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Department of the Air Force honors former Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Areca T. Wilson
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

The official portrait of 24th Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson was unveiled by 25th Secretary of the Air Force Barbara M. Barrett during a Pentagon ceremony July 28.

During the ceremony, Barrett recognized Wilson for her service and achievements as the Air Force’s highest-ranking civilian leader.

“I have been the beneficiary of your wisdom and foresight,” Barrett said while addressing her predecessor directly. “It’s been said that if you want to define ‘patriot’ without using words, all you need to do is look at a picture of Heather Wilson. Today, we install a picture of you in the Pentagon to remind all who pass just what a patriot looks like.”

Wilson thanked those who served alongside her and reflected on her tenure.

“My children would tell you that when someone ever said, ‘you know, your mom is always coloring outside the lines’ my usual answer would be, ‘what lines?’” Wilson said. “Sometimes to lead an institution forward, you have to redefine the question. As a leader, it's most important to think about what are the right questions, not just what are the answers to the quiz that somebody else set for us to think.”

Wilson’s advocacy for innovation led to a study, which said the “Air Force we need” must increase from 312 to 386 squadrons to ensure readiness in an era of great power competition. Additionally, her initiatives contributed to closing a 4,000 active-duty-maintainers gap to zero and changes in procurement practices that saved the Air Force more than $17 billion. By the end of her service, readiness across the Air Force improved by 17% compared to when she arrived in 2017.

During her tenure, she also worked with other service secretaries to address issues that Airmen and their family members said mattered most — quality of schools near military installations and reciprocity of licensure.

Wilson also commented on the Air Force’s heritage and pointed out its strides toward diversity.

“History is a woven figure. Studying history makes us smart, but heritage makes us proud. We are our stories and next week this service will continue to write its story,” Wilson said. “This service is the only one to have had, not one, but four women secretaries...and it will soon welcome (Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown Jr.) as our chief of staff. All of us are committed to his success and proud of the service that enjoys its talent from every race and creed and sex and station of life.”

Also attending was Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein. He highlighted Wilson’s legacy of “strengthening our people, our Airman and families.”

“The relationship we built for two years has been one of the most rewarding of my career and I truly enjoyed working for and with and learning from you,” he said. “It takes both a military and a civilian leader working together as a team to make a difference. Neither can bring lasting change alone — it's the ultimate team contact sport and a relationship that both must work equally hard at to establish a level of trust and confidence that this institution deserves.”

Wilson served as secretary from May 16, 2017, to May 31, 2019, during a time of transition for the Air Force in which the service moved from an era defined by combatting terrorism to confronting emerging powers such as Russia and China.

Kim Jew of Albuquerque, New Mexico, painted Wilson’s portrait. The painting was based on a photograph taken by Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank. Neither was able to attend the ceremony.