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Former Army acquisition executive remembered for 'quiet professionalism'

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Aug. 19, 2015) -- "We had a number of spirited discussions. He had views on program management that were different than mine. And I learned to come around to his way of understanding programs."

Lt. Gen. Michael E. Williamson, who serves now as the principal military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, recalled his experience working with former Army acquisition executive, Claude M. Bolton Jr., who died in his home, July 28.

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Bolton served as the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, or ASA(ALT), for nearly six years, beginning in February 2002. He will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Williamson and Bolton first worked together when Williamson was just a lieutenant colonel. At the time, Williamson served as the product manager for the "Global Command Control System-Army," part of Program Executive Office, Command Control Communications-Tactical.

"[Bolton] brought a lot of technical understanding of program management and programs to the job," said Williamson, who looked to Bolton as a sort of mentor. "He knew what program managers and acquisition professionals had to produce."

Bolton had a long military career, which started well before his time at ASA(ALT). He began working for the military in 1969, when he was commissioned in the Air Force as a second lieutenant. His duties in the Air Force included squadron and wing safety officer, instructor pilot, wing standardization and evaluation flight examiner, scheduler, test pilot and acquisition professional.

Bolton is a command pilot with more than 2,700 flying hours in more than 30 different aircraft. During the Vietnam War, he flew 232 combat missions, 40 over North Vietnam. He was a test pilot for the F-4, F-111 and the F-16, and the first program manager for the Advanced Tactical Fighter Technologies Program, which evolved into the F-22 System Program Office.

At the Pentagon, he was the F-16 program element monitor and also saw duty in the Office of Special Programs. He was the deputy program director for the B-2 System Program Office, program director for the Advanced Cruise Missile System Program Office, then inspector general for Air Force Materiel Command, or AFMC.

Bolton also served as commandant of the Defense Systems Management College, as special assistant to the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition and as director of requirements at AFMC headquarters, the program executive officer for Air Force fighter and bomber programs with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, and the commander of the Air Force Security Assistance Center, Headquarters Air Force Materiel Command, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

By the time Bolton retired from the Air Force in 2002, he had attained the rank of major general, and had developed extensive expertise in military acquisition.

"Because he had that background and experience, it was real easy for him to interact with the program executive officers, the program managers, product managers, and acquisition officials that worked with him," Williamson said. "He also had the ability to interact above, to Office of the Secretary of Defense and to industry, because he understood our business.

"I would argue that he probably understood our business better than anybody that preceded him," Williamson said. "That knowledge, and his demand of program managers to understand their programs, will carry on."

After Bolton left service to the Army, he moved on to be an Executive-in-Residence at the Defense Acquisition University. But the former acquisition executive continued to make visits to the Pentagon, most recently to visit with his former protegee, Williamson, who assumed the military deputy position at ASA(ALT) in April 2014.

"He came up here at least once a month and we'd sit and talk," Williamson said. "What I really appreciate is that he was willing to take my inputs to look at, how do I change the institution that provides training and education to acquisition professionals, and how do I adjust to the times."

Williamson said Bolton's visits were to offer assistance when needed.

"There was no fanfare. It was 'hey Michael, what's going on, and is there anything I can help with?'" he said. "There is a lot of understated leadership there. We'd just sit on the couch and talk."

Williamson said ASA(ALT) oversees program executive offices that handle such things as aircraft, chemical protection, combat vehicles and Soldier weapons. He said Army contracting is done out of ASA(ALT), as well as research and development, and new equipment purchases.

"If the Army builds a new tank or aircraft, it starts and finishes here," he said. "The acquisition executive must have understanding of cost, schedule and performance - because we have a responsibility to deliver capability to Soldiers. When you go to war, you go with the things you have built. Mr. Bolton came to us with an experience set, and a desire to understand the Army and what our Soldiers do every day. That's a big deal."

Williamson said he believes Bolton left a mark on Army acquisition.

"The importance of his tenure here is the processes and discipline he put in place here," said Williamson, adding that Bolton emphasized a notion of "quiet professionalism, expertise and competence: be an expert, be competent in your field, and treat people how you want to be treated."

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