“Beak”: Colonel Rick Strickland’s Flight Path From The Air Force To The JROTC West High Eagles


Col. Strickland and SMSgt. Ullom stand together for a picture.

Alana Belle M. Tirado, Reporter

Contributing over 30 years of service to the U.S. Air Force, Colonel Rick Strickland, now the senior instructor of West High’s JROTC program, is one to be commended for dedication and teamwork.

   “We get along really great, and we make a great team,” SMSgt. Jeffrey Ullom says. Ullom teaches alongside Col. Strickland for JROTC, and also sports an impressive record, serving for over 23 years in the National Guard.

   Nicknamed “Beak” by his fellow servicemen, Strickland’s commitment to the Air Force goes back to his high school days. With cousins in the Navy and Marines, he got the idea to take a military path as well.

   “I talked to a couple of recruits and it seemed like the Air Force was the best fit for me. It was an escape for me, but it was good. The Air Force gave me an option for college. I managed to get my Bachelor’s Degree, Associate’s Degree, then a couple of Masters.”

   Out of the plethora of Air Force experiences to treasure, Strickland finds the people and travel most memorable.

   “I’ve had a lot of very memorable experiences; from missiles in Iraq to beaches in Australia. There are so many great ones. The biggest thing that I really treasure in the military is good friendships. You keep running into people over and over, and you realize that it’s a small world. It’s always nice when you run into somebody that you know, and have seen in another country. There’s a bond between the service personnel,” says Strickland.

   Now, Strickland’s bond is with SMSgt. Ullom, who have both been teaching West High’s JROTC since 2014. According to the ASD website, West High’s AK-033 was the first JROTC unit in Alaska, and the 33rd in the U.S.   

   In regards to teaching the class, Strickland said, “Myself and my assistant, SMSgt. Ullom, we try to facilitate the learning. We teach academics based on aerospace science. We also have a lot of leadership classes and team building activities such as Drill.”

   Ullom suggests JROTC for students who consider joining the military, and described JROTC’s values.

   “JROTC’s mission statement is to develop citizens with exceptional character and integrity. We teach students basic life skills, we sometimes do résumés, and we talk to them about future college, joining the military; we try to help them out. We talk about serving our nation and community. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be in a uniform, there are many ways to serve your nation.” 

   Blossom Roe, a former JROTC student, described how hearing stories about military service influenced her choices to take a military path. 

   “My dad was in the Coast Guard, and just hearing his stories and his experience with it, I’d really think that I’d enjoy that also.” In regards to Strickland and Ullom, she said, “They talk about the airplanes they worked with, the different paths they took in the military, the benefits they got, and the hardships; things like that.”

   Roe and Ullom also both mentioned the many benefits to find in JROTC.

   “If you take two years of JROTC, you get a higher rank when you graduate. If you do three years, you actually get the second higher rank… you make more money, and you’re ahead of your peers,” says Ullom.

   With a sundry of advantages, it can be said that JROTC is a great elective, and is taught by none other than the great SMSgt. Ullom and Col. “Beak” Strickland, whose nickname flies high with the legendary Eagles of West High School.

Colonel Rick Strickland teaches his class about thrust using a model airplane.
SMSgt. Ullom stands in front of a C-130 plane during his days in the National Guard.