Everything Jeff Kruse learned to be successful in life and his career in the military he said came from his time in Pettisville. Kruse, a two-star major general in the United States Air Force, returned to his alma mater to receive the school’s first “Circle of Excellence” Award. A member of the Class of 1986, Kruse has spent 31 years in the military rising from a second lieutenant out of ROTC and through the ranks to become one of the top generals in the service.
Kruse was the inspiration for the award, which was proposed by Roger Rupp. He wanted to come up with a way to honor Kruse back when he was only a one-star general, Superintendent Steve Switzer said. Pettisville Schools honored Kruse May 26 at a morning assembly attended by the students and members of the public. His family was in attendance as well. The school put together some policies regarding the award and tried to get Kruse to come a year ago, but couldn’t work it out. As things worked out, Kruse was promoted in December and was able to work it out to attend this year. Kruse’s rise in the ranks was a combination of teamwork and luck. He downplayed his role as the leading factor.
A former president of the Student Council while at Pettisville, Kruse now oversees hundreds of people as the Director of Intelligence, U.S. Pacific Command, in Hawaii. His focus is on the Asia-Pacific region, with China and North Korea his primary focus. Previously he had been in the Middle East combating ISIS.
It was the chance to speak to the students at the school which sealed the deal to come back, Kruse said. His goal was to share the principles and values he learned growing up and while attending school in Pettisvile. He shared the last sentence of his talk with the students so they could hear and remember the gist of his message. “Everything I needed to know to be a two-star general, I learned here at Pettisville,” Kruse said. “What that should mean to you is that you too can be a two-star general or a doctor, a nurse, a farmer or a businessman. Whatever it is you dream about, you can do if you have the foundation by spending time here.”
Kruse thanked the people in his life, including teachers and coaches, who helped instill in him the values he holds onto today. He remarked on how he and his wife have moved 17 times in 26 years, but no school he has seen has been better than Pettisville.
Kruse shared some guiding values of his life with the students.
There were the three core values of the Air Force, ones he didn’t get taught until he was in his 20s, 30s and 40s, but which really came from home: “Integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.” From his time at Pettisville, he learned the sky’s the limit. Even though the school was small. (He finished second out of a class of 28) there was room for everyone, he said. “You can take great classes,” Kruse said, “participate in plays and be in student government. So when I faced leadership challenge issues there really wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before or was unwilling to try.”
So when he had to write a report, his 4-star boss had to give as testimony before Congress, Kruse relied on his term-paper skills to get the job done. His boss liked the report so much, he read it word-for-word while testifying. The same is true when he learned how to build a budget and had to deal with tens of billions of dollars. Instead of panicking, he lopped off the last six zeroes the first couple of months and got used to the numbers. His time having a summer job or a paper route helped him he said.
Students should never stop learning, Kruse said. He possesses three master’s degrees, while his wife earned her Ph.D. at age 35. “I wear 41 ribbons and I have earned none of them,” Kruse said, crediting all of his success to being part of a team. “Life is a team sport. Kruse later presented a flag that has been in combat, under the sea and in space, to current Student Council President Jeff Rufenacht.
Following Rupp’s presentation of the award and the unveiling of a portrait with his nominating letter, Krupp spent time meeting students and exchanging well wishes for longtime friends.
The school will continue the award on an as-needed or as-warranted basis, Switzer said. Kruse’s appearance served a twofold purpose, he said. “He’s accomplished an awful lot and he’s the same kid that wandered the halls of our school,” Switzer said following the ceremony. “It was nice to have him back and get a chance to tell every kid ‘you can do some things. You can accomplish some things if you put your mind to it.”
Family members were beaming with pride. “I am very proud,” sister Marilyn Neville said. “He’s a great guy and we all knew it all his life. His whole family is very proud of him”. Kruse was a normal brother growing up. They fought like siblings do, Neville said. But having someone in her family rise as far has Kruse has, is hard to comprehend.
“I am just a factory worker at Sauder,” Neville said. “But having my brother, my flesh and blood, being a two-star general is unbelievable.” The ceremony was a tear-jerker for the family, she said. “It’s actually unbelievable,” Neville said.
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