The Loss of a Leader in Defense Acquisition

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The Honorable Claude M. Bolton Jr., a retired U.S. Air Force (USAF) major general and former acquisition official for the USAF and the U.S. Army and the former commandant of the Defense Systems Management College (DSMC), died unexpectedly at home July 28 at age 69. He had a very distinguished 40-year career in the military and in Department of Defense acquisitions.

At the time of his death, Mr. Bolton was Executive-in Residence at the Defense Acquisition University, helping support the recruitment, training and education of the Defense Acquisition Workforce. Reflecting his lifelong dedication to the nation’s defense, he once told an interviewer: “Our soldiers are the very best in the world, with the best training in the world. I figure the least we can do is make sure they have also got the best equipment in the world.”

He served as mentor to a great many officers and civilians and often would officiate at promotion and retirement ceremonies. At these events, he amazed everyone by recollecting the honoree’s family, career and personal interests—without the aid of notes.

A veteran of more than 32 years of active military service, Mr. Bolton retired as a USAF major general in 2002 and was Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology from 2002 to 2008. In that position, Mr. Bolton served as the Army Acquisition Executive, the Senior Procurement Executive and the Science Advisor to the Secretary of the Army. He also was the senior research and development official for the Department of the Army and had principal responsibilities for all logistics-related matters. He provided oversight for the life-cycle management and sustainment of Army weapons systems and equipment, from research and development through test, evaluation, acquisition, logistics, fielding and disposition. In addition, Mr. Bolton oversaw the Elimination of Chemical Weapons Program and had oversight and executive authority in the Project and Contracting Office charged with Iraq’s reconstruction.

In 2000–2002, he was commander of the Air Force Security Assistance Center and (2000-2001) assistant to the commander for international affairs at the Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. There he oversaw more than $90 billion in military equipment sales to foreign countries. In June 1998 to October 2000, he was program executive officer for fighter and bomber programs in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Acquisition). In June 1996 to June 1998, he was director of requirements at the AFMC, where also had served he had previously served in September 1992 to March 1993 as inspector general. He was DSMC’s commandant from March 1993 to March 1996.

Mr. Bolton was born in December 1945 in Sioux City, Iowa, and received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1969 from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he also served in the Reserve Officers Training Corps. Upon graduating, he entered the Air Force as a second lieutenant, where he served as a fighter pilot and logged more than 2,700 hours in more than 30 different aircraft and 232 combat missions—40 of them over North Vietnam.

He studied acquisition management at DSMC, where he later was commandant. He earned a master’s degree in management from Alabama’s Troy State University in 1978, and a master’s degree in national security and strategic studies from the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1991. He also was awarded honorary doctorates from the United Kingdom’s Cranfield University in 2006, and from his undergraduate alma mater, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, in 2007, and completed the course requirements for a Ph.D. in electrical engineering at the University of Florida.

He held the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross with oak leaf cluster, the Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, the Air Medal with 16 oak leaf clusters, the Vietnam Service Medal with three service stars, the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.

Mr. Bolton was survived by his wife Linda and daughters Cindy and Jennifer, five grandchildren and five siblings, and his parents.

According to his family,  Mr. Bolton was intensely dedicated to the tasks that he took on and was known for “dreaming big” and chasing his dreams with hard work.

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