By Tara Clements
WASHINGTON (Feb. 14, 2017) – Lt. Gen. Michael E. Williamson was honored Feb. 9 by peers, staff and family for his 34 years of service in the U.S. Army at a farewell ceremony at the Pentagon.
The event started off with a bit of comedy that continued throughout—an endearing, personal sendoff to a champion of Soldiers and people after a lifetime of service—in the Pentagon auditorium among an army of acquisition professionals.
“He’s bigger than life,” said Steffanie Easter, host of the event and the acting assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology (ASA(ALT)). “He taught me so much about the Army. … I couldn’t have come up to speed without his support.”
“I wanted to say thank you for your outstanding leadership. Lt. Gen. Williamson has done more for this organization than I think a lot of us even appreciate,” she added.
Williamson assumed his duties as the principal military deputy to the ASA(ALT) and the Army director of acquisition career management in April 2014.
There were many speakers at the Pentagon ceremony, from the National Guard to immediate staff, indicative of the support felt across the community.
“One of the prime things Lt. Gen. Williamson did when he came into this organization was care about people and start a number of efforts—all about talent management,” said Craig Spisak, director of the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center.
In his remarks, Williamson addressed the importance of talent management initiatives. “My belief is that if we have the right people, it doesn’t matter what the problem is,” he said. Shortly into the job, he said, he realized the need to be able to react quickly to solve problems.
“It’s not necessarily about the thing we’re building today. It’s about having the capacity to build what’s needed and have the ability to do that very quickly,” Williamson said. “When it turns out we may have made a mistake, the enemy gets a vote; they’re doing something different and we have to react to it. And the only way to do that is to have the right people with the right training, education and experience.”
Williamson opened his remarks with the story of how President Franklin Roosevelt, addressing Congress a month after the attack on Pearl Harbor, asked the nation to produce 60,000 aircraft, 60,000 tanks and 120,000 anti-aircraft guns in a year. “It took us all of our might to be able to build the things our Soldiers need,” Williamson said. What Roosevelt knew at the time was that we were going to have to put the industrial might of our nation forward if we were going to win, he added.
“It’s our ability to learn, our ability to adapt, the compassion of our Soldiers, that makes us powerful … makes us really powerful,” he said, adding that combined with our ability to build, design and innovate, “that’s what makes us great.”
He also shared a story from his own experience and observations about the evolution of the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) as an example of what acquisition professionals bring to the fight. Williamson was serving as the military assistant to the secretary of the Army when Soldiers first deployed to Iraq. He recalled that the Army went from unarmored HMMWVs to upgrading and bolting armor on HMMWVs; to redesigning up-armored HMMWVs; to bringing in Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles; to now watching the Joint Light Tactical Vehicles roll off the assembly line.
“What I tell people is that you could not have done that without acquisition professionals who have relationships with our industry partners, who understand contracting, who understand money, who understand design, who understand production, who understand fielding,” he said.
As a career Soldier with 34 years of experience, Williamson outlined his thoughts on money versus time, the acquisition community’s capacity to react to a change in the environment and its ability to develop the relationships, processes and capabilities to provide Soldiers with what they need.
“People always want to talk to me about money. Money’s interesting, but Congress, the American people, have always demonstrated that when we need money, they’ll give it to us,” he said. It’s not about money—it’s about the ability to go along that journey, he added, referring to the HMMWV story.
“What I tell people is that it’s about time. And why time is so important is because if you started this journey and end up here, there are Soldiers who have been wounded and killed while they wait for the next capability.”
He added, “So your value and what you do every day has to do with making sure Soldiers can accomplish their mission and come home. That’s it. That’s why we exist.”
Williamson closed by thanking those in attendance and offering a piece of advice: “At the start of the day, if you can say, ‘I’m doing this to get a capability to a Soldier in the field,’ then you have been successful.”
The comments, stories, laughs and personal mementos shared by those in attendance demonstrated Williamson’s impact throughout the community.
“When you think of what he’s done for ASA(ALT) and the acquisition community and the Army, it’s nothing short of amazing,” Easter said. “Your leadership has been strong, it’s been ethical, and done with the utmost character. … You’re going to be missed.”
View more photos of Lt. Gen. Williamson’s retirement ceremony on the USAASC Flickr page.