The Air Force has a tradition called “Hail and farewell.” Every few weeks, new airmen arrived on duty as other airmen are rotated away to new challenges at a new duty station. We would have a gathering to hail the incoming airmen, and say farewell to friends we had served and forged bonds with who were now moving on. There is, as you might imagine, a bittersweet aspect to these gatherings, a lot of laughs, and not a few tears. We never hailed and bid farewell to the same airman at once, of course, but in now former Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson’s case, that is more or less what’s happening.
Secretary Wilson has resigned and is leaving the Trump administration, but she deserves a hero’s farewell. And for Texas — we get to hail the arrival of a true “airman for life.”
On May 21, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson bid a formal goodbye to the administration’s Department of Defense. In March, the secretary announced her intentions to depart Washington and return to her adopted Southwest. On the final day of May, Wilson concluded her two-year tenure as the 24th Secretary of the Air Force, beginning her transition back to civilian life as the president of the University of Texas, El Paso. Hail, farewell.
There’s no doubt that her presence in the administration will be sorely missed. For a military branch that has historically suffered from critical under-funding and a lack of military readiness, Wilson’s leadership was a breath of fresh air. Indeed, Wilson was a one-of-a-kind asset to the Air Force. A former pilot, a Rhodes Scholar, and a trailblazer as the first woman graduate of the Air Force Academy to be elected to Congress, Wilson brought unrivaled experience to her post. And her leadership was exactly what the Air Force needed.
Despite Wilson’s relatively short stint as Air Force Secretary, she had a clear and overwhelmingly positive impact on her branch of the Armed Forces. According to Charles Pope, the secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs, the Air Force’s readiness increased a total of 17 percent since Wilson was confirmed two years ago. Under Heather Wilson’s watchful leadership, the Air Force has saved more than $17 billion, eliminated persistent personnel shortages, and streamlined away 100 years’ worth of administrative bloat.
While the now-former Secretary’s organization of internal Air Force processes is undeniably impressive, Wilson’s greatest accomplishment was her steadfast management of contentious political concerns. Having previously served as a five-term congresswoman with seats on both the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, Wilson well understood the political realities of her work within the Trump administration. There, she withstood withering criticism and political pressure from outside groups looking to shape defense policy. Nevertheless, the Air Force secretary remained resolute, shepherding to fruition one of the Air Force’s most crucial programs: The Launch Service Agreement.
The Launch Service Agreement (or LSA) is the Air Force’s flagship program for developing and sustaining America’s space launch capabilities. The LSA’s goal—to assure the United States’ independent access to space by eliminating Russian dependence with new, U.S. made launch systems—was single-handedly preserved by Wilson’s leadership. She meticulously and thoroughly responded to the political concerns of House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and others, reminding them that additional delays to its implementation would only increase costs and jeopardize national security and America’s access to space. As a result, the program has been pushed forward, ensuring the Trump administration’s aerospace legacy will be one of forged independence, not continued foreign reliance.
Heather Wilson’s composure in the face of controversy demonstrates the very best of America’s military leadership. While lesser leaders may have bowed to the pressures of outside influences or succumbed to political temptation, Wilson did not. The secretary endured the firestorm of criticism, not losing sight of the Air Force’s true goal: to ensure our nation’s continued security, both on the home-front and into space. The Air Force is better for her leadership.
So, as America bids farewell to Secretary Heather Wilson from Washington, we thank her for her service and for her unyielding commitment to the safety of all Americans. There is no doubt she will continue to serve as an example for future leaders in the years to come, only now, in El Paso, Texas.