President Donald Trump’s pick of a former congresswoman to run the Air Force could give the service a larger voice in the behind the scenes budget battles on Capitol Hill, service advocates say.
If confirmed by the Senate, former Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., would be the first Air Force secretary to have previously been elected to Congress. Stuart Symington, the first Air Force secretary in 1947, was elected in 1952 to the Senate in Missouri.
Wilson, a former Air Force officer, is president of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, a position she has held since 2013. But her background includes assignments in Europe and arms control, two issues facing the Air Force today. The service has stepped up deployments to Europe in recent years in response to Russian aggression and are starting the process of buying new nuclear weapons.
“As a veteran, a committed public servant in Congress and a military spouse, she understands the needs of the Air Force and how to advocate policy that meets those needs,” said Thomas Spoehr, a retired Army lieutenant general who runs the Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense.
Wilson would become secretary of a service that has been taxed in terms of it size and age of its equipment.
“She is a magnificent pick in the context of having somebody who is knowledgeable and competent in not just Air Force issues, but security issues writ large,” said David Deptula, a retired Air Force lieutenant general who got to know Wilson when she was in Congress and he was in charge of Air Force intelligence. “She is completely and totally professional and has insight into a vast array of security issues that will serve the Air Force and the Department of Defense very, very well.”
Heather Wilson’s Career Highlights
- A 1982 graduate of the Air Force Academy. Her graduating class was the third to include women.
- Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and earned a doctorate in international relations in 1985
- Air Force officer for seven years with assignments in Europe
- Served on President George H.W. Bush’s National Security Council staff as director for European Defense Policy and Arms Control.
- Published a “International Law and the Use of Force by National Liberation Movements” in 1990.
- Represented New Mexico in the House from 1997 to 2009. Committee assignments included House Armed Services and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
- Came under fire for accepting a $10,000 per month consulting contract with Sandia National Laboratory immediately after leaving Congress.
- Unsuccessfully ran for a New Mexico Senate seat in 2008 and 2012.
- Served as an advisor to Oak Ridge National Laboratory.