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Air University Highlight: From high school dropout to ROTC commander

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Evan Lichtenhan
  • Air University Public Affairs

From dropping out of high school to commanding an ROTC detachment, Lt. Col. David Richardson proved that in the U.S. Air Force, hard work can pay off.

Richardson works as the commander of Air Force ROTC Detachment 025 at Arizona State University.

“I support the mission by ensuring we develop leaders of character for the Air & Space Forces to fight and win our nation's wars,” Richardson said.

Richardson grew up surrounded by Air Force culture, with his father being a retired senior master sergeant in the avionics field.

“My Air Force interest started with my father,” Richardson said. “He genuinely seemed to enjoy his job, and that was enticing for me. After I dropped out of high school, I quickly realized my career prospects were dim. The Air Force provided the structure and direction I needed to turn my life around.”

In his early years, he found himself out of high school, not knowing what he wanted to do with his future. Although he decided to join the Air Force, that came with its own challenges.

“I was the biggest obstacle to a successful career,” he said. “I was so immature and self-centered as a young person; it nearly sabotaged my Air Force career before it even started. Within my first year in the Air Force, I received eight LORs and a UIF. When the group commander ordered a handful of Airmen to be transferred from my squadron to a new one, I was one of the Airmen chosen. My new squadron commander, Lt. Col. Sam Rosado, looked at my UIF and said, ‘Some of this you deserved, and some of this is just the snowball rolling downhill. I am throwing all of it out.’ Fast forward a few years, as a young and very experienced NCO, I was still selfishly motivated, worried about how decisions would affect me and my career. At some point, a switch happened for me, and I focused on others and their success. Focusing on others’ success was a turning point in my career; their success has enabled an upward trajectory for my career.”

After spending over a decade in security forces on the enlisted side, and overcoming his struggles, Richardson decided he would be able to have a greater impact if he commissioned.

“Spending my security forces career in almost exclusively operations, I knew I was not competitive for senior master sergeant or chief master sergeant despite a very successful enlisted journey,” Richardson said. “If I wanted to have a bigger leadership impact, I was going to need to pursue a different path. Around my 12-year mark, I started my bachelor’s degree, which was challenging being full-time in person, before widespread online courses, and working 12-hr shifts.”

Richardson said his top tips for success would include taking care of your teams, being a teammate with a learning attitude, and be customer service oriented.

“While your career may be a reflection of many of your accomplishments, you will not be successful unless those around you are successful too,” he said. “You will likely never be the smartest person in the room, so approach your teams with this mindset. Courtesy always pays off in the long-run, and everyone should be treated with the same respect from E-1 to O-10.”