This week, we spoke with COLSA’s David Benson about his role as a Senior Acquisition Manager. Dave supports the Presidential and Executive Airlift Directorate at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. In this interview, we gained an insight into his career, initially supporting Air Force One program and more recently, the entirety of the Executive Airlift Fleet.
What is your title, and how did you learn about COLSA?
My title is Senior Acquisition Manager. I learned about COLSA from a personal relationship with my manager. He and I go back several years to our Air Force days as young airmen, and that’s how I was introduced to the company. I was afforded the opportunity to join the team when COLSA was first awarded work here in Dayton.
What are three words that you would use to describe your role?
Dynamic, interesting, and worthwhile.
Can you tell us a little bit about what you do, why it’s important, and why it excites you to come to work each day?
Prior to hiring-in at COLSA, I had settled into a job supporting Special Operations programs for about 24 years. I wasn’t interested in moving nor starting a new position at that point until I realized this new opportunity entailed supporting what is to become the new the Presidential Airlift capability (Air Force One when the President is aboard). That changed my perspective on moving, and I also considered it would likely be my last job before retirement. It seemed like a great way to close the book on my time working Air Force acquisition programs.
After all, how many people can say they got to be a part of a program to procure the aircraft that the President will be flying on for the next 35-40 years? It’s hard not to be excited about this type of work because you’re really in the trenches with the folks that work the program at the White House and the Presidential Airlift Group, and it’s just a super important program. Since Air Force One and all the Executive Airlift programs get lots of attention from our national leaders, there is always plenty to do. We keep busy, but it’s hard to imagine a more rewarding line of work.
If you were to give a perspective employee advice, what advice would you give them?
I would tell them to focus on the job at hand, work hard, and be honest. None of us are perfect; we’re all going to make mistakes. If you own up to your mistakes from the start and learn from them, people will respect you for it, and you’ll be fine. That’s always been my mantra, and I’ve found that to be true from the leadership at COLSA as well.
What is your favorite thing about COLSA?
The people, definitely.
I’ve worked for several companies in my time with the Department of Defense, and all say that people are their top priority. When I look back at it, I think COLSA is the only one that I’ve seen hard evidence that is true. Mr. Collazo will come in, walk the halls in your office, stop to shake your hand, and talk to you for a few minutes. I’ve never had any other company CEO do that. We’re visited by Dr. Amos and Mr. Hunter regularly, as well, and our local managers go above and beyond to make sure we and the company are postured for success. It speaks volumes to how involved COLSA’s leadership is and how much they care about all of the employees.
What would you say that your biggest accomplishment or proudest moment that you’ve had working in this position?
Remember the famous photo of President Bush sitting at his desk on Air Force One the day after 9-11? In 2018, I got the opportunity to tour that very aircraft. You suddenly find yourself standing in that office looking on at that desk. The best way I can describe how that felt – it’s like when you visit Washington, D.C. for the first time and you are standing in front of the White House or the Lincoln Memorial, and the gravity of history there hits you like a wave. You’re no longer just a citizen making your way around a city or country. It makes you pause to consider the responsibility of being an American, and to reflect on everything that makes this country so great. Stepping onto that aircraft brought a sense of pride I wish all Americans could have a chance to feel.
When you think about who has been on that aircraft and where it’s been, you feel the magnitude of its purpose. Under cover of night, it delivered President Bush to Iraq during the war so he could have Thanksgiving dinner with the troops–just a 45 minute stop, before it was back to the air to bring him, his staff, and the crew safely home. Being aboard the aircraft and reflecting on a mission of that kind; it’s no longer just something you see on TV at that point. It’s ethereal.
Just seeing Air Force One in person, even on the ground, there’s no way around it; it’s a symbol of American pride and American power. When you see it in the sky, it’s a symbol of freedom. It’s a unique aircraft and a unique program. The new Air Force One won’t go into service until after my days at Wright-Patterson have concluded. But when I see it in the skies, helping to get it there will assuredly have been my biggest accomplishment, no matter how small my might role may have been. I’ll always be thankful to COLSA for affording me the chance to be a part of it.