WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Col. Craig Punches joined the Air Force Institute of Technology’s leadership team this past summer as dean of the School of Systems and Logistics.
“It’s all about logistics and acquisitions,” he said. “You can get a tank to war, but if it doesn't have the fuel or the parts, it's just a static display.”
Punches leads a team of more than 100 faculty and staff whose mission is to provide continuing education and consultation in the areas of data analytics, contracting; acquisition, financial and logistics management; and systems and software engineering. He is the school’s 28th dean since it was established as the School of Logistics in 1958.
With more than 155 courses and seminars, the school plans, develops and conducts courses to meet the technical-management educational needs of acquisition, contracting and logistics partners from the Air Force, Department of Defense and other federal agencies. Faculty teach an average of 17,800 students a year through in-residence, distance learning and on-site instruction.
“We are here to educate and help people understand the process, not to provide the answer, but to teach the way to think,” Punches said. “Every situation will be unique, so we are providing different tools in the toolbox so that our students can more effectively and efficiently deal with whatever issues our logistics and acquisition communities will face in the future.”
In his new role, Punches hopes to increase AFIT’s brand recognition to include professional continuing education opportunities.
“Many times, when Airmen hear about AFIT, the only thing that they think of is the master’s degree program, which is a great program, but it only touches a small population of the entire Air Force,” he said. “The School of Systems and Logistics focuses on professional continuing education, which affects more than just your initial years; it affects you throughout your entire career in the Air Force.”
Punches was familiar with AFIT, having earned his master’s degree in logistics management from the Graduate School of Engineering and Management in 2002.
“As a logistician, the coursework I took was very operational research-focused,” he said. “We did a lot of mathematical modeling and simulation and a lot of work finding mathematical solutions.”
The extensive mathematical courses Punches took as part of his AFIT master’s degree proved valuable during his next assignment as chief of weapons-systems analysis at Pacific Air Forces headquarters, where he was responsible for the program’s future resource planning.
“I worked the flying-hour program, so that operational-research background was very important,” the colonel said. “Being able to dig into the data to find out the consumption of each and every individual component part was part of my function to help price out for the future and to then use that information to come up with a budget for PACAF’s flying-out program. That probably would not have been possible had I not had the extensive mathematical-background knowledge from AFIT to do that amount of investigation.”
Prior to his current AFIT assignment, Punches was commander of Personal Property Activity Headquarters in San Antonio. He has also commanded three squadrons and served as deputy director of the Host Nation Coordination Cell at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.
Punches said his most rewarding assignments have been his five deployments.
“My first deployment was in support of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm to help liberate Kuwaitis after Saddam Hussein invaded their country,” he recalled. “I was in a medical unit with the Army, and we drove in to provide humanitarian aid and assistance to any of the Kuwaitis who had not escaped. To see the happiness in their eyes when we were there to help them was very rewarding.”
The oldest of four boys, Punches grew up on a farm in a small town in Kansas and had only 19 people in his high school graduating class. Facing limited job prospects, he joined the Army Reserve to pay for college.
“It was probably the smartest thing I ever did because it enabled me to get my bachelor’s degree and get experience working with people as an enlisted troop for 10 years before getting commissioned,” he said.
Punches commissioned into the Air Force after graduating summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from Emporia State University in Kansas.
Joining the military wasn’t an unfamiliar decision. His father served in the Army Reserve during the Vietnam War and his grandfather was in the Army during World War II as part of an organization that helped liberate the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany.
Punches is married with three children. His son is following in his footsteps, having joined the Air Force Reserve, where he serves as a paralegal while he earns his bachelor’s degree.
“He will be going to law school after that – already having experience as a paralegal in the Air Force,” the colonel said.
The opportunities afforded Punches after joining the military have been immeasurable, and he is very appreciative.
“That’s what is unique and very precious about what the DOD does,” he added. “It can take you no matter what your background was previously, no matter what your economic or social background was, and it can help to develop you and recognize the performance that you do and reward you with opportunities to continue to progress. That it is very crucial, and I am very appreciative of what the DOD has done for me and my family as well.”