SINCE CHILDHOOD, Air Force Captain Julian Gluck has known two things: He wanted to continue his family’s generations-long tradition of military service, and he enjoyed the performing arts. While these interests may seem to live on opposite ends of a career spectrum, Gluck has found numerous ways to combine them throughout his life.

As a member of Thespian Troupe 4858 at Georgia’s LaGrange High School, then under the direction of John Riggs, Gluck was a fixture in character roles ranging from Bubba Kamrowski in Murder in the Magnolias to Chick LaFountain in Times Square Angel to Dr. Herman Einstein in Arsenic and Old Lace. He also served as troupe vice president, a leadership role he says helped prepare him for his move after graduation to the Air Force Academy, where he majored in political science with a minor in Japanese.

Julian Gluck

Photo of Julian Gluck by Lilly Miller and Jacob Wrightsman.

After graduating pilot training and earning his wings, Gluck became mission-qualified in the B-52H Stratofortress, a 488,000 pound, eight-engined bomber aircraft he flies to this day.

Gluck was deployed twice — first in 2016 with the 96th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. While there, he flew combat missions in Iraq and Syria in support of the coalition to fight ISIS in Operation Inherent Resolve, helping liberate the city of Mosul. He also flew in Afghanistan against the Taliban as part of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. “The most meaningful thing I’ve ever done in my career by far was my service in the Middle East in support of the incredible people of Iraq and Syria, who were on the ground suffering under ISIS’s draconian regime,” Gluck said.

Later, he deployed to the United States Indo-Pacific Command, where he was located at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, flying sorties in support of Pacific Air Forces. Currently, he is a flight commander in the 2nd Operations Support Squadron at Barksdale Air Force Base near Shreveport, Louisiana, leading 64 airmen in accomplishing the mission and achieving their goals.

In 2018, Gluck was named the Air Force Times Airman of the Year in recognition of his service and his efforts to give back to communities in which he lives, both domestically and abroad. In Qatar, he gathered abandoned care packages — “With the outpouring of support from the homefront, there was a surplus of unused supplies” — to donate to local immigrant communities. He mentors young people through the Civil Air Patrol and also volunteers with the Knights of Columbus. Most recently, in response to COVID-19, he has helped in the development of #LOVESPREADS, a grassroots effort and social media campaign to support artists around the world and those affected by the pandemic.

Gluck’s family motto is “Audentes fortuna iuvat,” Latin for “Fortune favors the bold.” He believes in being adventurous, brave, and creative, a mantra inspired by the film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. “A core, defining virtue of my family is to be courageous, brave, and bold,” Gluck said. “By taking the stage, just by participating in a production, that is boldness. That is the daring needed in the future careers of Thespians. Creativity brings so many blessings to a person’s life, and life would be so dull without the arts. Even when your high school theatre careers are over, there are opportunities for that love of the arts to continue throughout your life by seeing shows, participating in the community — music, theatre, television, film, opera. There’s something for everyone.”

Senator Bill Cassidy, Congressman Drew Ferguson, Captain Julian Gluck, Lieutenant General Jacqueline Van Ovost, and Editor Michelle Tan as Gluck receives his Airman of the Year Award on July 11, 2018.
Senator Bill Cassidy, Congressman Drew Ferguson, Captain Julian Gluck, Lieutenant General Jacqueline Van Ovost, and Editor Michelle Tan as Gluck receives his Airman of the Year Award on July 11, 2018. Photo by Kristoffer Tripplaar.

What sparked your interest in theatre?
When I was a kid, there probably wasn’t a moment I wasn’t talking or didn’t find myself on some sort of stage around my family or friends. In elementary and middle school, especially, we moved a lot. My father’s a pilot, which required us to move almost every year, and that required making new friends. One of the ways I thought was helpful in making friends was trying to be funny and putting myself out there. My parents thought a creative outlet would be theatre. When we eventually moved to LaGrange, Georgia, when I was in fifth grade, it happened that one of our neighbors was the local drama teacher at the high school, and his wife is a professor of theatre at the local college. So, I enrolled in a few drama camps during middle school, and in high school, I went straight into taking theatre classes and auditioning for plays. I also starred in a couple of episodes of a television series on Georgia Public Broadcasting.

Do you have favorite memories of your time as a Thespian at LaGrange?
I was in a number of different stage productions as an actor. … Other parts of my Thespian experience that were meaningful were times spent backstage with other actors and the tech crew. I’m still very close to a number of folks from our program at LaGrange High School, most of all my teacher, who was a neighbor of mine and the father of one of my best friends. His family has been friends with mine for almost two decades, and we’ve continued to maintain contact. The impact Mr. Riggs made on me as a fine arts educator, as well as a veteran of the armed forces, resonated throughout my college career into my military career.

Some of the most powerful memories I have as a Thespian came from mistakes I made as an actor. One time, during a monologue competition, I was ill-prepared for my piece — Patton’s speech to the Third Army from World War II — and I went in front of actors and actresses from high schools around our state and completely bombed. That was a great learning experience, from the embarrassment I felt, about being more prepared in the future. Another one came backstage during Arsenic and Old Lace: I was lackadaisical and missed an entrance cue by a few seconds, requiring my fellow actors to improvise until my entrance. Although those aren’t the most positive Thespian memories, they are perhaps some of the best ones for learning.

