holds a master’s degree in business administration-human resource management; a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice; an associate degree in criminal justice; an associate instructor of technology degree; and training certifications in executive leadership, human resources, and diversity, equity and inclusion.
Hunt says his mother encouraged him to pursue higher education. "They can’t take away knowledge, she always told me."
For all his qualifications, Hunt doesn’t rest on his laurels because cadets, he says, possess formidable intellectual and academic skills.
“They keep me on my toes,” he says. “Cadets are smart, eager to learn and ready to take the Air Force by storm. They’re smarter than I was at their age, a good thing as old ideas won’t work in our Air Force or Space Force. My job is to help cadets formulate and shape their ideas to fit the needs of today’s Airmen and Guardians.”
Hunt arrived at the Academy this year to teach emotional intelligence, the leaders of character framework, and to coach conversations at the Center for Character and Leadership Development.
“These courses help cadets internalize the leadership qualities and interpersonal skills they’ll need to be leaders of character,” he says.
Hunt, 41, began his Air Force career as a security forces Airman in 2001. He and his wife of 14 years, Aubrey Hunt, are parents to son Damon, 17, and daughters Maeleigh, 12, and Breichelle, 10.
“Aubrey’s not in the military but she’s earned every stripe,” Hunt says. “Without her support, I wouldn’t be here.”
Hunt’s extended family includes several veterans. His uncle, Gus Hunt, 76, is a former enlisted soldier who fought in Vietnam.
Today, Hunt has earned the highest military rank of any veteran in his family.
“My family had a difficult time promoting because there were many racial issues in the armed forces in those times,” he says.
Hunt was aware of the Academy but couldn’t imagine the career opportunities it could provide a senior noncommissioned officer.
“I knew the Lord was telling me something when I kept having visions and dreams about the mountains,” he says. “This is where he wants me to be. It took a while to get here, but he was preparing me for what he had in store. I’m blessed to be here.”
Opportunities in Waiting
In 2019, the Air Force Personnel Center at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas announced the need for senior NCOs to fill academic instructor positions. Enlisted instructors had taught cadets for decades but were not accredited faculty instructors. The move to hire enlisted instructors was part of a joint effort by Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, and the Academy to promote the education and expertise of enlisted Airmen.
Hunt says the enlisted faculty program is right for today’s Air Force and Space Force and he hopes more qualified senior NCOs apply to join the Academy’s academic roster.
“They won’t regret it,” he says. “Learning about the talents and abilities of the enlisted force will make cadets better officers who understand the enlisted culture, how we operate and how we support a commander’s vision.
“I want to put in as much as I can, to know I had a part in one of the most unique programs in the Air Force,” Hunt says.
Hunt says the charge to teach cadets while maintaining the skills and knowledge expected of the NCO corps is not a responsibility he takes lightly.
“To be selected from more than 60 candidates to fill one of 10 enlisted academy instructor billets is a blessing,” he says. “I’m a representative of the enlisted force shaping our new officers.”
Cadet 1st Class Zeead Belhachami, a behavioral sciences major, says Hunt’s dedication to teaching and to cadets is obvious.
“Though he’s older and has taken a different route to serve in the Air Force, he’s humble, understanding and comes up with ‘common ground experiences’ to relate to situations cadets deal with,” he says.
Hunt says he’s grateful for the professional and personal challenges he’s overcome during his career because those experiences help him relate to cadets.
“Not only do I have 21 years of service, but I have 41 years of life experiences to help any cadet who is struggling,” Hunt says. “I’m grateful for my hard times because they’ve given me the resilience, fortitude and the ability to elevate someone else. There’s no matrix to being a great leader, but if I can prevent my students from making the same mistakes I made or prevent them from making the same mistakes I’ve seen an officer make, it’s a success.”
Lessons Beyond the Classroom
Hunt says he strives to teach cadets lessons they can apply outside the classroom.
“What I want to teach them extends far beyond schoolwork and the Air Force or Space Force,” he says. “I want to teach things lasting a lifetime, to help them be better men, better women, and better humans.”
Hunt says the enlisted faculty members understand the importance of their influence on cadets and the Academy’s legacy.
“We’re honored to be part of this unique team,” he says. “Together, we have more than 250 years of combined service, and we know we’re placing our stamp and legacy within the curriculum and cadets.”
Hunt aspires to be promoted to chief master sergeant, the highest enlisted rank in the Air Force, but his primary focus remains on “the now.”
“I love what I do, and helping cadets become leaders of character is my way of making the world a better place,” he says.