AF secretary on wings of a dream

Secretary of the Air Force Sheila Widnall, the first woman to hold the top civilian post in any of the three military services, calls her job the culmination of "a lifelong dream. It brings many of the threads of my life together." These include, Widnall said, "a lifelong fascination with airpla

Secretary of the Air Force Sheila Widnall, the first woman to hold the top civilian post in any of the three military services, calls her job the culmination of "a lifelong dream. It brings many of the threads of my life together."

These include, Widnall said, "a lifelong fascination with airplanes" that begun when she grew up beneath the flight path of McChord Air Force Base in Washington. On top of this, Widnall layered a lifetime of experience as an aeronautical engineer and professor of aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Though not a pilot, Widnall has gained real experience since taking over as secretary in 1993 by flying in practically every type of aircraft in the Air Force inventory.

"I've even flown with the Thunderbirds, pulling nine G's," Widnall said. She does this because she "loves to fly" and because it gives her a chance to see the Air Force in action.

When it comes to information technology, Widnall views it the same way she views her job—as something that "threads through everything we do." She believes the use of IT will enhance the service's "global awareness," a key to supporting the Air Force slogan of "Global Reach, Global Power." She enthuses about IT-based systems that offer global views, such as space-based sensors and the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft now operating in support of Operation Joint Endeavor. "JSTARS talks to everyone [through Army-operated ground stations]...and makes sure everyone talks to everyone else," she said.

Widnall wants to take advantage of commercial technology and commercial practices when possible and believes the Air Force can do that in its new role as program manager for a global broadcast system, which leverages Direct Broadcast Satellite technology developed by Hughes for the home entertainment market. Information warfare will become increasingly important to the Air Force, Widnall said, from the defensive and offensive perspectives.

"Our whole economy is dependent on information," she said, which argues for a strong defensive capability. Development of offensive information warfare capabilities means that, in the future, the United States might not have to send "as many troops to the field and risk loss of life."

On a personal level, Widnall describes herself as a "Mac fanatic," though that enthusiasm has had to be temporarily reined in because of cost. She was recently hooked up to a secure electronic-mail system that requires the use of a PC Card and, out of economy, opted for an Intel-based platform.

"I could have insisted on using the Mac, and someone probably could have figured out how to [hook the Apple PC to a Fortezza card] at a cost of several million dollars," Widnall said, but frugality led her to having another PC placed on her desk to handle e-mail at a cost far less than customizing her Mac.

Unlike many of the denizens of the Pentagon, who seem to have no life outside work and golf, Widnall brought to her position a zest for the outdoor life in her passions for hiking, biking and climbing. But one adventure Widnall has decided to forgo is parachute jumping.

"I have no desire to jump out of a damn airplane," she said, preferring flights that include "a takeoff and a landing."

NEXT STORY: IRS to tap GSA for TDPI

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.