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2015 Alumnus of the Year - Todd Knowles


Honorably serving God and country

When Todd Knowles began attending CBU in the fall of 1979, he believed God was calling him to become a missionary. “I majored in sociology because it seemed like a good way to prepare for missions,” Todd said. “But as I was getting closer to graduating, I felt like I didn’t really have the right skills to draw upon.”

Wanting to develop skills in aircraft maintenance that might serve him in a missionary organization like Mission Aviation Fellowship or Wycliffe Translators, Todd decided to join the Air Force after graduating with his bachelor’s degree in Sociology in 1985. However, Todd’s struggle with depression and anxiety eventually convinced him he was not suited for the mission field. But in years to come, Todd would discover that God simply had a different kind of mission field in mind.

Todd’s first assignment was at Ellsworth Air Force Base (AFB) in South Dakota, as an avionics technician working on the B-1B Bomber. “I didn’t really keep track of CBU’s mascot until after they nicknamed the B-1B ‘Lancer,’” Todd said. “And then I thought, hey, that’s the mascot for CBU!”

The B-1B Bomber was key to the success of Desert Storm and Desert Shield, and would continue to be a critical part of U.S. defense in the years to come. “The B-1B Bomber not only helped end the Cold War, but it was also instrumental in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom after the U.S. was attacked on September 11,” Todd said.

After 5 years as a technician, Todd was assigned as an instructor, teaching Airmen B-1B Bomber maintenance. “I fell in love with teaching,” Todd said, “and little did I realize it would propel me to what I’m doing today.” For the next 9 years, Todd continued teaching, and he discovered that education is his mission field. “The Air Force core values are integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all you do,” Todd said. “We would discuss this in class, and it was the perfect venue to talk about my faith in God.”

After serving as an instructor at Lowry AFB in Denver, Colorado for two years, and then Sheppard AFB in Wichita Falls, Texas for 7 years, Todd served as a financial analyst for 2 ½ years at Whiteman AFB in Missouri. It was here that he would also serve as Acting First Sergeant on the days following September 11.

“A first sergeant is a liaison between enlisted personnel and the unit commander to ensure everyone’s needs are addressed and unit morale is maintained,” Todd explained. “We were in the middle of a major nuclear exercise–we had to quickly finish the exercise and move into ‘real world’ combat mode. That week was the most challenging of my life.”
Todd would then go on to write leadership, management and communication curriculum at what is now the Thomas N. Barnes Center for Enlisted Education, a branch of Air University in Montgomery, Alabama.

Also during his time with the Air Force, Todd earned his master’s degree in Human Resources Development and an MBA from Webster University in St. Louis. He also earned his master’s in Adult Education at the Montgomery, Alabama campus of Troy University .

While Todd’s love for education – both teaching and learning – were leading to newer and bigger opportunities, his marriage ended painfully after moving to Montgomery. But God would use this to lead Todd to yet another opportunity to serve Him through teaching.

“I began attending Celebrate Recovery to help work through my grief,” Todd recalled. Celebrate Recovery is a Christ-centered recovery ministry that addresses multiple needs, including mental health as well as substance addiction. “As I began to heal, I wanted to start giving back. And so I began facilitating one of the small groups, and eventually I began teaching the curriculum,” Todd said.

In 2007, Todd retired from active duty with the Air Force, and transitioned into his new role as a civil servant at the Thomas N. Barnes Center’s Air Force Career Development Academy (AFCDA). Since then, Todd has held the position of Instructional Systems Specialist, creating career development courses for the entire Air Force enlisted personnel.

Also in 2007, Todd’s personal healing became complete when he met his wife, Heather, while volunteering at the Salvation Army. “We had been attending the same church and didn’t even know it,” Todd said. “ Our first date was on New Year’s Eve, and so we literally saw fireworks on our first date.”

In 2014, The Thomas N. Barnes Center received the Air Force Organizational Excellence Award for exceptionally meritorious service. “Who would have thought I’d spend most of my life in the greatest Air Force in the world, both on active duty and as a civil servant,” Todd said. “It’s so humbling to be part of an organization that is impacting every single person in the Air Force.”

In addition to his continued service to the Air Force, Todd is also still continuing his education. He is currently pursuing his doctorate of education at Liberty University, with a focus on curriculum and instruction . “I love every moment of life God has given me in my work of being an educator for the Air Force,” Todd said. “Being able to share Christ as I mentor and teach others is just tremendous.”

Date:08/18/2015Written By:Alumni RelationsCategory:Alumni Stories