Continuing to Defend and Support the Constitution
Spotlight on Bruce Wykes, ’14
Written by Madeleine Jepsen
Bruce Wykes, 2014 graduate of the Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship and now its director of operations, first heard the call to serve his country from the lips of Ronald Reagan filtering through the speakers of the family’s TV. Reagan was speaking about American exceptionalism and the Cold War.
“I was too young to understand all that, but I heard the speeches and heard the things he said, and it made me love my country,” Mr. Wykes said. “It made me want to pay it back and pay it forward, to honor those served before me, and to make sure this country would remain free for myself and for my children.”
Another factor in his interest in service was the Iranian Hostage Crisis, a situation called to mind at the beginning of every school day by the number in the upper left-hand corner of the chalk board, which tallied the number of days the hostages remained in Iran. Then one day Mr. Wykes skipped classes to watch Reagan’s inaugural address.
As the president finished his address and exited the stage, the press surrounded him, asking for comment on the release of the American hostages in Iran.
“Within minutes of his inauguration, the fifty-one Americans who has been held for 444 days were being released,” Mr. Wykes said. “That just overwhelmed me, because every day we had incremented that number.”
Mr. Wykes then enlisted in the air force in 1988 under Reagan and joined in 1989—the beginning of nearly twenty-three years of active duty. For part of this time, Mr. Wykes worked at the education office of an air force base, helping students fit their military training and certifications into degree paths and doing administrative work to help education and training programs run smoothly. Eventually he followed the advice of one of his first superiors and went to officer training school—after earning his bachelor’s degree in history at the University of Guam.
“It sort of dawned on me that I was helping other people to get their degree and apply to commissioning programs, and that perhaps I should do that,” he said.
After obtaining a master’s degree in Middle Eastern history, he taught history at the Air Force Academy for three-and-a-half years.
“In my academics, I had meandered a little bit,” he said. “I settled on history because I felt strongly drawn to understand history, particularly the history of the United States, the history of the West, the history of Christianity…these were all of great interest to me.”
As an officer, Mr. Wykes assumed additional responsibility.
“You’re usually working much more directly with senior commanders and working special issues and projects; they turn to you to be their functional expert,” he said. “Even though on a day-to-day basis you may not be doing the things your team is doing, you have to fully know everything and how they do it so you can make sure they have the tools and training they need to do it.”
At one point during his deployment, Mr. Wykes worked at the International Security Assistance Force’s Joint Command in Kabul, helping arrange flight plans for airlift missions—a drastic change from the administrative and teaching work he had done for the air force before.
“I can remember one night; it was late, after 11 p.m., and the sergeant major sitting next to me was getting very frustrated on the phone,” Mr. Wykes recalled. “It sounded like she was having trouble getting flight stuff arranged, so I said, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ and she said, ‘I’ve got a guy, and he was injured, and they’ve medevaced him, and now he needs treatment, and if he doesn’t get it, he’s going to lose his eye.’ The rules at that time were that medevac was only for your initial move, and only if you were at risk of losing life.
“We couldn’t use medevac to move him, and it was past the cutoff time, so every single nation with aircraft available to me had already shut down their operations for the day,” he said. “I started making phone calls.”
While coordinating with an Italian counterpart, Mr. Wykes was able to secure a flight for the soldier, who got the medical treatment he needed to save his eye. A few weeks later, Mr. Wykes also booked the soldier’s return flight so he could rejoin his unit.
After retiring from the air force as a major, Mr. Wykes joined the inaugural class at the Van Andel School of Statesmanship, moving to Hillsdale with his wife and family, which, by the time he left active duty had grown from three to more than ten, in part due to foster parenting, which led to several adoptions.
“As a student, I think some people marveled at how I could do a rigorous program full time while also being a husband and a father to special needs kids,” Mr. Wykes said. “I think the answer is I had to do that off and on my whole career…. It also helps to have a pretty amazing wife in both cases, and I am very blessed in that regard.”
His graduate coursework at Hillsdale, and now his job as the director of operations for the graduate school, are a continuation of the oath of service he took as a member of the air force to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
“Naturally, thinking about what does it mean to support the Constitution, you have to think about what the Constitution is, and why we recognize it as our authority; what is it about the Constitution that makes it so important? It’s the consent of the governed, the rule of law, the ‘we the people’ vesting the authority in the government through the Constitution; it’s all these things that we learn and value here at Hillsdale College,” Mr. Wykes said. “When I found myself transitioning out of the military, I wanted to find a way to continue to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, and I feel like I’m doing that in this position.”
Madeleine Jepsen, ‘18, studies biochemistry and journalism. Outside the classroom, Madeleine serves as a reporter and assistant editor for the Collegian. She is also involved in Catholic Society.