By 2nd Lt. Zoey Chittick
71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. – Receiving his ceremonial hood from the University of Notre Dame was the culmination of Lt. Col. Roland “Woody” Olmstead’s academic goals and the gateway to becoming a professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Olmstead, a T-1A Jayhawk instructor pilot with the 3rd Flying Training Squadron at Vance, completed his doctorate in political science in March. The ceremonial hood is the uniform of academia.
When worn around the neck, its colors represent the graduate’s university and the cut signifies the level of education achieved. It is similar to the Air Force’s service dress uniform which showcases the rank and ribbons that summarize an Airman’s accomplishments.
Olmstead’s journey to a doctorate degree started with his homeschool education and travel opportunities with his parents. He eventually graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in military and strategic studies and immediately began a master’s degree in public policy at the University of Maryland, which he completed in 2008.
After all that, Olmstead earned his pilot’s wings and climbed into the cockpit of a C-130 Hercules, a tactical airlift aircraft.
Olmstead’s Air Force career eventually led him to Team Vance as an instructor pilot and flight commander in 2017. Guiding young Air Force officers through the year-long Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training curriculum allowed then Captain Olmstead to see the direct impact his leadership decisions had on the lives of those around him.
The ability to influence future Air Force officers and improve his own leadership abilities led Olmstead to the Air Force Academy Faculty Pipeline program. The program gave him the chance to pursue a doctorate degree and eventually become a professor at the academy.
With the support of his leadership at the 3rd FTS, Olmstead settled on the political science program at Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.
An average doctorate program takes five to seven years. Olmstead had to complete his in three. He learned to say “No” when others would ask him to attend speakers visiting the campus or teaching classes within his field of study. “My mentor told me, ‘if you have more than three priorities, you have none.’”
While earning his ceremonial hood might seem like the end of the line, it was just the start of something else for Olmstead. He plans to pursue further research, teach or work with restorative justice, which was a focal point in his thesis.
The USAFA Faculty Pipeline program allowed Olmstead to do what “God made him to do,” said his wife, Jill. “I’m really proud of my man for working hard on his Ph.D., but also how he set it aside to spend time with the family.”
He worked a lot on his dissertation defense, which he did over Zoom calls because of the coronavirus pandemic. But the opportunity to be a “civilian” for three years provided some fun opportunities as well, like family breakfast, Jill said.
Olmstead returned to Vance in April as the assistant director of operations for the 3rd Flying Training Squadron, to complete his tour as an instructor pilot before leaving Vance for the Air Force Academy faculty.
As part of the squadron’s leadership he is an example for young pilots who have dreams that may seem out of reach.
“People may feel like they are stuck on a certain track and they need to stay on it, but that’s just not true,” Olmstead said. “Figure out what you want to do, then take the steps to get there.”