Past and present generations meet during Black History Month event

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Caleb House
  • National Air and Space Intelligence Center

Walking down the halls of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, he appears to be a typical older gentleman. In some aspects he is, but everyone has a story and this one begins in a small suburban town of South Park near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1937.

Growing up, retired Chief Master Sgt. Robert Williamson played sports and attended school like anyone else. When he wasn’t in class or on a field, Williamson worked with his father doing construction and working on a garbage truck at the young age of thirteen.

Williamson said he graduated high school in 1955, laughing as he recalled his class was called the ‘jive of ’55.’ Shortly after finishing school, Williamson joined the United States Air Force, partially attributing his choice to his older brothers joining the service years before.

“I used to wear their shirts...I wanted to be like my older brothers, of course,” said Williamson.

Williamson enlisted during the civil rights movement, as Black Americans fought to be treated as equals. Despite the fact many Americans would rather not have seen Williamson in the Air Force, he refused to give anything less than 100 percent to the service and went on to have a very successful career.

“I was in my office when Chief Williamson came in to sanitize the entrance way,” said Chief Master Sgt. Kimberly Pollard, NASIC Command Chief. “After we started a conversation, I realized that NASIC has such an important person, like living history, working in the building, and I knew we had to share his unique story.”

“For Chief Williamson to serve before and through the Civil Rights Movement, being so successful, and having such a positive outlook on his career and life, it is an inspiration to myself and Airmen at NASIC,” continued Pollard. “When you hear his story and history, you feel the Air Force has come a long way. That’s in large part to members like Chief Williamson. They paved large, important roads for generations of service members to be successful in the current force.”

Williamson started his journey as a radio and electronic countermeasures operator on the B-36 “Peacemaker” bomber. When the B-36 was eventually grounded, Williamson switched to flying in the KC-97 Stratofreighter and KC-135 Stratotanker aircrafts as an in-flight refueling superintendent and flight examiner. He was constantly on alert during the Cold War and served in the Vietnam War as well.

“I was on alert for seven days then came home,” said Williamson. “While I was home, I received a phone call saying I had to be at the aircraft in 45 minutes. So I went and told my wife, ‘Hello and goodbye. I’ll call you when I get where I’m going.’” Unbeknownst to him, he would be on his way to Goose Bay, Labrador – a key site during the Cuban Crisis.

This is just one of many experiences that helped define Williamson’s career. In a time without Weighted Airman Promotion System testing, he was promoted based off the knowledge and skills he possessed in his career field. Eventually reaching the rank of chief master sergeant, Williamson closed out his nearly 30 years of service as the Senior Enlisted Advisor for Air Force Systems Command — one of the first Black enlisted advisors at a command level.

After retiring from the Air Force in 1985, Williamson worked in the F-16 program office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, was a majority business owner for a small technology company that had contracts with WPAFB, and worked as a contract employee. He also sold cars, taught grammar for elementary school children during a summer project, sold cars again, worked on a golf course and worked at the Base Exchange before being hired as a Security Assistant at NASIC.

“If you summarize my life I would say that I was practically born and raised at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base,” said Williamson. “That’s how long I’ve been associated with this place. I came here when I was 26 years old, now I’m going on 84 years old. And I’ve basically been either at WPAFB or attached to it in all those years.”

Speaking to his fellow NASIC employees at an event during Black History Month, Williamson’s words impressed many. The stories he told and knowledge he shared left a lasting impact, much like his service in the Air Force.

 “Mr. Williamson is a phenomenal person who played an integral part in paving the way for our enlisted force,” said Senior Master Sgt. Danyail Lawton, Superintendent NASIC Wing Staff. “The wisdom that he provided will resonate with me as I continue to grow as a person. As I progress in age, I hope that my memory is just as good as Mr. Williamson’s memory so that I can reminisce about past significant moments in my life.”

Retired Chief Master Sgt. Robert Williamson’s service to the Air Force and his country is a story of achievement and true dedication.  During the time he served, Williamson led, mentored, and inspired Airmen and continues to do so still today.