President Trump will nominate a former congresswoman and veteran who served on the National Security Council during President George H.W. Bush’s administration to be his Air Force secretary, the White House said Monday.
Former representative Heather A. Wilson (R-N.M.) is currently the president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, a science and engineering university in Rapid City, S.D. She was the first female veteran elected to a full term in Congress, and left the House in 2009 after a failed primary run for the Senate seat now held by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.). She served in the Air Force in the 1980s after graduating from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., leaving as a captain. She also was a Rhodes Scholar.
“Heather Wilson is going to make an outstanding Secretary of the Air Force,” Trump said in a statement. “Her distinguished military service, high level of knowledge, and success in so many different fields gives me great confidence that she will lead our nation’s Air Force with the greatest competence and integrity.”
Wilson, 56, said in the same statement that U.S. interests continue to be threatened, and that she will “do my best, working with our men and women in the military, to strengthen American air and space power to keep the country safe.”
In Congress, Wilson served on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Armed Services Committee. She was seen as a staunch conservative but broke with her party on a few occasions, such as when she criticized Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in 2004 about the damage caused by the Abu Ghraib scandal, in which U.S. soldiers were depicted abusing inmates at the Iraqi prison.
“I don’t think we can underestimate the importance of this hearing today or of the military and the Defense Department’s response to what has been uncovered for how America will be perceived for the next 20 years,” Wilson said at the time, comparing the damage the case could cause to the mass killing of civilians by U.S. troops in the Vietnamese village of My Lai in 1968.
Wilson told Roll Call newspaper in a 2013 after a second failed campaign for the Senate that she was most likely done running for office.
“I’m moving on to other things, most likely higher education,” she said. “I’ll probably also likely serve on some corporate boards.”
Like several of Trump’s other nominees, Wilson has ties to private industry, including defense firms. She has been a senior adviser to several companies, including Battelle, Sandia, Los Alamos, the Nevada Test Site and Oak Ridge Laboratories. After leaving the military she founded Keystone International, which focuses on organizational development, project management and technical support services.
This story has been corrected to note that Wilson left Congress in 2009.