Brig. Gen. Calvin H. Elam
RESIDES IN: Irmo, where he’s a member of Mid-Carolina Electric Cooperative
OCCUPATION: Senior ranking officer, S.C. Air National Guard; CEO, Elam Financial Group
VOLUNTEERS AS: Chair of the Palmetto Richland Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees
PERSONAL: He and his wife, Mary, have three children: April, 32; Erin, 22; Forbes, 15
LATEST PROJECT: In April, Elam published his first book, Self-Reliance—What Do You Mean, You Didn’t Know? African-Americans Achieving a Well Spent Life.
Calvin Elam wasn’t looking to break any barriers when he joined the U.S. Air Force out of Greenwood High School in the 1980s. He just wanted money for college.
Now he’s Brig. Gen. Elam, assistant adjutant general for air, South Carolina, the first African-American to attain that rank in the 67-year history of the S.C. Air National Guard. In his position, Elam commands more than 1,500 men and women at McEntire Joint Air National Guard Base near Columbia, home of the Swamp Fox F-16 fighter jets that have served with distinction in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Elam’s rise through the ranks as a citizen-airman is the result of old-fashioned discipline and hard work. During his six years of active duty as a administrative specialist at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, he earned a business degree from the University of South Carolina. After leaving the Air Force, Elam was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air National Guard in 1988 and quickly earned a reputationas a “can‑do” officer.
“People size you up pretty quickly,” Elam says of his drive to succeed and regular promotions. “If you ask me to do a task, I’m going to do it for you at a very high level.”
That applies to civilian life, too, where Elam is a financial advisor with about $50 million under management for clients. He’s the married father of three children and serves as a fundraiser for numerous charities, including the March of Dimes, Boy Scouts of America and the Palmetto Health Foundation.
Elam says he’s well aware of his place in state history but that he doesn’t dwell on it.
“I know I’m seen as a role model by some, and there’s been some added visibility and responsibility in that regard,” he says, “but I’ve learned that if you do your job well, you’ll show up on the radar screen.”