Story courtesy of Charles Dunlap, Columbia Daily Tribune

When C. Byron Wilson ’07 learned of his promotion to the rank of captain in the U.S. Air Force, he knew where he wanted to have the ceremony. Wilson chose to go back to his roots at Columbia College, his alma mater.

Family and friends attended the promotion ceremony on June 4 in Launer Auditorium on Main Campus, followed by a reception in Atkins-Holman Student Commons.

“Columbia College was a huge turning point in my life,” he says.

Byron Wilson ’07 invites family members on stage to pin his new rank of Air Force Captain.

“It was foundational as far as academics and just me shaping myself as a man. “Before I came I did not have many places to stay or consistent meals. Staying in Miller Hall was the first time I had consistency in that regard. I could not think of a better venue for the ceremony. I wanted to bring it back home.”

Wilson is not a person who likes to be the center of attention, he says. He prefers to mentor and share and help others.

“This is an uncomfortable setting, but it is important to be right here to show others that coming from hardship does not mean your life has to be like that forever,” Wilson says. “I didn’t do any of this without you — my village. You are the reason why I stand in front of you here today.”

Lt. Col. Pete O’Neill — deputy director of contracting, Air Force Installation Contracting Center, operating location air mobility command — highlighted Wilson’s accomplishments in his career with the Air Force before Wilson’s family joined him on stage to pin his new rank.

When Wilson became an officer, he finally started to feel like he belonged, he says. He had struggled with self-doubt because of his hardships growing up.

“Why was I placed in this position, and I made a vow to myself and to my family that I would continue to try to strive and make them proud and earn my positions and perform as if I am supposed to be there,” Wilson says. “That is what I have been focusing on and I think that is important. There are always people in my corner that have always tapped me on my shoulder and saw things in me that I didn’t and believed in me when I didn’t. … I do this for you.”

Clockwise from left: Capt. Wilson with his wife, Brittney ’09, and sons, Jude and Jonah; Wilson and family gather to celebrate Wilson’s promotion; Air Force Air Mobility Command contracting leaders.

Before joining the Air Force, Wilson received his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in 2007. His first career was with the Boone County Juvenile Office as a deputy. He joined the Air Force in 2010 and completed a master’s degree in business administration in 2016. Earlier that year, he also received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the Columbia College Alumni Association.

Wilson is currently stationed at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, where he works in purchasing and contract management for multimillion-dollar contracts with the 763rd Enterprise Sourcing Squadron.

When Wilson spoke with his 95-year-old Korean War veteran grandfather this spring, his grandfather was elated by the news of the promotion.

“His eyes got so big, glazed over and he said, ‘My grandson is going to be a captain,’” Wilson says. “It made me feel so good coming from my grandfather.”

A similar conversation was held between Wilson and his older son, Jude, who wanted to know why the rank insignia was going from one to two bars.

“Much like my grandfather, his eyes got big and he had a big smile on his face,” Wilson says. “Jude is a hard guy to impress. … He paused, and when he pauses, that means Jude is thinking.”

Jude wanted to know if his dad was going to be captain of the “whole Air Force.” There was only the slightest disappointment when his son learned the promotion wasn’t to lead the entire organization: “He puts down my rank and says, ‘I thought you were going to be captain of the whole thing,’“ Wilson says to uproarious laughter from family, friends and colleagues. “So I say that to say that you have never arrived. There is more work to be done. There are always opportunities for us to grow. The job never ends.”