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Face of Defense: Air Force Civilian Cherishes People

By Margaret Breihan
Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

WASHINGTON, Sept. 30, 2011 – William Davidson said it’s the wonderful people that he's worked with that have made his 43 years in the Air Force such a great experience.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
William Davidson, the administrative assistant to the secretary of the Air Force, prepares for an incentive flight aboard an F-16 Fighting Falcon from the 555th Fighter Squadron at Aviano Air Force Base, Italy. Davidson retires Sept. 30, 2011, after more than 17 years as the administrative assistant and 43 years of military and civilian Air Force service. Courtesy photo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Davidson, the administrative assistant to Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley, will retire in a ceremony here today.

"They always say you'll know when to leave." Davidson said. "I want to leave when I'm at the top of my game, and I can make the transition as smooth as possible. My wife and I are high school sweethearts, and now I want to give back to her and the rest of the family by cheering at my grandchildren's games."

Throughout his four-decade career, Davidson has achieved an impressive collection of military and civilian service awards, to include two Distinguished Executive Presidential Rank Awards, which recognizes him as part of the top 1 percent of the most valued federal government career civilian leaders.

Davidson “actually had three careers in the Air Force: serving in uniform as a cop and investigator, serving as a staff officer, and finally, serving as the senior civilian advisor to the secretary of the Air Force," Donley said. "With over 20 years working in the Office of the Administrative Assistant, [Davidson] has been the go-to person for anyone who wants to know how to get something done in the Air Force, in the Pentagon and beyond.

“His knowledge and experience have provided continuity to our Air Force, which is a critical contribution on a day-to-day basis, but absolutely essential in times of crisis and transition," the Air Force secretary added.

Davidson said his love of the Air Force, and of the sky, began at an early age. His father was a veteran World War II flyer and a commercial pilot. Davidson said he also wanted to be a pilot in the Air Force, but his eyesight was too poor. The backup plan was to keep the Air Force in his future and integrate another of his interests: law enforcement.

"A position with [Air Force Office of Special Investigations] seemed to be the best of both worlds," he said.

Just seven days after graduating from Florida State University's ROTC program, Davidson was offered a position as a polygrapher with Air Force special investigations. There, Davidson worked his way into leadership positions, eventually becoming the chief of the Air Force’s polygraph program. He was also inducted into the AFOSI Hall of Fame.

Prior to retiring as a colonel in 1990, Davidson served as the deputy for security and investigative programs with the Office of the Administrative Assistant. Entering government civilian service immediately after his military retirement, he first served as the deputy administrative assistant until 1994 when he assumed the administrative assistant position.

Among a multitude of responsibilities, the administrative assistant is also the senior career civilian advisor to the Air Force secretary.

Throughout his 43-year Air Force career, 22 years in uniform then 21 as a senior executive service civilian, Davidson said he has worked hard to follow the examples of those who helped him find his way to success.

"When I was coming into the service there were a lot of World War II veterans who were still in the service who showed me the ropes, mentoring me," he said. "Mentorship has always been a part of my Air Force experience."

Davidson grew from mentee to mentor.

"He's the person people constantly seek out for advice," said Doug Thomas, the former National Counterintelligence principal deputy director, one of Davidson's mentees.

Tim Beyland, the Air Force assistant deputy chief of staff for manpower and personnel, said he is still learning from Davidson in preparation for taking over Davidson's duties. Beyland has been selected to be the next administrative assistant to the Air Force secretary.

Davidson said he’s witnessed many social, technological and political changes that have caused the Air Force to evolve, such as the breaking down of racial barriers and the recruitment of increased numbers of women into the military services.

He also noted the Air Force’s transition to pilotless flight.

"The Air Force needs to adjust more quickly to social and technological changes than other branches of service do, and we adjust well," he added.

Davidson helped senior DOD and Air Force leaders deal with security issues in a post-9/11 world.

Davidson “changed the way the Defense Department looks at security," Beyland said. "He has changed it from dealing with an individual security incident to coming up with a concept that prevents the incident from happening."

"You watch how he navigates through so many technical areas and comes up with an ideal solution for whatever scenario you think of," said Robert Corsi, Davidson's deputy. "He has the ability to understand the dynamics of a situation and is able to assimilate all that and navigate a way ahead, no matter how complicated the issue.”

Davidson “is such a revolutionary, evolutionary thinker that instead of adjusting to change, he drives change," Corsi added.

As retirement nears, Davidson said he is confident in the abilities of those who will continue on.

"Now people are talking a lot about my legacy, and as I see it, legacy is what you leave behind," he said. "As I look up and down these halls, I see people who I've mentored are now leading the Air Force, and who happen to be good friends. The airmen coming in are really bright and smart."


Contact Author

Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley


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