WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFNS) -- (This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)
Second Lt. Matthew Ruden didn't always plan to stay in the Air Force, but he plans to stay now.
Ruden, an acquisitions manager for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center's F-15 Eagle Division, will be promoted to first Lieutenant on May 1. Maj. Gen. Tom Masiello, the Air Force Research Laboratory commander, will be presiding over the ceremony, at Ruden's request.
Masiello and Ruden have a history together that Ruden said inspired him to change direction.
Ruden enlisted in the Air Force in 2006, and from 2009 to 2010 served as a vehicle operator in Baghdad.
While there, he was assigned personal security detail for Masiello. Being Masiello's driver gave Ruden an opportunity that few Airmen get -- to be mentored and befriended by a general.
Time spent in the car with Masiello or stopping by his office often consisted of personal discussions about life, career goals and education.
After learning that Ruden planned to separate from the Air Force and start a bar business with some friends, Masiello encouraged him to complete his bachelor's degree, regardless of what he decided to do after the Air Force.
There was always an emphasis on the importance of education in Masiello's mentoring, Ruden said.
According to Ruden, that relationship planted a seed that stayed with him. After a few years of separation from the Air Force, memories of those conversations with Masiello inspired Ruden to complete his degree, rejoin the Air Force, finish officer training school (OTS) and receive his commission.
"I really felt like general Masiello put time and energy into me," he said. "He was making an investment in a young troop and I felt a sense of obligation to repay his investment."
Masiello, who oversees the science and technology enterprise that provides the Air Force with advanced air, space and cyber capabilities, acknowledged he believes education is an investment in the nation. He added that Ruden’s story also reinforced in a very personal way, the value of both formal and informal mentorship.
"I was blown away when I heard back from Matt, that he had finished school and was seeking an endorsement for OTS," Masiello said. "It's really very gratifying to know our casual discussions had an impact. The big takeaway for me is we are all mentors and every conversation is important."
Ruden has plans to apply for the Acquisition and Intelligence Experience Exchange Tour program and to stay with the Air Force for the rest of his career, eventually becoming a materiel leader.
"I love the Air Force," he said. "On a personal level, I love the pride and sense of accomplishment I feel every day wearing the uniform. On a professional level, there is always a new challenge every single day that needs to be overcome. There is also a tremendous amount of opportunity to do something different or gain a higher level of education."
Ruden is now married and the father of a two-month-old girl. He runs, plays Destiny, watches English Premier League Soccer, is working on his master's degree and reads books and articles on self-betterment and leadership.
In the meantime, he said he would like to continue to realize the potential Masiello saw in him so long ago.
"Joining the Air Force is one of the biggest commitments you will ever make," he said. "It's not just a job; it's a way of life. Imagine the Air Force like a box. You must first put something in before you can take something out."