Brig. Gen. Shawn Campbell ‘95 joined the Air Force nearly 30 years ago in order to help fund his higher education. His plan was to serve a four-year contract, earn GI Bill benefits, continue his schooling and then move on.
That plan changed.
Instead, he made the military his career and now is playing an important role in America’s newest military branch, the U.S. Space Force.
Campbell said he believes everything happens for a reason — doors open and God guides individuals along certain paths. Following those paths and walking through those doors takes faith, but he is certain he is where he is supposed to be today because of the opportunities that were open to him.
Campbell was living in Virginia at the time of his enlistment, and after completing his basic and technical training, he was stationed at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kansas. He was introduced to Newman University, known as Kansas Newman College from 1973 to 1998, through the base education office.
He already had two years of college under his belt so he entered Newman as a transfer student, taking evening and weekend classes while working full time as an airman. Campbell’s experience at Newman is similar to many alumni stories throughout the years — the overall theme being personalized attention in a highly supportive atmosphere.
From class enrollment to getting his official transcripts, Campbell said the staff and faculty never failed him.
“My Newman experience was basically great human beings taking care of me — a young man who wasn’t quite sure who to go to,” said Campbell. “Everyone was really supportive. And every professor I had was great. I really learned a lot … not just completing coursework; I was challenged. I received a very good education.”
The personalized attention and support helped him immensely when he came to a small roadblock. He graduated in December and when it was time to get his transcript, which was necessary to begin his officer training, he discovered that the university didn’t typically provide winter graduate transcripts right away.
“They would only do the transcription in spring for commencement but I needed it for officer training school. I shared my issue with the professor I had for my very last class and he personally went to the school and worked it out with the right set of people. Once he had the transcript, he personally brought it to me at McConnell. I will never forget his support and kindness.”
With a business bachelor’s degree in hand, he started officer training and graduated in May 1996. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Building a career
Today, Campbell is the deputy chief human capital officer for the U.S. Space Force. He serves on the Space Force headquarters staff at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.
Although he is still in the Air Force, Campbell is “on loan” to the Space Force acting as the deputy human resource (HR) leader for the entire branch. He was one of the first personnel members to come on board.
“When I started here full time in May of last year, I was person No. 5 on staff and now we have around 46,” explained Campbell. “We are building the first new U.S. military service in 73 years, essentially building a service from the ground up while simultaneously executing missions every day.”
Campbell and his team are developing and delivering policies, programs, procedures and HR practices impacting all members. They also work hard to transition military personnel from other branches and recruit civilians to become guardians, the title which Space Force personnel carry.
“We have transferred about 5,600 military personnel and almost 6,500 civilians who are now guardians. We are writing new policies and shaping out the way we will execute the HR talent management lifecycle from recruitment to retirement and everything in between. We don’t just look at how we develop, deploy and assign the guardians, but also how we take care of them and their family members.
“It’s very satisfying — we are making history. It’s exciting to be doing something that is historic. It’s not simple or easy; it comes with huge challenges and obstacles.”
Among the many certifications and training programs Campbell has completed, he also earned his Master of Business Administration from Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester.
A life serving in the military means movement. And a lot of it. Campbell has worked in 10 states and served overseas in South Korea, Germany, Turkey and Iraq. He has been in and out of the Middle East, Central Asia and Northern Africa approximately 20 times over the course of his career.
Throughout his military career, Campbell has held roles as an operations officer, flight commander, chief, deputy chief, assistant executive officer, executive officer and commander at the squadron, group and wing levels, to name a few.
He worked his way up through the ranks from airman first class to brigadier general, to which he was officially promoted in October 2020.
Inspiration and leadership
“Leadership is not about shoring up your legacy, and it’s not about me as an individual,” Campbell said. “It’s about creating a new generation of leaders who have to be better than me.”
Campbell takes leadership seriously. He sees leadership as a responsibility to develop the best possible set of knowledge, skills, behaviors and capabilities in people and making them the best version of themselves.
“I recently had the honor of commissioning a friend’s daughter into the Space Force, and I just think about the challenges we are handing her. The things her generation are going to face are much more challenging and thorny than what I had to face. That, to me, is part of the challenge but also my responsibility to develop that young woman to become the very best version of herself.”
As for inspiration, he said that comes from the professionals he is blessed to work with every day.
“It is really incredible. I think about the team in the human capital office (and) every member is a rock star. We have a mix of current military, very seasoned former military professionals who have chosen to continue serving as civilians and a bench of highly skilled and successful career civilian professionals. They all come in every day knowing the challenges we face, and they bring their ‘A’ game. When you’re around people who are working hard and committed to working with excellence, that inspires you to get here and be around them.”
He talked about the importance of the Space Force and what guardians and space operators do every day that impact the entire nation.
“Most people take for granted the technology we have today — our American way of life doesn’t work without space. Our phones, tablets, computers, banking and financial systems, and power control grids … all of those rely on the Space Force doing their jobs. We wouldn’t be able to use those things without the data and capabilities provided by space systems.
“Space is the only domain where we don’t have a human operating physically in it routinely. We have people on water, in the air and on the ground. But space as a domain, we don’t put the war fighter in it. It’s the most complex and crucial of all warfighting domains.”
Campbell is excited about the unique things the Space Force can do for the Department of Defense as a whole. He said big data is the future and he, among many others, are fueled by the possibilities and opportunities that surround them and are yet to come.
A legacy of service
As the father of two adult children, Campbell said living a life of service was just one way he could be an example of how he wanted his children to live. He wanted to teach the same lessons to his children that all parents want to teach: to be honest, trustworthy and hardworking humans.
“I want them to be proud of what they do, and I want them to have fulfillment in their lives and their career.”
He gives much of the credit to his wife, Beth, adding that she did most of the raising, and he just “sort of flew in for support now and then.”
Yet on a more serious note, he added how proud he and Beth are of their children. He knows that military service is a family affair. And while that also greatly impacted his kids and came with many challenges, both of his children have gained a great deal and will never forget about the experiences they would otherwise not have had.
“They are so well adjusted and have come through that set of experiences as smart, capable and caring individuals.”
When asked what advice he would have for students preparing to enter the workforce — he would give the same advice he gave to his children. He encourages others to not be afraid to walk the path that is presented and dig deep to find the willingness to engage and push through.
“That’s one of the lessons I take away from my time at Newman and being at McConnell, my first duty station. I had no idea the things that were going to be available to me. I had no conception that I would do the officer training and be where I am today.
“Find that thing you’re passionate about and go do it. And recognize that fearlessness isn’t the absence of fear. Have the courage to pursue your convictions — the things you want to do in your life. That has happened throughout my career; it’s because I believe in what I’m doing and that there is a higher purpose behind it.”