Maj. Phil Ambard is now memorialized at the Air Force Academy, but he’s still not a typical hero.
He died six years ago this week in Afghanistan, but he’s not honored for battlefield valor. He’s being held up as an example for future pilots but never flew a plane.
Instead, Ambard is recognized for being an immigrant who learned English from American soap operas. He’s honored for heading to battle because he didn’t want to teach cadets when he hadn’t heard shots fired in anger. He’s lionized as a father of five, a community volunteer, a master of eight languages and possibly the hardest worker to wear the uniform on the academy’s campus.
Last week, the academy cut the ribbon on the Maj. Phil Ambard conference room.
“We hope by having his name here, he will continue to inspire future generations,” Brig. Gen. Andy Armacost, the academy’s dean, said after the school dedicated a conference room to Ambard.
His widow, Linda Ambard, said her self-effacing husband would be embarrassed by the conference room. Outside the simple space is a big picture of Ambard in uniform, a plaque detailing his career and a display of his medals and rank insignia – from an airman’s single stripe to a major’s gold leaf.
“He would say it’s too much,” she said.
Maj. Ambard, an academy language professor, always preferred to put others in the spotlight.
“When you were around Phil, you felt good about yourself and the Air Force,” explained retired Brig. Gen. Gunther Mueller.
Ambard, a native of Venezuela, moved to America when he was 12. TV shows were his language teachers, with “All My Children” and “General Hospital” leading the way.
Ambard struggled in high school but found inspiration in the Air Force after a recruiter told him it offered a path to citizenship.
He was a sergeant when he went through a grueling school to become an officer in 2000. He got his bachelor’s degree in night school and went on to get a master’s from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and a doctorate at the University of Denver.
A father of five, he put three kids into the Air Force Academy and one into the Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. The fifth kid was a top high school scholar in the Pikes Peak region and attended the University of Denver.
His daughter, Maj. Emily Short, is serving at the academy now.
“He remains my Air Force mentor,” she said.
Ambard volunteered to head overseas in 2011 and was assigned to mentor Afghan troops.
On April 27, 2011, he and nine others were killed in Kabul when an Afghan opened fire with a pistol in one of the worst insider attacks of the war.
Not long after his death, leaders at the academy began figuring out how to honor Ambard.
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