Ten years after enlisting in the United States Air Force, Cameron Culliver was made master sergeant with a recruiting role in the newly-formed Space Force.
By Jamie Wiggan
Fourteen years ago, Cameron Culliver nearly dropped out of high school without a diploma. Now he’s the school board president at his alma mater and a master sergeant recruiting for the newly-launched U.S. Space Force.
In the interim, Culliver was deployed in Afghanistan, stationed in Florida and Italy, learned multiple languages and earned three degrees. He returned to his hometown McKees Rocks in 2019 to take care of his mother, Carma Hinton, and has remained there since.
“It’s funny how it’s come full circle,” he said.
As one of just 24 Space Force recruiters nationwide, Culliver regularly meets students who – like he once did – struggle to map out their future ambitions. He knows from experience how demonstrating belief in a young mind can inspire its own confidence.
“I have faith that these kids I’m recruiting for the space force – they’re gonna make history,” he said.
Culliver wasn’t a particularly bad student for most of his high school years, but struggled to see the point in formal education after he began earning decent money as a crew trainer at McDonald’s. The intervention of two close mentors encouraged him to complete his studies, but he still had no ambitions for college or a military career.
One of those mentors, Adrienne Roberts, now serves alongside him on the Sto-Rox School Board. As a close friend of Culliver’s mother, Roberts said she picked up on his lack of application at school and pulled him aside to tell him “you can do better.”
By all accounts, he did. But not without a few more twists and turns.
“I’m just really proud of him,” Roberts said. “You plant a seed and you don’t even realize what you’re doing.
After graduating, Culliver took on a second job at Best Buy and, snatching a quick promotion, felt good about his prospects working hard and climbing the career ladder.
“Truth be told, I never saw myself in the Air Force or any branch of the military,” he said.
That all changed when his grandfather died in October 2010. The family death brought him back into contact with an uncle who had recently retired from the Air Force and spoke repeatedly of the advantages it had afforded him.
At first resistant, Culliver acknowledged his uncle had “planted a seed.”
“I got to see how he was successful based on his being in the Air Force,” Culliver said.
Six months later, he enlisted, and by the following summer, he flew to Texas for basic training.
Coming in with mediocre test scores and no clear advantages on his resume, Culliver won successive promotions through his hunger and perseverance, earning the rank of master sergeant within 10 years in the force. He worked in law enforcement and security before taking a special commission in recruitment. When, last summer, a single opening presented for a recruiter for the newly-fledged Space Force, Culliver’s command immediately recommended him for the role.
The Space Force division was founded in 2019 to complement the Air Force in light of space technology advances. As with the Marine Corps and the Navy, the Space Force is independent of the Air Force but incorporated under its broader command structure.
Despite the space-faring associations, Culliver is not recruiting astronauts, but cyber, intelligence and space operations specialists who mostly work from labs and control centers planted firmly on American soil.
He says he has to fight back against assumptions the division is only for science and math extraordinaires, and points to his own story as an example.
“Looking at my entrance scores, you’d think I shouldn’t be here,” he said. “You can be a 17-year-old kid and you can apply for the Space Force.”
Roberts said Culliver’s global experience and hometown dedication make him an ideal role model to those struggling to see a future for themselves in the struggling school district she helped him graduate from.
“I just think most of these kids get overlooked,” she said. “Sometimes you don’t see something in yourself that others do.”
Editor's note: a printed version of this story incorrectly stated Culliver was deployed in Iraq and returned to his hometown of McKees Rocks in 2020.