Col. Walter L. Watson, Jr., USAF (Retired), was born in Columbia, South Carolina, the oldest of four children of the late Walter L. Watson, Sr. and Mildred Platt Watson. He attended public schools in Richland School District One and graduated from C. A. Johnson High School. While at Howard University in Washington, DC, he earned a Mechanical Engineering degree and commission as an Air Force Officer via the ROTC program. Additionally, Colonel Watson holds a Masters degree from Chapman College of Orange, CA, in Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management. Colonel Watson is the Senior Aerospace Science Instructor (SASI) of the C. A. Johnson Preparatory Academy’s Air Force Junior ROTC unit (SC-065).
He entered the Air Force as an avionics maintenance officer, but in 1973, he was selected for aviation training, beginning a diverse and distinguished flying career in the Air Force. His first assignment was flying the C-130E in Southeast Asia. He later became a flight instructor, flight examiner, and flight commander in tactical fighter and strategic reconnaissance squadrons that flew F-4C/D/E, F-111D, and SR-71 aircraft. Colonel Watson’s distinctive and unique aviation accomplishment is that he was the first and only African-American to qualify as a crewmember in the SR-71, a super secret aircraft that set altitude and speed records that still stand today. The SR-71 routinely cruised at altitudes in excess of 80,000 feet at speeds over Mach 3 (2,100 mph).
After his flying career, he continued to serve the Air Force in officer production and training. As Commander and Professor of Aerospace Studies at North Carolina A&T State University, his leadership helped his unit to achieve the following production milestones: 1) 20% of all African-American Second Lieutenant Pilots, 2) 50% of all African-American Second Lieutenant Navigators, and 3) 25% of African-American female commissionees in 1993. These accomplishments led to assignments to a number of leadership positions at HQ Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps (AFROTC at Maxwell AFB, AL). As the Chief of the AFROTC Scholarship branch, he supervised all scholarships for over 5,000 students across the nation with an annual budget exceeding $22 million.
While at Maxwell AFB, Colonel Watson was a key decision-maker for Air Force relations with the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), creating scholarships especially for HBCUs. In 1998, Colonel Watson was selected Teacher of the Year for C.A. Johnson Preparatory Academy. Additionally he was four times designated by Headquarters Air Force JROTC as an Outstanding Instructor (1998-1999, 2001-2002, 2004-2005, and 2007-2008). Colonel Watson has received numerous awards, including the Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Air Force Commendation Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Humanitarian Service Medal with one oak leaf cluster, and the Legion of Merit Medal. In 2004
Colonel Watson was awarded the Brig Gen Noel F Parrish Award which is Tuskegee Airmen Inc.’s highest national award for service and impact.