Photos Courtesy of Bipartisan Policy Center, EUCOM and NDSU Athletics
Receiving an Honorary Doctor of Law degree from North Dakota State in 2004, it’s clear Charles “Chuck” Wald continued to make monumental strides long after winning the NCAA College Division championship title in 1968 and 1969 at NDSU.
Passing up an NFL career with the Atlanta Falcons, this wide receiver chose to serve his country instead, and he went on to manage military operations around the world. The four-star general now resides in Arlington, Virginia, with wife Marilyn.
PATH AFTER NDSU
- Military Record Squadron officer school (Maxwell Air Force Base)
- Master’s degree in International Relations (Troy University)
- National War College training
- Program for senior officials in national security (Harvard University)
- Command pilot flying over 3,200 hours (+450 combat hours over Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Iraq and Bosnia)
In retrospect, what was the main factor that made NDSU so great in that era?
“It’s the ethos of North Dakota. There’s a really good work ethic, a lot of integrity, there’s a sense of community and serving fellow citizens, and in our case, the country. I think a lot of people in the state really represent some of the best of what America stands for—being unselfish, hard working, honest and willing to sacrifice. It’s not always like that all over the place. Some good people have come out of North Dakota, and a lot of them are there still.”
Where did you learn those North Dakota ideals?
“If I look back at high school, there was a guy named Blaine Cook, and he was the Superintendent of Minot Bishop Ryan. This guy, Father Cook, was just one of the best leaders you’ve ever seen. He taught us a lot, I don’t think we realized how good he was at the time. My high school girlfriend [Marilyn], whom I married, I met in the ninth grade and we’re still married.
“It was a good group of people with the right idea of what we stand for as Americans and not everybody has that luck. Obviously, my parents taught me a lot too. I learned probably the most about who I am today in high school.”
When did you decide to pursue a career in the military?
“My father-in-law was in the military out of the Minot Air Force Base as a B-52 pilot. When I went to college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I started out pre-law and tried ROTC. Plus, I played football. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do so I tried them all. Then I got drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL and I went to that camp, but I was also committed to going to the Air Force flight school.”
What’s it like to fly into the heart of a combat zone?
“It’s pretty invigorating because there’s no doubt there is a lot of anticipation. You’re not necessarily scared, but you’re on the edge. You know that the consequences are significant if things don’t go right. But it’s fun afterward to say you did it. You put your tail on the line for something that’s bigger than you and that’s pretty satisfying.
“We were supposed to be in Vietnam for a year and after about 10 months, the war ended and they kicked us out. It was a learning experience. My first roommate got the Medal of Honor and the second one got the Air Force Cross. We had 15 pilots shot down in my squadron the year I was there, so it was still pretty intense.”