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Air Force Academy’s Chad Austin Finds Fulfillment in Teaching


Reflecting on his three years at the College of Law and how it shaped who he is today, William “Chad” Austin ’97 recalls attending a career fair on campus during his 2L year and being especially moved by the words of a senior partner at a major firm in town. “He said the best decision he ever made was to join the military because he learned how to try cases, the value of public service, and was able to see the world,” Austin said. “That sounded really interesting to me.”

Indeed, this helped shape the career path of Austin, who is currently a civilian Associate Professor of Law at the United States Air Force Academy’s Department of Law, while also serving as a reservist in the Air Force as a Judge Advocate General (JAG) and a lieutenant colonel.

The summer after that career fair, Austin interned with the U.S. Army’s JAG Corps, before joining the Navy JAG Corps in 1996 and serving on active duty out of law school from 1998 to 2000. During this time, Austin was stationed in Great Lakes, Ill., where he did criminal defense work for the Navy.

While still on active duty in 2002, Austin applied for and was selected for an instructor position at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., where he “absolutely fell in love with teaching.”

“I finally found what I would say was my calling in life,” Austin said.

Teaching at the Air Force Academy

After about two years and having decided to separate from the Navy, Austin was selected as a special agent for the FBI and assumed he was headed in that direction, when he was offered and “instantly accepted” a teaching position at the Air Force Academy.

Austin has been in Colorado Springs in a teaching role since 2002, though he continued in the Navy reserves before he was cross-commissioned into the Air Force reserves in 2006. “I serve as an Air Force JAG because I love serving my country, it keeps my skills fresh, it gives me things to talk about to the cadets who are going to serve as officers in the Air Force, and it gave me the opportunity to deploy to Iraq a few years ago and see what we’re doing abroad,” he said.

Austin is currently the deputy of Academics for the Air Force’s Department of Law. Specifically, he is in charge of the curriculum and developing the Academy’s legal studies program, in addition to teaching a couple courses each semester. While “the vast majority” of Air Force students will become pilots, work for offices of special investigation or hold some other more typical Air Force officer position, Austin said, some students major in legal studies at the Academy because they are simply interested in studying the law.

“Only one Air Force Academy graduate per year is selected to go to law school directly out of the Academy, and we’re actually offering that for the first time,” said Austin, adding that some graduates later in their Air Force careers do apply for funded law scholarships.

Like any other law professor, the courses Austin teaches varies each year. However, the Chicago native has taught the likes of International Law, the Law of Armed Conflict and National Security Law.

Austin, who moved to Michigan in the fifth grade and later spent his undergraduate years at Central Michigan University, is also a coach/mentor for the Academy’s international law competition team.

Getting Back to the Queen City

Although he loves living in Colorado, Austin said he tries to make it back to Cincinnati “a couple times a year.” He said he “very much miss(es)” Donatos Pizza and Skyline Chili, but he also enjoys walking the campus and stopping by the College of Law when he is in town.

In talking with Austin, it is clear that he truly enjoyed his experience at the College of Law and at UC. The College of Law was one of 14 law schools that accepted Austin and it was his first ever visit to the City of Cincinnati and a “wonderful meeting” with Al Watson, senior assistant dean and director of admissions and financial aid, that helped influence his decision to enroll. He noted that it “just felt right,” speaking about the people and the amount of opportunities, among other factors.

While at UC, Austin was a member of moot court for two years, participated in the extern programs and was also one of the a recipients of the George C. Katsanis Memorial Scholarship.  In addition, he clerked at a small local firm and interned with the Army JAG during his summers.

Austin also “fell in love with Bearcat basketball,” which he still tracks from afar, although he did make it to Fifth Third Arena for a game earlier this season, during a recent visit back to Cincinnati.

In his free time, Austin enjoys travelling, a perk from being an Air Force faculty member and reservist; he takes advantage of the outdoors and skis, camps and cycles; he is an assistant officer of the Air Force cycling team; he is a Denver Broncos season ticket holder; and he and his wife, Erica, also enjoy making the relatively short trip to Denver to see Broadway productions.

The father of 14-year-old Avery was named the recipient of the 2008 Reginald C. Harmon Award, essentially naming him the Air Force’s outstanding reserve JAG that year – which he said was largely based on his deployment to Iraq, where he worked with “Iraqi judges and investigators and coalition forces to prosecute insurgents and restore  judicial capacity” there.

Austin added that he is “happy to help anybody” from the College of Law. “If anyone wants to come out to Colorado or Denver,” he said as a proud alum, “I’m always willing to take them out to dinner and introduce them to a few people I know.”

By Jordan Cohen, ‘13