Story by Staff Sgt. Jannelle McRae | Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

During the past four decades Donovan led Airmen, flew fighter jets and worked on Capitol Hill, truly achieving his goal of making a difference for himself. Now serving as the Under Secretary of the Air Force, Donovan aims to make a difference for the world's greatest Air Force.

WASHINGTON — If you ask a service member when they knew they would join the Armed Forces, many can recall the exact moment they knew they were going to serve. For Under Secretary of the Air Force Matthew Donovan that moment came on a New Hampshire winter day in 1977 when once again he found himself digging the family home out of a snow storm.

While shoveling in the bitter cold alongside his uncle, he thought to himself “there must be something different I can be doing with my life.” The next day he enlisted in the Air Force, unaware of just how “different” the next 40 years of his life would be.

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Man stands on the ladder of a training jet
Matthew Donovan, Under Secretary of the Air Force, during his time at Undergraduate Pilot Training at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma. Donovan was a command pilot with more than 2,900 flight hours in the F-15C Eagle and F-5E Tiger II, including combat sorties during Operation Southern Watch.

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As an Electromagnetic Pulse Hardness Assurance Technician at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Donovan was encouraged to commission by his boss – a former AC-130 Gunship pilot. Soon after, he graduated from the Air Force Officer Training School.

Donovan went on to accumulate 31 years of active-duty and civil service, serving as a senior defense policy analyst, a fighter squadron commander, and a command pilot with more than 2,900 flight hours in the F-15C Eagle and F-5E Tiger II. He also spent time as an Air Force ambassador with Air Combat Command as an F-15C demonstration pilot where he learned firsthand the importance of telling the Air Force story.

“Being with the American public was an awesome opportunity,” Donovan said. “I got to meet people from all walks of life, from all across the country, who knew little or nothing about the military. The chance to interact with them and show them the capabilities of the Air Force was just spectacular.”

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A pilot stands next to a fighter jet
Matthew Donovan, Under Secretary of the Air Force, stands in front of an
F-15 in 1993. Secretary Donovan served as an F-15 demonstration pilot with Air Combat Command.

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Before being sworn in as the Under Secretary of the Air Force, the retired colonel served as a professional staff member and Majority Policy Director for the Senate Armed Services Committee. Each of these unique experiences contributed to shaping Donovan’s mission-focused and people-oriented leadership style.

“I was fortunate enough to be a squadron commander, and I think the leadership I displayed at that time was you have to pay attention to the mission. The mission’s first,” he said.

While mission-focused, he stressed the Airmen accomplishing the mission are just as important.

“It really is up to the leader to understand each of his or her Airmen…to help them develop,” he explained. “Leaders also have to pay attention to themselves. You have to make sure you take care of yourself and lead by example because people are always watching you, and they’re going to emulate you.”

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Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson swears into office Undersecretary of the Air Force Matthew Donovan in a Pentagon ceremony Aug. 11, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

It’s the Airmen who set the Air Force apart from any other military force around the world, he added.

“When you look at the amazing things the Air Force has accomplished over the years, it can always be traced back to the ingenuity and the professionalism of the people who serve well,” he said. “I’m just so very proud of America’s Air Force and America’s Airmen. The things they accomplish every day are just amazing. I hope I get to go out and meet most of them so I can thank them in person.”

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A man in military uniform stands at a podium
Matthew Donovan, Under Secretary of the Air Force, speaks during an Officer Training School change of Command Ceremony. Secretary Donovan served as the OTS Commander at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, from 2006 - 2008.

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As the USecAF, Donovan serves alongside Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and is set on improving relations with Congress and providing Airmen all the resources they need.

“Congress is like our board of directors and the ones who decide whether we get budgeting according to the priorities we submit,” he said. “I’ve been trying to help make sure that Congress…and also the defense committees, understand our priorities and where the Air Force is going in the future. It’s important to make sure the money we do get is spent on the right things that are aligned to meet the threats of the future.”

Over the course of four decades Donovan led Airmen, flew fighter jets and worked on Capitol Hill, truly achieving his goal of making a difference for himself. Now Donovan aims to make a difference for the world’s greatest Air Force.