2020 Alumnus of the Year: Charles Seidel ’87
Charles “Chuck” Seidel ’87 is a decorated, retired Air Force officer who came out of retirement to serve as a subject matter expert supporting the U.S. in its fight against ISIS. During his military career, he managed the program to design the Air Force replacement for the B-2 bomber and led efforts in Afghanistan to enable the first-ever women-owned business and supported presidential election efforts there.
Chuck enrolled at Milton Hershey School in October 1978 when he was 8 years old. His mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and in a few short years became confined to a wheelchair and unable to care for Chuck and his sister.
“When I arrived at MHS, I was just a kid. I was confused by how quickly what seemed like my perfect little existence changed so abruptly,” Chuck said. “Throughout my nine years, I learned to cope with change and learned to become comfortable in situations that were uncomfortable.”
Many coaches, teachers, and staff had an impact on Chuck, each in different ways developing his character and pushing him to reach his full potential.
“It wasn’t until several years after graduating that I realized just how these amazing people had helped to prepare me for real-life,” Chuck said. Talking about the foundational skills he learned at MHS, Chuck said he learned it was necessary to get along with the other 15 kids in the student home. “I also learned honesty and great work ethic from some of the finest houseparents, teachers, and coaches. These skills alone are plenty to be successful in any profession,” he added.
In Middle Division, Chuck lived at student home Birchland with houseparents Ben Helm ’47 and his wife, Grace. “The Helms were two of the most gracious people I’ve met in my entire life,” Chuck said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t catch myself saying something or doing something that reminds me of them.”
Thinking about where he found a passion for his work, Chuck said it started with Mr. Helm, who was always busy picking up stuff, sweeping, etc. “I didn’t like doing work back then and complained continuously,” Chuck said. “But now, when I walk from the car to the house, I find myself picking up stuff in the yard and laughing to myself that I’ve become Ben Helm. I think I’ve used that same mindset at every job I’ve done in the Air Force … there’s always loose ends to pick up, so go ahead and do it with a smile.”
In addition to houseparents, Chuck remembers the positive influence of Don Witman, principal at Catherine Hall, and Lewis Webster, teacher and coach. Chuck describes Witman as being genuinely kind to his mother during parent weekends when she required the elevator. He describes Webster as one of his toughest teachers, who also played basketball with him and another student at lunch. “I always appreciated his advice and approval.
In 1985, in a magical moment as Chuck recalls, he caught the eye of a pretty, young classmate named Cyndi Crout, who would become his high school sweetheart and later his wife.
“There isn’t a single aspect of my life that MHS has not impacted, but some of the most important have been in strengthening my faith, my work ethic, and my ability to get along with and care for others,” Chuck said.
Chuck described his senior year as “a little rudderless.” When he was not accepted at the University of Pennsylvania, he lost focus and had no plan for the summer following graduation or for life after MHS. When the fall semester began, he enrolled at Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC).
Having learned a little about the stock market from his eighth-grade typing teacher, as soon as Chuck graduated from MHS, he paid the tuition for the first semester at HACC and then opened a brokerage account with his savings to pay for the rest of his tuition.
That October, the stock market crashed. Chuck no longer had enough money to pay for the rest of his associate degree, so he dropped out and enlisted in the Air Force two days following the crash.
“That was the beginning of a whirlwind career and life serving our country,” Chuck said. “Twelve assignments, 10 states, numerous positions, two children, three dogs, and lots and lots of memories.”
When he was very new to the Air Force, Chuck was promoted to senior airman below-the-zone, a program where commanders promote outstanding candidates six months early. Later that year, he graduated from Airman Leadership School with the Distinguished Graduate Award.
After serving seven and a half years in the enlisted force, he was honored to attend Officer Training School. Shortly thereafter, Chuck transferred to the Air Force Acquisition Corps and was given the title, program manager. Since then, Chuck said he has managed more programs than he can count.
He retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel as integration chief for the Long Range Strike Bomber program at the Pentagon. He led a specialized team that coordinated the activities of a 77-member office for a $70 billion initiative and oversaw the planning, programming, and budgeting efforts with Congress to develop the replacement for the B-2 bomber.
“I retired in 2015 because I didn’t think there would be anything comparable to designing a new bomber,” Chuck said. “I was wrong!”
After his retirement, he and his wife, Cyndi returned to Utah. Chuck worked as a contractor to help teach new program managers. After three months, he was tasked to lead a “Tiger Team” to increase bomb production to support U.S. efforts against ISIS. Over the next four years, he led efforts to change U.S. procurement law for explosives, changed export policies for bombs to support U.S. allies, opened a new chemical production facility, and opened two bomb-loading production lines.
The results were a savings of nearly $1 billion between 2016 and 2020. He also increased production capacity 900 percent, and delivery times were reduced from more than five years to under two.
“I’m not sure what exactly I’ll be asked to do next, but I’m excited about new challenges and hopefully many years left to serve,” Chuck said. During his military career, Chuck was recognized with the Bronze Star, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Air Force Achievement Medal, NATO Medal, and many other notable decorations.
While in the Air Force, Chuck earned a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from Southern New Hampshire University, where he was inducted into Delta Mu Delta National Honor Society, and a Master of Military Operational Art and Science degree from Air University. He also earned a Master of Arts degree in human resources management and services from Central Michigan University.
Outside of work, Chuck enjoys reading, golf, and various outdoor activities. He also is learning to cook. A few years ago, Cyndi gifted him a Traeger cooking class, so he has been perfecting pulled pork, brisket, and ribs. He and Cyndi have always been involved with their local church. From managing the books, to serving as the front-door greeters, they fill in where needed. Together, they serve as class agents for the MHS Class of 1987, and they stand ready to assist other graduates and students when they can. During the summer of 2018, they hosted a young graduate who was driving cross country to enroll at the University of San Francisco.
Chuck and Cyndi have been married for 32 years and reside in Savannah, Georgia. They have two adult children, Brittany and Brandon, and one grandson, Declan.
“Milton Hershey School rescued me from a life without parental supervision because my mom was sick,” Chuck said. “And, it taught me the importance of hard work and the value of true, lifelong friendships.”
While Chuck describes himself as rudderless for a short time after graduating from MHS, he said he found stability and direction once he became part of an organization that had core values similar to MHS.
Similar to the message he offered at the 2016 MHS Memorial Day Assembly where he was the keynote speaker, Chuck offers the following advice to current students:
“First and foremost, answer the question of faith early in life. Secondly, deliberately look for the good in situations. Don’t be tempted to see the bad and have a pity party. Lastly, work hard, be kind, and always be honest—it will help shape how others treat you and how you approach the world.”
Highlights of Chuck’s Air Force Career
- Led a team that put the first data link on fighter aircraft so they could share radar and targeting data
- Managed production for a $1 billion missile upgrade program
- While deployed to Afghanistan, served as small business administrator for the country and oversaw micro- and small-dollar investments amounting to $5 million per day
- Despite roadblocks in Afghanistan, his team enabled the first-ever, women-owned business and supported presidential election efforts
- As commander of the Air Force bomb squadron at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, led all bomb, bullet, and countermeasure procurements from 2010 to 2013
- In 2013, chosen as integration division chief for the Air Force’s next-generation bomber—the replacement for the B-2
About the Alumnus of the Year Award
The Milton Hershey School Alumnus/Alumna of the Year Award began in 1954. Recipients of the award have demonstrated humanitarianism and exemplary service to others, achieved distinguished service in their careers, and exhibited high standards of achievements, both personally and professionally.