Honorary Commander Feature: Darrell Wilson

Darrell Wilson

Mr. Darrell Wilson

Darrell Wilson, Founder and Principal of Hilgart Wilson

Fighter Country Partnership is proud to feature Mr. Darrell Wilson, founder and Managing Principal of HILGARTWILSON, and former Honorary Commander assigned to the 62nd Fighter Squadron, “Spikes,” Luke Air Force Base.

As Founder and Principal of HILGARTWILSON, he shares responsibilities with co-founder Ron Hilgart for the operations and overall growth and success of the firm. As a Project Principal he also remains actively involved in many projects, including overseeing design concepts, quality control measures, scheduling and staffing needs of the projects as well as assuring overall client satisfaction. The firm’s work includes extensive land development and public works engineering, surveying, land use planning and construction management throughout Arizona.

Darrell is also a pilot (ATP with various jet type ratings) which drew him to Luke’s activities. In addition to his “real” job, he has been flying Learjets part-time for a local company for over 20 years, as well as regularly enjoying his aircraft including sport aerobatics.

Mr. Wilson has a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from Arizona State University. He is on the Board of Directors of Pinal Partnership, has served on the City of Phoenix Development Advisory Board, the Board of Home Builders Association of Central Arizona, and Honorary Commander at Luke Air Force Base, 62nd Fighter Squadron.

When asked what it was like being an Honorary Commander at Luke, Mr. Wilson explained.

“The Honorary Commander experience has been described many times in many ways. But for me, it’s as though I was given unique access to witness the purpose (mission) of Luke AFB. Being inside the gates let me understand the “why” of Luke. Access to the people of Luke illustrated the “how,” and that’s been the most remarkable part – the people.”
He explained that the opportunity to be among the men and women at Luke has been the most rewarding of all.

“To get to know not only the men and women serving all of us through their service at Luke, but their families, their friends and their lives – that’s been the absolute best – an honor. It’s shown me, and as I’ve told many, we live and work among heroes every day in the Valley and we don’t even know it.”

“These folks and their families cross our paths every day and we never recognize them for what and who they are. Most significantly, they don’t seek recognition, let alone expect it. I see these folks embrace the basic values that I think we, as Americans, have always held dear, but are so often overlooked today. I see respect. These are the folks who I wish to celebrate–not the entertainers, not the athletes–but these folks and their families who serve on our behalf.”

“I’ve had the privilege of having close and wonderful interfaces with high-ranking members of the fighter pilot community because I was assigned to a fighter squadron as an Honorary Commander. However, it’s every bit as much the maintainers, the medical staff, security, life support, ordinance, range control, officers, airmen, etc., who make the mission successful. They embody common values and the willingness to sacrifice everything. It’s an ongoing honor to have access to these men, women and their families and to know those who serve at the “Tip of the Spear.”

Darrell Wilson and the Blue Blazers travel to Nellis AFB, Nev., and tour the Red Flag facility during the 2014 Blue Blazer Squadron “Charge.”

Darrell Wilson sits in a MIG-29 Fighter aircraft cockpit while touring Nellis AFB during the 2014 Annual Blue Blazer Squadron Charge.

The Blue Blazer Squadron (BBS) is an Alumni Association of the Honorary Commanders Committee of Fighter Country Partnership (FCP), that provides support for the men and women of Luke Air Force Base through FCP, and is a prominent volunteer force representing FCP in the community. The highest priority for the BBS is to support the men, women and families of those serving in the military at Luke Air Force Base through FCP. The BBS is the next mission for Honorary Commander alumni who want to support Luke AFB through FCP. The BBS is called upon to provide their personal and professional resources and talents.

As business and community leaders, Blue Blazers are often asked to help Luke Airmen in many different ways. Shown here is Darrell Wilson participating along with other Blue Blazers in a “Speed Mentoring” session with Luke Airmen. Darrell Wilson shared his views as a business owner about what he looks for when hiring people. “The military folks are highly marketable,” he said. “They have self-direction, a sense of responsibility and can apply those qualities on a personal and professional level.”

Mr. Wilson actively participates as an Honorary Commander alumni member (now Blue Blazer Squadron) within the Fighter Country Partnership organization in support of Luke AFB. These activities include the building of a Cinderella’s and Prince Charming Closet, Airmen mentoring sessions, attending and supporting Air Force Balls, Annual Awards Banquets, Changes of Commands, Airshows, tours of the Barry M. Goldwater Range, multiple B-Course graduations (the graduation of the newest F-16 fighter pilots), roll calls and multiple social events. In fact, one of the many ways he gives back to the Airmen is by allowing his lovely home in Flagstaff to be used for retreats or R&R (Rest and Relaxation) for Luke Airmen.

He explained that some of the most significant things he learned about the base and the U.S. Air Force since being an Honorary Commander are the following:

• Clarity of why Luke is here
• Luke’s importance to the US and the world
• The significance of Luke to our State and region
• That these men and women are willing to commit everything, while expecting little
• That structure and purpose matter
• That honor and tradition still matter

When asked about his most memorable time as an Honorary Commander, Darrell said he had trouble citing just one.

