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Saturday December 3rd

After 16 years in the Air Force, this UNC student is finally here

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Contributed by Chris Young

There’s a tattoo of a Captain America shield on the inside of incoming junior Chris Young’s right elbow. His children like superheroes, he explains. Then he laughs. “Plus, well, you know,” he says.

For the last 16 years, Young served in the Air Force. This fall, he transferred to UNC as a 39-year-old junior, a retired veteran, a father of three and a former radio disc jockey.

With around 70 credits under his belt, most of which he earned during his time in the Air Force, Young will enter UNC in the fall as a junior majoring in journalism. He'll start with MEJO 121 and 153, the School of Media and Journalism's two introductory classes, a good 20 years older than the majority of his classmates, although his summer courses showed him the age difference isn't something to worry about.

"Once you get into the classroom environment, if you show that you can hold your own and you have something to contribute, people just look at you as a student and they really don't care what your age is or what your background is," Young said.

After growing up in Raleigh, the dream of attending UNC was always in Young’s mind, although he planned to enter the Air Force out of high school. After rolling an ankle playing basketball a month from basic training, Young decided not to the enter the Air Force. At the same time, he was offered a full-time job at the local radio station where he interned.

Attending UNC was delayed as Chris’ radio career took him to Utah to do a morning show, then to a South Carolina station which had just won a Country Music Association Broadcast award.

“Then 9/11 happened,” Young said. Hailing from a family tree containing two retired Air Force grandfathers, a father who served in Vietnam and a brother in the U.S. armed forces, Young felt a responsibility to join the military. “I was 22 at the time and idealistic enough to think I could help prevent something like that from happening.”

Basic training started the second week of 2002. Eighteen months later, Young deployed to Pakistan, the start of his 16-year-long career.

“I ended up needing two back surgeries,” Young said. “Being 6-foot-4, working on aircrafts in really small spaces isn’t that good for your body.”

Young was offered an early retirement by the Air Force. It was at that point that UNC was put back on the table. 

With his wife, Young began to look into the GI Bill, a series of programs which offers education benefits to help servicemen and women cover the costs of their education.

"We realized financially, it'll be tight, but we can make it work," Young said. "So I applied to Carolina."

From there, things moved fairly quickly. In January, Young's admission decision arrived in his email inbox after work. 

"I read the letter two or three times to make sure I was reading it right," Young said. "It was a great day. I definitely teared up a little bit, because that's 30-something years of dreams that are starting to come true."

A month and a half later, Young medically retired from the Air Force and started summer classes to prepare for his transfer.

With an eventual goal to work as a sports information director, the liaison between a university's athletic department and the media, Young had sent a direct message on Twitter to Rick Steinbacher, UNC's senior associate athletic director for external communications asking for career advice. 

"I think he DM'ed me before he even got admitted," Steinbacher said. "And once he did get admitted, he reminded me that he had a strong interest in doing something with Carolina athletics."

Several emails and a 45-minute phone call later, Young was offered an internship with Steinbacher.

"I remember watching Rick Steinbacher when he played at Carolina," Young said. "And now I'm working for him. I'm looking forward to seeing how the fall is going to be, but in all honestly, this has exceeded my wildest expectations and dreams."


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