Colonel Wiltse retires after 34 years of service

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Alexis Morris

Personnel from Grissom lined the hallway of Bldg. 596 as Col. Gretchen Wiltse departed her office one final time closing out a 34-year career, Dec. 21, 2023.

She was first introduced to the idea of attending the United States Air Force Academy as a third grader, and graduated from it in 1989.

Her then-neighbor, Capt. David Baker, a Vietnam-era prisoner of war, now a retired brigadier general buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Va., and her primary school teacher, a former Marine, both played a significant role in fueling her dreams.

“At the time, it didn’t make sense. I was 8 years old, the military was the military,” said Wiltse. “But I always remembered their mentorship. Then in high school, one of my close friends - who was a year older than me - applied to West Point. After I watched her go through the process, I followed in her footsteps and applied to all of the academies. The rest is history.”

While Wiltse knew that her sights were always set on the Colorado-based institution that she would eventually graduate from, she firmly believes that applying to each opportunity was a prime example of her favorite career-guiding adage: “Don’t close your own doors”.

Whether it was obtaining her master’s degree during her first assignment at McChord Air Force Base, Wash., or pitching her candidacy for her current role to the then-commander of the 434th Air Refueling Wing, retired Col. Larry Shaw, Wiltse shared that she never had to sell herself throughout her 34-year career because she made it a point to meet the criteria required for opportunities early.

“Do your PME at your first opportunity, get your CCAF at your first opportunity, don't let yourself be the reason why you're not available for opportunities as they become available,” Wiltse encouraged. “That's what worked for me and what I’d recommend to everybody. Have yourself squared away and the opportunities will come when they’re meant to.”

To help instill this philosophy in others, Wiltse played a significant role in building a flight commanders course during her tenure with the Hoosier Wing. Developed in response to the then-Secretary of the Air Force’s call for wings to revitalize squadrons, she is proud of the curriculum’s continued success and its impact on the force.

“Leadership is not about me. It's about making sure that I leave the place better than I found it. And the best way for me to do that is to make sure that I'm growing the people who are going to be the next me.”

As Wiltse approaches her final day in uniform, she remains proud of the missions she was able to support and the Airmen she was able to build up.

“It’s certainly bittersweet,” she stated about leaving the service. “What I will miss most is the opportunity to connect with our Airmen and hopefully make a positive difference in their lives.”