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.
In recognition of his outstanding service, Gluck is Air Force Times’ 2018 Airman of the Year. Over the course of his six years of service, he has given back to the communities in which the Air Force embeds him — be it foreign workers in Qatar, Japanese airmen over the Pacific Ocean, or local high school students outside his home duty station of Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana.
Slayin’ the mish, eating falafel, and volunteering
While deployed to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, to fly combat missions against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, as well insurgent forces plaguing Afghanistan, Gluck reached out to the foreign workers on and off base.
“We had six months out there, and I was trying to find some volunteer opportunities to do something other than just ‘slaying the mish’ or going off-base to get falafel,” Gluck said.
Gluck was already deeply enmeshed in the volunteer world. In 2017, he was on track to volunteer more than 300 hours for five organization across the United States. Gluck also served as the Louisiana state young adult director for the Knights of Columbus — the world's largest Catholic fraternal service organization and a Fortune 1000 non-profit.
He leaned on that Knights of Columbus connection for a new project in Al Udeid focused on helping the foreign workers cleaning and maintaining base facilities.
“I noticed there were some needs among the [foreign workers] who come to work at the dining facilities and in janitorial services on base,” Gluck said. “So we got together and convinced a lot of folks to send undergarments, t-shirts and all this stuff to redistribute among the [workers] across the base.”
But toward the end of his deployment, Gluck noticed another opportunity stemming from the care packages families were sending their loved ones.
“They thought we were super ‘over-the-wire,’ living in tents, and we were all very thankful, but a lot of the stuff was going to waste,” Gluck said. “Like the canned food was just sitting in closets, and I wanted to find something to do with it ... so I started looking at different options in the city of Doha.”
There is a large church that provides worship services to many in the Christian community in Qatar. Most of the worshipers tend to be foreign workers, brought in from poorer countries like the Philippines to build Qatar’s infrastructure, provide services, and earn money to send back to their families. Unfortunately, they often lack basic necessities.
So Gluck went door to door at his squadron asking for everyone’s unused care packages.
“We got together hundreds of pounds of food, baby supplies, cards, all sorts of things, and loaded up a truck,” he said.
“We were trying to not only do the mission in Iraq and Syria, but also show to people at the home base and Qatar that the Americans were there to help the community as well.”
Gluck delivered 27 large boxes of food, medical supplies, and children’s toys to the church in Doha and was commended by the religious leader who led the community there.
Between the charity events, Gluck also flew missions in support of the liberation of Mosul, Iraq, and Al Raqqah, Syria. Over his entire deployment, he flew more than 360 combat hours and roughly 35 combat missions.
Connecting with key U.S. allies
Bringing his brand of volunteering to new communities blends well with Gluck’s service as an Air Force officer flying long-range bombers.
During a recent deployment to support Indo-Pacific Command’s continuous bomber presence mandate, Gluck volunteered his time with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force.
He first began learning Japanese when he was a student at the Air Force Academy. Since then, he has traveled to Japan every couple years as part of the Language Enabled Airman Program, where he has done everything from help sweep streets to teach the key allies about American aircraft.
“I met [Japan’s] version of the Air Combat Command commander and got to spread information about the B-52,” Gluck said. “That ended up coming in handy on this deployment.”
“We had a Japanese delegation come in, and we were doing a whole lot of trilateral exercises with the Japanese and Australians, and they needed someone to translate during mission planning, for executive visits, or just swapping war stories.”
During a deployment to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Gluck also advised the local Knights of Columbus directors and participated in different events on the island, such as Habitat for Humanity, a local animal shelter, and even ocean-side pier cleanup thanks to his scuba dive license.
Mentoring the next generation
Gluck is also deeply involved with the community around Barksdale Air Force Base, where his unit, the 20th Bomb Squadron, 2nd Bomb Wing, is based.
In his role with the Knights of Columbus, Gluck coordinates about 33,500 individuals across 300 state locations. Combined, they conducted 1.9 million hours of volunteer service and disbursed roughly $3 million in 2017.
On top of that work, Gluck is also the deputy commander for the Barksdale Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol, where he mentors 55 local cadets and senior members.
Gluck joined Civil Air Patrol as a cadet in 2005, prior to attending the Air Force Academy, and worked to get back into it following his assignment to Barksdale.
Some cadets he mentors are military dependents, but some travel from “pretty far away and this is their first interaction with the military,” Gluck said.
“It’s been a blessing to serve with them because I think [Civil Air Patrol] is not only the future of the Air Force, but more importantly, I think it’s the future of the citizenry of the United States.”
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.