“One of the most moving and unforgettable experiences of my life was the memorial for Major Troy Gilbert on December 6, 2006.”

Background: Major Troy Gilbert, 34, was assigned to the 309th Fighter Squadron at Luke and died November 27, 2006 when his F-16C fighter crashed 20 miles northwest of Baghdad while deployed to the 332nd Expeditionary Wing, Balad Air Force Base, Iraq serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Major Gilbert was killed in action while on a mission protecting others. On the day he died, Major Gilbert heroically led a flight of two F-16s in an aerial combat mission near Taji, Iraq. On the ground, insurgents were unleashing truck-mounted heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, small arms fire and mortars to attack coalition troops. In addition, a downed Army helicopter crew was in danger of being overrun. Engaging the enemy meant certain anti-aircraft fire for Major Gilbert, but despite the danger, he went after the insurgents. He launched a strafing attack against the truck, destroying it with his 20-millimeter Gatling gun. Despite enemy fire, Major Gilbert continued to press the insurgents with a second strafing pass at extreme low-level to help save the lives of the helicopter crew and other ground forces. He lost his life on that strafing pass when his aircraft hit the ground. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor.

Darrell Wilson also remembers having a casual lunch conversation with one of his squadron commanders, as he described why he served.

“My commander shared his deep feelings about what it means to be a fighter pilot and the misperceptions that some people have. It wasn’t about him. It was about serving his country and serving it well. I learned then that these are different and very special people and what service really means. I want to give special thanks to all my Squadron Commanders: Skip, Buster, Batman, Pablo, Hack, Vandal, Shady and Jeb. I love these guys and their families. Presently, my time with Jeb and the 61st Fighter Squadron has been sort of like a foster home. It’s awesome!”

Darrell Wilson and fellow Blue Blazers teamed up with the 56th Civil Engineering Squadron, Luke AFB to build a “Cinderella and Prince Charming” closet. The closet allows young enlisted airmen and spouses to have access to new or gently used gowns, dresses, suits, accessories to wear at official functions or similar occasions. This project is a prime example of how Fighter Country Partnership supports culture and tradition at Luke AFB.

Darrell had the privilege of being selected to attend a week-long National Security Forum, Air War College at Maxwell AFB, Ala., sponsored by the Secretary of the Air Force. The purpose of the NSF is to expose influential citizens to senior U.S. and international officers and civilian equivalents in order to engage each other’s ideas and perspectives on Air Force, national and international security issues. It’s an opportunity for the AWC students, (our future military leaders), to interact with a broad cross-section of civilian leaders from businesses, universities, industry, media, law, the clergy, and state and local governments. The NSF provides a frank and candid exchange of views on national security matters among invited community leaders, Air War College students, and senior military and civilian leaders.

“I attended the NSF in 2006 and the discussion about the radical Islamic Caliphate was just being exposed,” Darrell said. “I was there with all these people from all over the world and we could talk about anything and everything. It was an open book and some of the debates got very heated but all in a respectful forum.”

Darrell Wilson getting ready for an “experience of a lifetime” flying in an F-16 aircraft in a training mission over the Barry M. Goldwater Range flown by Major Bill “Pappy” Lester , 62 FS Instructor Pilot.

The Honorary Commanders program is designed to promote mutual partnerships with the local community and to promote a better understanding of the important Air Force mission. Darrell explained that without this access to the base and its men and women, he would not have known the essence of why Luke is there and how or why it does what it does.

“The HC program has given me the ability to take the knowledge and pride that I’ve gained from my experiences and share it with hundreds of others. This comes not only through the personal exchange of my experiences and perceptions with individuals, but also through the organizations and activities that I am involved with. From my own business perspective, I’ve been able to share background on the development process and the meaning of encroachment upon the Base and what the Base’s protection means to the community.

Finding ways to give back to the Airmen and the base in meaningful ways is a challenge, Darrell said.

“Through my company, I’ve been able to share certain benefits of our activities (event tickets, games, etc.,) to distribute among the Airmen within their squadron as they see fit, but we need more meaningful emphasis on how we can help – how can we give back? It’s about showing our appreciation to Luke and its Airmen. I love the people I’ve come to know through my many years of involvement. I’m more grateful for the relationships than anything else.”

“The Honorary Commanders’ program is hugely successful and is an obvious benefit to the community, Darrell said. “As Honorary Commanders and Blue Blazers, we need to make clear that we accept the responsibility to articulate and share our experiences and what we’ve learned with the community. We have a tremendous opportunity to get the word out about Luke.”

Ron Sites, President and Executive Director of Fighter Country Partnership said of Darrell Wilson:

“Darrell’s passion for flying as well as our military has made him one of our most perfect fits within FCP and the BBS organization. He truly enjoys engaging with Luke’s pilots, and those efforts ultimately get our Pilots more educated and involved with FCP”

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