B.S., University of Phoenix
When speaking with SMSgt Erik Dupree, USAF, Retired, it becomes clear very quickly that he has a knack for imparting his wisdom in a way that makes sense. Even more apparent is the passion he has for teaching and mentoring young adults.
Although he entered the U.S. Air Force with the intent of serving only four years, SMSgt Dupree instead served 23 years, primarily in the services sector. His later positions included acting as the operations manager, a.k.a. the non-commissioned officer in charge of readiness, for first the 16th Services Squadron in Hulburt Field, FL, and then for the 86th Material Maintenance Squadron at Sembach Air Base in Germany. In both positions he was in charge of the deployment, redeployment, and reintegration programs. From there SMSgt Dupree served a number of short-term assignments in a variety of locations, including Osan Air Base in Osan City, Korea; Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, NV; and Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan.
In 2006, SMSgt Dupree found a new calling: that of being a first sergeant. In this position, he was responsible for the health, welfare, morale, and discipline of the enlisted personnel. It was in this capacity, acting as a cross between a human resources manager and a mentor, that he found fulfillment.
“You have to love it,” he says of mentoring young people. “If you don’t, it will show in everything you do.”
Although he returned to a services-based position as a readiness superintendent, SMSgt Dupree never forgot his three years as a first sergeant. When he retired from the Air Force in 2012, he tried several different positions in the civilian sector, but in the back of his mind, he always remembered that time as a first sergeant. While he logically considered the idea of teaching, he lacked the necessary college degree. He cleared that obstacle in December of 2015 when, through the University of Phoenix, he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in business with a concentration in management.
His first position as an Air Force JROTC instructor began in March 2016 at Lake Worth High School, a Title I school in Florida. Although it was challenging, SMSgt Dupree felt he was making a difference, and that made it well worth the effort. His intentions to serve there for a few years fell by the wayside when a family situation arose in his hometown of Pittsburgh. He felt compelled to look for a position closer to his family, so with the full support of his Senior Aerospace Instructor in Florida, he began exploring his options…and he happened upon Randolph-Macon Academy.
The idea of going from a Title I school to a private school caused some questions in SMSgt Dupree’s mind—he had been making a difference and he wanted to continue to do so. His initial interview at R-MA reassured him. “I felt I could fill a hole here,” he explains. “For some of the students who haven’t had a lot of interaction with adult African American males, I can provide a different perspective, versus what they see on television.” His position in AFJROTC has the added advantage of putting him in regular contact with the entire student body. “I can be a role model to every student on campus,” he points out. With that goal in mind, he joined the R-MA staff in November 2016.
Not every student enrolled in Air Force JROTC understand its value in teaching leadership skills or developing good habits that will serve the students well in the future. As a result, some students question how the lessons in JROTC relate to what they need for college or the workforce. SMSgt Dupree excels at providing answers.
“Look at Bill Gates or Elon Musk,” he explains. “They didn’t get to the top of their fields because of their haircut. They did get there because they understand respect; they know when to talk or when to be quiet. They got to their level because of their attention to detail.” He gives his cadets the example of standing at attention. “When you are at the position of attention, I’m asking you to sit there and do nothing. Don’t move, don’t talk to your friend next to you. If I can’t trust you to stand at attention and do nothing, how can I trust you to do something?”
Quick to praise his cadets in public, SMSgt Dupree waits to admonish them in private. He seeks to drive home positive values, such as the concept of “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”
“History shows only six to eight percent of our students will join the military,” he says. “I want to turn out productive citizens. That’s our job 100% of the time.”
When not building relationships with the future leaders of America, SMSgt Dupree might be found walking, weight-lifting, or reading anything from a comic book to The Bell Curve. He also admits to being a professional wrestling fan, but he is quick to add, “Yes, I know it’s fake!”