Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, once seen as a candidate to succeed Jim Mattis as defense secretary, said Friday she's resigning to become president of the University of Texas at El Paso. A former US House Republican member from New Mexico and graduate of the US Air Force Academy, Wilson has headed the Air Force since May 2017, making her President Trump's first Senate-confirmed service secretary. In her resignation letter to Trump, Wilson said the University of Texas Board of Regents announced on Friday that she is the sole finalist to become the university's next president, effective Sept. 1, per the AP. After the final vote, "I will resign my position as secretary of the Air Force effective May 31, 2019," she wrote. "This should allow sufficient time for a smooth transition and ensure advocacy during upcoming congressional hearings."
Wilson graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1982 and later earned master's and doctoral degrees as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University in the UK. She's the first graduate of the academy to hold the service's top civilian post. Wilson served in the House from 1998 to 2009; from 1989 to 1991, she also served on the National Security Council staff as director for defense policy and arms control for President George HW Bush. As head of the Air Force, she'd been an early skeptic of Trump's interest in creating a Space Force as an independent military department, but she publicly embraced the administration's proposal to Congress last month that would establish a Space Force as a separate service within the Department of the Air Force. Trump congratulated her on Twitter Friday and praised her for doing an "absolutely fantastic job." (Read more Air Force stories.)