Gluck (far right) with fellow cast members of the 2006 LaGrange High School production of Spoon River Anthology.
Gluck (bottom far right) with fellow cast members of the 2006 LaGrange High School production of Spoon River Anthology. Photo courtesy of Julian Gluck.

Did you continue performing at the Air Force Academy?
When I finished basic cadet training, I was still looking for creative outlets, and I joined two programs. The first was BlueBards, the academy’s theatre group. I auditioned for 12 Angry Men and ended up playing Juror #10, the primary antagonist, which was a great experience … I played a role in Grease later on. …

Early in the year, an email was sent to the whole academy seeking singers and beatboxers for this a cappella group called In the Stairwell. I happened to know the cadet who sent the email from the theatre troupe, and I had learned how to beatbox in high school watching YouTube videos of the Hasidic reggae rapper Matisyahu. … Over the four years I spent with In the Stairwell, we went from being kind of a house band for the generals — singing pop music and holiday tunes, the Air Force song, and the National Anthem for events — to starting to gain more acclaim.

Eventually, after we had performed for the Secretary of the Air Force and pretty much every four-star general in the service, we received an email from the White House Social Office asking if we would perform for the president and first lady. However, for the Air Force to let us out of school — we were just a band; we weren’t official — I drafted a bunch of papers, met with the administration, and led the effort for our group to become the official male a cappella club of the Air Force Academy. We were approved and flew to Washington, D.C., to perform at a White House Christmas party. We found ourselves in a room with President Obama and the first lady singing a Christmas medley written by Straight No Chaser. … We started off, and it’s very traditional, “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pair tree,” and then I start right after that … and I’m beat boxing, and his face lights up. After the performance was over, he looked right at me and said, “Well, let me be clear. That was funkadelic.”

After I graduated from the academy, In the Stairwell tried out for America’s Got Talent and ended up making it to the semifinals. The cadets asked me to fly in to see them perform and meet everybody. I was in Japan at the time on a language assignment, but thankfully was able to get my ticket changed, flew to L.A., went to Hollywood, and, with three other alumni, got to sing during one of the commercial breaks. It was wild seeing Simon Cowell say, “Thank you, that was a great performance. Thank you for your service.” I never really expected going from high school to the military to getting to sing for Simon Cowell.

So, I got to do a little performing at the academy, and there have been a number of times since then that I’ve had the opportunity to use that experience as an Air Force officer. I was recently the emcee for Global Strike Challenge, which is like the Oscars or Tony Awards for the Air Force major command in charge of bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles. As the emcee, I did a little acting for skits, reading off awards, bringing people onstage … a few jokes here and there, and I did a solo rendition of “The Impossible Dream (The Quest)” from Man of La Mancha with some lyrics altered to reflect our Air Force story. I’ve been able to do readings for events, including the World War I Armistice Centennial Commemoration at the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C., voiceover work for the National Character & Leadership Symposium, commercials for Air Force Global Strike Command and the American Forces Network, and, last year, I was featured in a documentary called Everyday Heroes on ABC.

How would you say your Thespian skills have helped in your military career?
The courage to be in front of an audience and the leadership skills honed as a Thespian have made a meaningful, positive difference in my life. The skills you learn onstage and the confidence you get from testing your mettle as a performer pay dividends wherever you are in any career. Many recent blessings in my life — from being named the Air Force Times Airman of the Year or receiving the Secretary of the Air Force Leadership Award or, more recently, the Forbes 30 Under 30 list — could trace back to moments in high school where a foundation of confidence was built. Whether in school or under the proscenium, there’s something from my childhood that helped build up to these moments, and I’m grateful for all that time spent onstage and offstage as a Thespian.

What advice would you offer current high school Thespians?
I would tell current Thespians that you can apply the creativity you build as a practitioner of the fine arts to any organization you’re in. It will increase your value, but more than that it will enrich your life. Skills such as improvisation and stage presence directly impact and improve any meaningful course you choose. I have found that to be the case in the military, in volunteer work, in the community — there’s something special about the leadership and creativity you’re able to express as a member of a production. Acting, being part of a technical crew, or working backstage — that’s leadership. You’re leading yourself, leading your peers, leading a team, and that correlates to what you will do later in life.

My drama mentor, Mr. Riggs — one of the early lessons he gave me was that every character in a show is moved by his mind, his heart, or his gut, but ultimately it comes down to pursuing a form of love. The people we portray onstage are just like the people we know in real life, and everyone has reasons behind their actions and words. This has stuck with me in my daily interactions with others: to seek to understand what people are trying to accomplish, their goals and motives, and as Polonius said in Hamlet, “This above all: to thine own self be true.” I think this is something many people outside of theatre take for granted. In character study, there are parallels to how we can act as adults in the real world to try to be more considerate of each other and our differences.

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