Major Mike Walker had no idea what kind of career path he might choose when he arrived at the Air Force Academy in the early 1990s as a football player.
Now, after 16 years as an officer, he's back coaching football for that same program and is ready to hand out advice for those who are in that uncertain position he occupied all those years ago.
"I hope to serve as an example for these guys and be able to mentor them, especially the seniors going out," said Walker, who returned to Colorado Springs in June. "I'll pass along some of those lessons to the younger guys earlier on, too. Part of what helped me a lot was just knowing some of those things I would see when I got on active duty."
Walker's time in the Air Force has included deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and responsibilities all over, some that he can talk about, some that he can't. He was most recently stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala., where he was a compliance inspector for ROTC.
It was fortuitous timing with the departure of Maj. Eldrick Hill from the same position that helped Walker jump into coaching - a field he's long wanted to enter.
As for coach Troy Calhoun, the hiring for the active-duty position on staff is vastly different than any other spot.
"The military will give you a few guys who are possibilities," Calhoun said. "You want somebody who has at least played. They may not have extensive coaching experience, but they certainly have in regards to the interpersonal skills and the leadership qualities what you want in a coach. You end up finding these are pretty bright guys who pick up the football part of it pretty quickly, too."
Walker, who played as a defensive back under Fisher DeBerry before graduating in 1997, will assist with inside linebackers and will serve as the on-campus recruiting coordinator, helping with logistics when high school recruits and their parents visit the academy.
"For us it's huge," Calhoun said. "Any time we have a major or a lieutenant colonel, guys who have had deep, rich and extensive experiences on active duty, I just think they only add to our staff.
"More importantly, they can share with prospects the opportunities that are out there with regards to the Air Force."
Walker is getting his bearings back on a sport he hasn't been around regularly in nearly two decades. He said the game and its terminology have changed, but the culture around the program hasn't.
"Coming back to the Air force Academy was like coming home," he said.
"It felt great. I felt welcomed. I walked right back into familiar territory. The Falcon pride, Falcon spirit are still there."