- The Washington Times - Friday, March 8, 2019

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson submitted her resignation Friday and is expected to become the new president of the University of Texas at El Paso.

The unexpected departure of Ms. Wilson, who had been considered a top candidate for the next secretary of defense, creates more uncertainty at the Pentagon. In addition to the looming vacancy atop the Air Force, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has served in an interim role for more than two months and it’s unclear when President Trump will nominate a long-term replacement.

In her resignation letter, Ms. Wilson said she’ll depart on May 31.

“It has been a privilege to serve alongside our Airmen over the past two years and I am proud of the progress that we have made restoring our nation’s defense,” she said. “We have improved the readiness of the force; we have cut years out of acquisition schedules and gotten better prices through competition; we have repealed hundreds of superfluous regulations; and we have strengthened our ability to deter and dominate in space.”

Ms. Wilson’s resignation comes at a pivotal moment for the Air Force, which has played a key role in U.S. military operations in Syria, Somalia, and elsewhere across the Middle East and Africa. She’s also stepping down just as the Air Force undertakes one of its most significant reorganization efforts in decades with the creation of the Space Force, a policy priority of President Trump.

The Space Force will operate within the Air Force structure, much as the Marine Corps operates as part of the Navy.

The next Air Force secretary will be tasked with the huge responsibility of standing up and overseeing the Space Force, which the administration argues is necessary to defend against space-based threats from adversaries around the world.

Ms. Wilson’s resignation also adds another layer of mystery to the hunt for the next Pentagon chief.

Following the resignation of former Defense Secretary James Mattis late last year, Ms. Wilson’s name emerged as a top contender to replace him. It’s unclear whether she was ever seriously considered for the job, but Reuters reported Friday that Ms. Wilson was not pressured to resign by the White House and was not asked to leave by any of her superiors at the Pentagon.

If she had been nominated, Ms. Wilson would have been the first woman to lead the Defense Department. Her fans on Capitol Hill hope she’ll still get the opportunity one day.

“The importance of her incredible work in the Air Force cannot be overstated. It is not surprising to me that Heather would be sought out by other organizations looking for her strong leadership,” Rep. Mike Turner, Ohio Republican, said in a statement. “I wish Heather all the best in her future endeavors. She will be deeply missed. Hopefully, someday we can see Heather Wilson as the first female secretary of defense.”

A former member of Congress who served over a decade in the House, Ms. Wilson also was a New Mexico cabinet secretary, served on the White House’s National Security Council from 1989 to 1991 and most recently led the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology before taking over as Air Force secretary.

She was an Air Force officer from 1982 to 1989.

Local media in Texas have reported that she’s the only candidate under consideration for the job at the University of Texas at El Paso. It’s widely expected the school’s board of regents will soon vote to confirm her as president.

In her letter, she spoke highly of the school.

“It is a university that changes lives with a deep commitment to both access and excellence,” Ms. Wilson said.

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