On Tuesday, the White House announced that President Joe Biden has nominated Gina Ortiz Jones for Under Secretary of the Air Force. The position is the second highest ranking civilian leader in the Department of the Air Force, which oversees both the Air Force and the newly-created Space Force.
Jones, a Democrat and Air Force veteran, is a familiar name in Texas politics. In 2018, Jones ran against incumbent Rep. Will Hurd in Texas’ 23rd Congressional District, which stretches from San Antonio to just outside El Paso. Although she lost, it was an extremely close election that came down to less than 1,000 votes. After Hurd decided not to seek another term, she ran for Congress again but was defeated by Tony Gonzales. Had she won, she would have been the first Filipina elected to Congress.
Yet these setbacks have only positioned her for better things. As Under Secretary, Jones will help oversee nearly 700,000 personnel and a budget of over $200 billion. Her nomination also comes during a challenging time for the Air Force; while the United States has enjoyed largely uncontested control of the skies, it faces increasingly serious competition from both Russia and China. The Air Force is seeking a range of ways to maintain its edge, from expanding the number of squadrons to leveraging emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and hypersonic missiles. But actually implementing these changes, and perhaps more importantly, convincing Congress to go along, will be a significant challenge.
In addition to external threats from adversarial nations, the Air Force faces major internal issues. Sexual assault in the military remains a serious problem, something that the anniversary of Vanessa Guillén’s death serves as a reminder of. The Air Force is not an exception to this; last year the service saw the highest number of sexual assault reports since the launch of its Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program 14 years ago. Extremism and white nationalism within the ranks is also a concern and the January 6 Insurrection included a number of Air Force veterans, including the woman who was shot and killed by law enforcement. The Biden administration has signaled that weeding out extremism in the military will be a top priority.
The creation of the Space Force, United States’ first new armed service since the 1940s, also poses new challenges. The Space Force is an independent branch but it falls under the umbrella of the Department of the Air Force in a similar manner to how the Marine Corps is under the Department of the Navy. While the Space Force was a controversial endeavor of the Trump administration, the Biden administration has stated it’s full support for the Space Force as space becomes an increasingly contested domain.
While Jones will face a difficult job, her experience suggests she is up to the task. Jones holds three master degrees and deployed to Iraq as an Air Force intelligence officer. A member of the LGBTQ community, Jones had to hide her sexual orientation while in the military due to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. After leaving active duty at the rank of captain, Jones later served as an intelligence analyst for United States Africa Command before later joining the Defense Intelligence Agency. Jones was working for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative when Trump became president, a job she left as she felt that the people being hired by the Trump administration “were interested in neither the public nor the service.”
Should Jones be confirmed, she will make history as the first woman of color to be Under Secretary of the Air Force. She would also be the second openly gay person to hold the job, after Eric Fanning who was nominated by President Obama and later went on to be the first openly gay service secretary as Secretary of the Army.
Jones’ nomination has received praise from both LGBTQ advocacy groups and Democrats in Congress. “As an Air Force veteran who deployed to Iraq, Gina Ortiz Jones has served her country both in and out of uniform,” said House Armed Services Committee chairman Adam Smith (D-Washington) in a statement, adding that she was “yet another historic nomination as the Biden-Harris administration continues to prove their commitment to building a diverse Department of Defense that reflects the American population.” LGBTQ Victory Institute, an organization that provides training and skills to help LGBTQ win elections, tweeted “We’re with you, Gina! Congratulations!”
The Biden administration is seeking to form a national security team that is both representative and qualified and Jones is the latest example. Her clear commitment to public service and national security experience make her an excellent choice to help lead what is arguably the most important branch in the United States military. Air superiority is a central tenet of the American way of war and losing it would have serious negative consequences for both ground and naval forces. The Air Force is currently at an inflection point as it faces a myriad of challenges, and hopefully the Senate will confirm Jones so she can help the service navigate these challenges.
Phot: Thomas McKinless/CQ Roll Call