Alumni Profile: Gen. Charles G. Boyd, U.S. Air Force (Ret.)

KU campus 1974
A view of KU campus life in 1974, when Boyd was a student. (Courtesy University Archives)

“I was not your ordinary student,” Boyd said.

He was older than most classmates, but the greater distinction was likely his eagerness to learn. In his three years at KU, Boyd was able to complete both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Latin American studies.

Following his seven-year imprisonment and isolation, he was starved for information. He dove into his studies as a way to reconnect with the world and begin a process of recovery.

“I’m back after a very difficult period of my life and kind of lost in a way,” Boyd said of his arrival at KU. “I felt like I was trying to readjust to a world that had changed radically in my absence, and at the same time heal the wounds from the prison experience.”

Boyd’s fervor for learning played a part in his ability to recuperate; however, so did the support he received from faculty. They were aware of his background and paid close attention to his progress and needs.

“They treated me extremely well,” Boyd said. “I profited enormously from the experience. They helped with the healing process, plus, I left far better educated than when I arrived. I was now equipped in many ways to take on that future that I wanted so badly, wherever it might lead.”

A Distinguished Career

Since graduating, Boyd has had just one assignment in which he directly applied his knowledge of Latin American studies. However, he is quick to dispute any notion that his degrees haven’t been valuable in his career. The practice of reading, absorbing, analyzing and communicating that was at the center of his undergraduate and graduate work has also been central to his career.

“The process of educating a man or a woman is one in which the specifics of what they learn is less important than the process by which they learn and then to act upon what they’ve learned,” he said.

He said effective communication and an ability to grasp the interplay between a nation’s actions and its history have been crucial skills that he began to hone at KU.

Gen. Boyd in plane
Boyd retired from the military in 1995, but has yet to slow down. He is currently the Starr Distinguished National Security Fellow at the Center for the National Interest.

Boyd was active in the Air Force for more than 36 years, working in assignments around the world. His military decorations include the Air Force Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star with oak leaf cluster, Bronze Star with combat “V” and two oak leaf clusters, Distinguished Flying Cross, and numerous other awards. His final military assignment was as Deputy Commander in Chief of U.S. forces in Europe.

Although he retired in 1995, his career has not slowed down. He has served in various civilian positions, inside and outside of government, all relating to foreign and security affairs. Currently, he is the Starr Distinguished National Security Fellow at the Center for the National Interest.

“Some say I’ve flunked retirement five times so far,” Boyd said.

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, Boyd continues to be drawn toward work that allows him to stay involved in how the U.S. plays its role.

“We are still struggling to find the right balance in the aftermath of the Cold War,” he said. “The U.S. never quite grew comfortable with being the sole superpower. And now other major powers are emerging. The relationships are very much in play and evolving.”

Although Boyd’s particular journey is unlikely to be duplicated by future students, his general path to success can serve as a guide. He looks at his experience as a steppingstone process, where he has continued to expand his knowledge and skills with each new position. It’s up to the motivation of each individual to determine how far he or she will advance, he said.

“All the ceilings are gone or rapidly disappearing,” Boyd said. “If one truly wants expanded responsibility, and is willing to commit the time and energy that goes with it – there are no short cuts – then the chances of success in our society are high.”