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It can be daunting to leave the military and find work elsewhere. For many general officers, that means membership on corporate boards, policy centers and public speaking events — for a fee, of course. Or, for one four-star Air Force general, it means  moving back to his hometown to work for the county school system. 

As reported in the Citizen Tribune on April 13, Tennessee’s Hamblen County school board voted this week on a new director of the county’s school system. 

In his current role, Gen. Arnold W. Bunch Jr. serves as commander of Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. The command conducts research, development and testing and evaluation for every Air Force weapons system. With almost 90,000 military and civilian employees and a budget of $67 billion, it is one of the largest commands in the Air Force. 

Bunch’s appointment did cause some bureaucratic hangups. Without a background in education, Bunch did not meet the qualifications given by the school board. 

During a public interview, Bunch admitted that he lacked any prior education experience, but offered his leadership of 81,000 people under his command as a possible substitute. 

Satisfied, the school acquiesced and amended their hiring policy. 

Bunch told the school board that he wanted to be “back into the fabric of the community” he grew up in and that he would apply the experience in his previous career building teams and communication skills with his subordinates. And while a county school district may be slightly smaller in scope than the Air Force Materiel Command, Bunch does have a history of trying to empower those he leads. 

In 2020, after 25% for respondents to a command and climate survey at Air Force Materiel Command reported racial slurs, jokes and innuendos were present in the workplace, Bunch said he was “disappointed and frustrated,” and became one of several high ranking generals to call on the branch to deal with racial disparities in its ranks. 

“If we remain silent or walk by these problems we will allow them to continue,” he said. “We do not want bystanders in our command. We may make mistakes along the way, but the biggest mistake we can make is to do nothing and simply hope it gets better.”

Or, as he shared in 2019 when asked about his leadership philosophy, “the one thing I challenge young officers and young folks to do is count how many times they thank you in a day. Because if you’re not saying thank you a lot and you believe you’re actually doing things by yourself, you’re wrong.”

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