Director of the Defense Information Systems Agency: Who Is Ronnie Hawkins Jr.?
Saturday, June 23, 2012
The Department of Defense agency that provides global information and technology assistance through online services for the military has a leader who stepped into controversy almost from the very beginning of his tenure. Lieutenant General Ronnie D. Hawkins, Jr., has been director of the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) at Fort Meade, Maryland, since January 2012, succeeding Carroll Pollett. At his first “commander’s call” presentation on February 15, Hawkins showed a presentation that included two slides titled “Ronnie’s Rules” setting forth 18 priorities, the first and last of which are “Always put God first, and stay within His will” and “Always remember God is good—all the time!” Coming just months after incoming Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz issued a service-wide memo sternly reminding his officers not to proselytize or show favoritism toward religion, Hawkins’s presentation led several members of his staff to report it to the watchdog group Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which brought the situation to the attention of the public and the Air Force command.
Born in 1951, Hawkins comes from a military family. His grandfather, Charlie Hawkins, was a Buffalo Soldier in the 10th Calvary Regiment, which was formed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1866 as an all-African-American regiment. Hawkins’ father, Ronnie Hawkins, Sr., served in Vietnam and retired as a chief master sergeant, the highest noncommissioned officer rank in the Air Force. The younger Hawkins credits his father with inspiring him to go into the Air Force: “His work ethic convinced me that’s what I wanted to do as well,” Hawkins has said.
A self-described military brat, Hawkins’ family moved around a lot, living in Peshawar, Pakistan, before eventually moving to San Angelo, Texas, home of Goodfellow Air Force Base, where he graduated San Angelo Central High School in 1973. Hawkins wanted to attend college at the Air Force Academy, but he failed the physical because his wrists, which he had broken playing football, lacked full range of motion. Turning down offers from the University of Hawai’i and the University of Houston, Hawkins accepted a track scholarship at Angelo State University, where he earned a B.A. in Business Administration with an emphasis on information technology in 1977, and was commissioned an officer through the Air Force ROTC program. He later earned an M.S. in Management and Human Relations at Abilene Christian University in 1985 and an M.S. in National Resource Strategy at the National Defense University in 1997.
Hawkins’s early career assignments exploited his technical education, including service as a computer systems analyst at the Strategic Air Command at Offutt Air Force Base (AFB) in Nebraska from January 1978 to July 1981; as chief of the Data Automation Division of the 96th Bomb Wing, and later as chief of Operations Division of the 1993rd Information Systems Squadron, both at Dyess AFB in Texas from July 1981 to June 1985; and as inspector and later executive officer to the vice commander, at the Air Force Communications Command at Scott AFB in Illinois from June 1985 to June 1988.
He then served four years at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, first as commander of Cadet Squadron 24 and later as executive officer to the superintendent, from June 1988 to July 1992. After a year of studying at the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell AFB, Hawkins served at the Air Force Joint Staff at the Pentagon, first as support manager for command, control, communications and computer systems, and then as action officer for the Defense Information Systems Network and Integrated Data Systems, from July 1993 to July 1996.
After earning his second M.S. degree at the National Defense University in 1997, Hawkins served two command assignments at Air Combat Command at Langley AFB in Virginia, first as commander of the Computer Systems Squadron from July 1997 to June 1998 and then as commander of the Communications Group from July 1998 to March 1999. He then served a series of directorships, including director of Command, Control, Communications and Computer Systems at the Joint Task Force-Southwest Asia from April 1999 to April 2000; director of Communications and Information, at the Headquarters of Pacific Air Forces at Hickam AFB in Hawaii, from May 2000 to April 2003; and as director of Communications Operations at the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Installations and Logistics, in Washington, D.C., from May 2003 to June 2005.
After almost a year and a half as commander of Air Force Officer Accession and Training Schools, Air University, at Maxwell AFB, from June 2005 to November 2006, Hawkins served as deputy chief of staff of Communications and Information Systems at the Multi-National Force-Iraq in Baghdad, Iraq, from December 2006 to December 2007.
Returning to the Pentagon, Hawkins served as deputy director for Policy and Resources (and later as director of Infrastructure Delivery) at the Office of Warfighting Integration, and as chief information officer in the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, from January 2008 to September 2009. He was first assigned to DISA in September 2009, serving as vice director until July 2011, and then as deputy director for Command, Control, Communications and Computer Systems at the Joint Staff from July 2011 to January 2012, when he returned to DISA as director.
Hawkins married his high school sweetheart, Maria Garcia, and they have two sons and a daughter.
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