Fairfax native continues distinguished service

Story by Fritz Busch

Submitted photos

A retired U.S. Air Force Command Master Sergeant, William Walter lives with his family in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. He recently received the U.S. Special Operations Command Commando Hall of Honor Award and corresponding medal.

Walter was cited for his 26 years as an aerial gunner in which he accumulated more than 3,100 flying hours including combat operations and special reconnaissance missions in El Salvador, Grenada, Panama, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bosnia, and Somalia.

In 1980, Walter trained and deployed in support of Operation EAGLE CLAW, an operation designed to rescue 52 American hostages held by Iranian militants. As part of the joint forces team, his crew was tasked to provide fire support for special operations ground forces during the rescue.

In October 1990, he deployed in support of Operation URGENT FURY, where his gun ship provided direct fire support for the Army on Fort Rupert, Grenada and other tactical island targets.

In 1989, Walter was hand-picked to provide fire support during Operation JUST CAUSE in Panama. As leader of his AC-130 gun crew, Walter provided critical fire support to U.S. Army Rangers at the Rio Hato airfield seizure. His efforts led to a swift end of hostile activity and resulted in his crew’s selection for the 1983 Lieutenant General William H. Tunner Award.

Walter’s fingerprints are on every major weapon system ever used by Air Force Special Operations Command. The Air Force considers Walter the “father” of the 105-millimeter, high-explosive/high fragmentation, anti-personnel cartridge, consider the most lethal round of ammunition ever created for AC-130 gun ships.

Walter said life in Special Operations Command has similarities to his rural Minnesota roots.

“Our community is small, specialized, and thrives on teamwork, much like the farmers of rural Minnesota,” Walter said. “Those I worked with became an extended family of sorts, performing high risk/high profile tasks that were almost always done in secrecy. Nobody outside the community ever hears about the missions, unless something goes wrong and the operation is compromised, like the Iran Hostage rescue attempt and Gothic Serpent, (aka The Battle of Mogadishu), Somalia.”

Looking back on more than two decades of flying missions, Walter said he didn’t fully realize the historical significance of them at the time.

“It was just part of the job. I gave everything the best effort I could,” Walter said. “Now, I realize I was lucky enough to be part of a team that actually shaped history. It’s been aid flying is nothing more than hours and hours of boredom, broken only by seconds of sheer panic. It’s probably true that we pushed our luck and lived on the edge more than a few times…”

Walter said a young gunner once asked him what the secret was to his success.

“There is no secret to success…only hard work and persistence,” he said. “A true leader is proactive, not reactive, and cannot be afraid to get his hands dirty. Sometimes you need to ‘re-invent the wheel’ to get the job done. When others are ready to give up, you must continue to drive on, regardless of difficulty, and convince them to follow your lead.”

Besides his civilian service job at Air Force Special Operations Command, Walter is a competitive rifle shooter and former team captain of the Air Force High-Power Rifle Team. He is Spectre Association (gun ship heritage association) President.

Outside the military, Walter earned a resource management bachelor degree at Troy State University and an aeronautical science masters degree at Embry Riddle University.

He contributed to Tom Clancy’s book “Shadow Warriors” with Retired General Carl Stiner, appeared on the History Channel “Future Weapons” and “Mail Call” programs, served on the Fort Walton Beach Board of Adjustment and ran for the Fort Walton Beach City Council.

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