Sen. John Thune
By now, most folks across the state probably know that South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SDSM&T) President Dr. Heather Wilson was recently confirmed by the Senate to serve as the next secretary of the U.S. Air Force. I proudly supported her nomination, as did Republicans and Democrats from all corners of the country. The strong bipartisan support for her nomination is emblematic of her long list of qualifications for the job.
I’ve known Dr. Wilson for nearly 20 years, and while she wasn’t born in South Dakota, she’s a South Dakotan through and through. We’re all sad to see her leave, but our loss is America’s gain, and the airmen who defend us around the world couldn’t ask for a better or stronger leader.
Heather is no stranger to the Air Force. Her service began decades ago as a cadet at the Air Force Academy, where she earned the status of Distinguished Graduate. No Air Force Academy graduate has ever served as secretary of the Air Force, so Heather will be making history as she assumes her new leadership role, too.
During the Cold War, Heather served as an Air Force officer in the United Kingdom and in Brussels. After retiring from the Air Force, Heather continued to serve the nation by joining President George H.W. Bush’s National Security Council staff, where she focused on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and conventional arms control. In 1998, Heather was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. She served on the Armed Services Committee and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence at various points during her 10-plus years in Congress.
Most recently, Heather lived and worked in Rapid City, leading one of the premier science and engineering schools in the country. She played a key role in applying cutting-edge technologies that were developed at SDSM&T to help solve B1-B Bomber maintenance issues at Ellsworth Air Force Base, which is not far from campus. I know I can speak for the men and women at Ellsworth and the SDSM&T community by saying we’re excited for Heather and what’s to come.
It’s pretty easy to see that while she no longer wears the uniform, the Air Force never really left Dr. Wilson. That sense of service has carried her from her early days as a cadet to now becoming the 24th secretary of the Air Force. She’ll be a tremendous asset to our national security team because she’s seen these issues from every angle – as a cadet, national security aide, policymaker, and educator.
South Dakotans are proud of Dr. Wilson’s successful career and are thankful for everything she’s done for her community and our state. We wish her the best of luck as she returns to public service in Washington, D.C., and will always remind her, once a South Dakotan, always a South Dakotan.