Not even Adam Dahlke can forecast the direction of his post-military career, but he is confident his options will be as wide open as the wild blue yonder.
Dahlke, an Air Force technical sergeant, graduated with an online Master of Business Administration degree from the University of West Florida in 2017. Ten years earlier, he completed the Bachelor of Science in Business Administration program at UWF and became the first person in his immediate family to earn a college degree.
"I graduated in December of 2007 and started my master's classes in January," he said. "I took a couple of classes and realized I couldn't afford to pay for it. I was also burned out because I didn't take a break, so I stopped going. Then, life happened. I joined the military."
Boy, did life happen.
Dahlke is now a meteorologist who serves as a foreign military advisor to Central and South America. He will enter commissioning program training in late 2018 to become an officer. Afterward, he plans to attend the year-and-a-half-long training required to fly remotely piloted aircraft. He got married in 2009, and he and his wife, Maria, have a three-year-old daughter, Ariana.
"My wife said that since this is my second attempt at a master's program that if I start, I have to finish," he said. "She supported me. She let me have my study time. She let me do my schoolwork while she took care of our daughter."
Even though he lives in Vacaville, California, Dahlke made the most of the online format to return to UWF and help lay the foundation to advance his career.
"I said, 'You know, I want to finish this,'" Dahlke said. "Plus, I wanted to make myself a more attractive candidate in the job market -- in or out of the military. To make rank as an officer, they require you to have an advanced degree. That's a checked box already out of the way."
How's the Weather?
The first time Dahlke applied for the commissioning program was for hospital administration. He was not selected, which led him to his current field as a foreign military advisor.
"There was an advertisement for this job," he explained. "I submitted my application and got selected. It wasn't really clear in the job description what we would do. It turned out better than I thought it was going to be. I like to travel, so this is the perfect job for me."
Dahlke completed an Associate of Applied Sciences in Meteorology, Forecasting and Weather Technology program at the Community College of the Air Force in 2010.
"I'm a forecaster and observer," he said. "I'm part of a unit called the 571st Mobility Support Advisory Squadron. It's one of the only units in the Air Force that works directly with Central and South America and their air forces."
"I go to various countries about two weeks at a time, and I interact with their weather personnel or other personnel looking to get into the weather career field. Some of them don't have a full weather program. I train them, talk to them, give them an idea of how we do things and help them move to the next level -- that's our goal."
During his service, Dahlke has been to El Salvador twice, Peru twice and Uruguay once. His wife is from South America, but the couple met when he was working in the biology department and she was enrolled in a marine biology graduate degree program at UWF.
"I've been polishing my Spanish, which my wife appreciates," he said. "We've been married for quite a while. She likes that I'm getting better at it."
The flexibility of the online program was especially important for Dahlke with his frequent travel schedule, although he always has plenty of notice before a big trip.
"The instructors are really helpful and really flexible," he said. "When I said, 'Hey, I'm going on a deployment, and I am only allowed to bring my government laptop. I can still do schoolwork, but I can't do any tests because of the recording and camera and all of that functionality, which is taken off of our government computers,' they were flexible. They let me work ahead. They let me not turn in assignments while I was gone. It was easy for me to balance everything."
Dahlke typically worked on school late at night and liked the duration of the courses.
"Thankfully, with the online format instead of doing two classes for a full semester, they did one class for a half of a semester at a time," Dahlke said. "I could focus more intensely on one course, which was good."
MAN 6721: Strategic Management and Policy Formulation was his favorite course in the curriculum.
"In that course, you run a sensor producing company in a simulation and you have to produce various sensor types in response to market demand," he said. "You tweak your marketing, finance, sales and promotion budget, etc."
Dahlke also thoroughly enjoyed GEB 6895: Business and Public Policy, taught by Dr. Richard Constand.
"The course went through the whole history of the monetary system and how we got where we are today," he said. "It talked about how financial institutions manage money and how the federal reserve all plays into the whole big system."
"A lot of the general knowledge and organizational things in the courses was helpful. Even using Excel for some of the courses was really useful for me. We use Excel pretty heavily in my work environment. That helped me do things at work I wouldn't be able to do otherwise."
Dahlke, who grew up in Tallahassee, went back home to Florida for the graduation ceremony at UWF.
"I took a vacation," he said. "I had a bunch of points from flying around, so I didn't have to buy the airline ticket. We stayed with my parents, went to the graduation, went to the beach and saw a bunch of old friends."
It was quite a full-circle moment for Dahlke after he started a UWF master's program 10 years earlier.
"I had these grand plans to be a financial analyst, a financial advisor or a broker," he said. "In 2007, the economy wasn't doing so hot. I think there were more layoffs than hirings across all industries. I started working for a local bank as a basic teller and doing other small tasks on the side. It takes a very long time to move up. It was a good company, but I wanted to move faster. I joined the Air Force and went from there."
Wherever he lands in the future, Dahlke will have a very diverse resume that now includes an MBA. Perhaps one day he will see his daughter earn a degree, too.
"We want to set the example and want her to get some sort of higher education so she can be marketable and a valuable member of society," he said.
If she's anything like her dad, nothing can stop her.
Learn more about the UWF online MBA program.
Have a question or concern about this article? Please contact us.