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Exemplifying the American Spirit

By Melissa Walther | Air Force Recruiting Service Public Affairs | Jan. 27, 2017

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas — Bob Hope. Reba McIntyre. Dolly Parton. The Chicago Bulls.

Names synonymous with going the extra mile to support the troops. With providing them a bright spot of entertainment and encouragement in a potentially dark and trying time.

Now you can add another name to that list.

Dan Clark.

For his outstanding contributions to the Air Force and advocacy for Airmen around the world, Maj. Gen. Garret Harencak, Air Force Recruiting Service commander, presented Clark the American Spirit Award Jan. 26 at the Air Force Recruiting Service Leadership Conference in San Antonio.

Since 1980 the award has been presented by AFRS to civilians who have made a significant impact on Airmen and the Air Force.

“I can think of no better person to get this award,” Harencak said. “He’s a friend, and I don’t just mean to me. He’s a friend to each and every one of us [in the Air Force]. He’s our wingman. You know before you go into peril, your wingman will be there, and even when you didn’t know Dan, he was there for us.”

The most recent in a long and storied line of recipients of the American Spirit Award, Clark has given more than 350 free speeches to the military, served on the National Civic Leaders Board for three Air Force Chiefs of Staff, has taken eight trips downrange to speak to troops and volunteered more than 3,000 hours of his time to support Airmen around the world since 2001, to name a few of his contributions.

And when he’s not speaking to military members, he’s speaking to companies and company executive officers about – among other things – why American Airmen are so extraordinary.

“I speak 150 to 200 times a year to corporate leaders, and 15 minutes of a 60 minute speech is on the Air Force,” he said. “Think about it. Where else can you find a 21-year-old with this kind of responsibility? Where can you find a 26-year-old who’s trusted with a billion-dollar plane? You can’t find that anywhere else, and that’s why I always tell my corporate audience that one of the most important things they can do is hire veterans. They’ve got some remarkable skills and experiences, and their core values makes them strong, resilient people.”

Resiliency is a topic near and dear to Clark’s heart, and one he regularly shares with Airmen.

A starting wide receiver his freshman year at the University of Utah, and a starting defensive end beginning his sophomore year at the University of Utah, he was projected as a number-one draft choice for the Oakland Raiders.

Then, during a tackling drill, he cracked a vertebra in his neck.

“I was paralyzed for 13 months,” he said. “And 16 doctors said I’d never walk again, but I did. So I talk about resiliency. I hit rock bottom when I was paralyzed, and I take pride in being able to talk as a subject matter expert on resiliency and suicide, and I’ve been happily married for 36 years, so I speak on relationships, too.”

In addition to speaking engagements, Clark has been the primary contributor to the first 12 “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books, has authored more than 30 bestsellers, is on the International Board of Governors of Operation Smile and other charities, and much more. He even co-authored the Gold Record-winning country hit, “Drink, Swear, Steal and Lie.”

“In my past, I was caught up in my own world, but in 2001, I had an opportunity to speak at Hill Air Force Base, in Utah,” he said. “That’s when I really caught the vision. Then, the wing commander there went to Maxwell, to Air University, and invited me to speak to classes there, and I spoke to graduating classes of about 1,200 every five weeks from 2001 to 2013.”

Clark said he views his speaking engagements with the Air Force as a way to give back.

“I was never in the military, so giving my time is my chance, as an old guy, to serve my country,” Clark said. “In my quiet moments I still think I’m quite the stud, and the older I get, the better I was. But then I see you, and I could never do what you do. You’re extraordinary, and you stand out in every crowd, even when you’re not in uniform.”

That respect for Airmen and the Air Force as a whole was on display when Harencak presented Clark the award. Visibly choked up, Clark summed up what it meant to him to receive it, saying simply:

“I’ve received a lot of awards and trophies in my days, but this is by far my best and means the most to me.”