Mr. Dana Willis is a United States Air Force retired lieutenant colonel. He served 28 years on active duty status. When he was active duty, Lt. Col. Willis was a foreign affairs specialist. After he retired, because he loved it so much, Mr. Willis came back to the same job.
Question: What do you do every day?
Answer: I work with the military groups, United States Embassies in Latin America, and Department of Defense agencies to carry out security system program of the Air Force.
Question: Where have you been able to travel?
Answer: I have been to every country in Latin America, most of them several times. In the last 13 years, I’ve made over 100 trips to Latin America.
Question: What is your favorite mission you’ve been on?
Answer: One of the best ones I’ve been on was when we went to Monte, Chile. I took an explosive ordinance detail to look at the run way. There was concern that the explosives were too close to the run way, which they were. The team made some recommendations to move stuff away, and they did. As we were finishing, the Colonel in charge says, ‘Can you go look at this air base that’s about two hours away?’ We said, ‘sure.’ There had been an explosion of Army ordinance in an Army base outside of Quito. The Army commander called his Air Force buddy and asked him to store some stuff from his munitions explosion. So, with the EOD team, we went to this base and all of these scarred and burned munitions were sitting about 50 yards from the hammer head of the runway. As we walked into the area, the EOD guys looked at it and their eyes got bigger and bigger. They brought us to a 150 millimeter shell and asked out opinion on what to do with it. The manufacture said to just let it sit there and not do anything about it. They told us that three weeks prior the shell was still oozing smoke. We told them that we would take it out to a field, put it in a barrel of water, and blow it up. As we were looking at it, a little puff of white smoke came out of the side of the shell. We looked at each other for about two seconds, and started running. The whole team ran about 150 yards. I went and told the general in charge of maintenance, the fixed it, pretty quick.
Question: Do you volunteer for your missions?
Answer: Some of them, but it’s my job, and I love it.
Question: Is this something you wanted to do?
Answer: I started in the Air Force as a tanker navigator. The words ‘security assistance’ was no more than something in professional military education. Then I got the opportunity to go to Chile as the Air Force section chief. I worked out of the embassy for three years with the Chilean Air Force and selling the Chilean Air Force F-16s. I found my niche. There’s so many ‘what ifs’ and ‘it depends’ and ‘maybes,’ but it’s really a lot of fun. When I can do the work, meet other people, see foreign cultures, and see foreign places. My plan was to maybe do it for a year or two and then retire. Then I got into the business and I thought, ‘this is fun!’ I really enjoy the job, some people absolutely hate it, but every personality is different. Here I am, 13 years later and still liking my job.
Question: Do you get to do the same missions now, that you are a civilian that you got to do when you were active duty?
Answer: Pretty much. It’s not quite the same, because the uniform holds a lot of weight. However, in Latin America it’s pretty inter-esting. I get to go back to a lot of the same places, and even though I am in civilian clothes, culturally, I am still Colonel Willis. I still belong to the military in Latin America.
Question: Have you gotten to meet a lot of people?
Answer: I have. At one time, when I was active duty, I had met every Chief of Staff of the Air Force in Latin America. When a team comes from the United States Air Force, they want to pay attention. They always treated us very well.
Question: What do you find most rewarding about your job?
Answer: The ability to make a dif-ference almost immediately. When we go assist, you can watch things change almost on a dime. Making a difference, just because we have the knowledge and the resources is fun.
Question: What would you say to someone that was looking into your job as their career?
Answer: Absolutely get in to it! Any active duty person that is not looking into the Regional Affairs Specialist program is missing the opportunity of a lifetime. It’s a program that prepares and trains peo-ple to go work in embassy offices or security assistance office. It’s an incredible opportunity. You have to have language ability, which is usually a challenge for most people. I speak Spanish.
Question: Did you already know Spanish or did you learn it with the job?
Answer: I knew it before. I served as a Mormon missionary in Chile for two years when I was a young man. It’s helped a lot that I have been traveling to the country for ten years.