Mechanic Falls native earns prestigious Navy job


EL grad to be promoted to two-star admiral

Sometimes the sheer size of Pentagon figures – money counted in the billions of dollars – can be daunting for a guy from a one-stoplight town in Maine.

“You do your best,” said Rear Adm. Peter Williams, the Mechanic Falls native picked to help chose some of the Navy’s newest planes.

Millions can seem small. So he stops himself and takes another look at the budget lines. He reminds himself of what each dollar means.

“We’re ensuring that we deliver the product for taxpayers,” Williams said. “Cost, performance and schedule matter.”

Those need to be the criteria, he said, whether he’s overseeing the purchase of the new FA-18 “Super Hornet” fighter or the C-2 Greyhound, a cargo plane.

Williams, the highest-ranking Navy officer ever to come from his hometown, is one of only 220 admirals in a service of more than 345,000 active-duty personnel.

And he is due to ascend to even thinner air. He’s already been picked for a second star, a rank known as “rear admiral upper half.” The promotion will take place in September.

“I didn’t think I’d make flag rank,” Williams said in a phone interview. When he joined the Navy – as a young student at the University of Maine – it was merely to fly. A 1971 graduate of Edward Little High School, Williams already had his pilot’s license when he signed up. He graduated from Orono in 1975 and within two years had both his naval commission and his wings.

Top gun

He found that the community of fighter pilots was similar to the fraternity he left behind in Maine. There was the same camaraderie and bravado.

“I thought it was wonderful,” he said.

He flew the F-4 “Phantom” and then the F-14 “Tomcat.”

The aircraft, known to moviegoers as the one Tom Cruise flew in “Top Gun,” felt perfect to Williams.

“Part of it is the aesthetics of the aircraft,” he said. “It looks like a fighter.”

It drove well, too.

During his time in the Tomcat’s cockpit, he attended the real Top Gun school and logged an extensive flight record. He flew in several squadrons, led one and served as the air boss aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise.

During his Navy career, Williams has accumulated more than 3,400 flight hours and logged more than 840 carrier landings.

Those numbers have changed little in recent years. He was promoted right out of the cockpit. The Navy made him an admiral in October 2004. He was assigned to oversee its aviation depots. On Dec. 14, 2006, he was given his present job, the Navy’s program executive officer for tactical aircraft.

‘Proud mom’

His job is spent working with defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing on carrier-based planes. He manages a staff of 20 or so people and spends much of his time in board rooms and teleconferences.

“I’m honored with the opportunity to directly impact our fleet’s success around the world,” he said.

It gives Williams, 53, little time to fly, though.

“Of course I miss it,” he said. Last September, he lamented the Navy’s decision to retire the Tomcat from service.

“It marked the end of a long love affair,” he said.

He does climb into a cockpit from time to time, taking up new planes. It helps him speak with authority when he’s describing the handling of a craft back in the board room.

It’s also convenient. His base, the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland, is where the Navy tests many of its new aircraft.

There’s less time for trips home, though. It’s been two years since he visited Mechanic Falls. His mother, Jean, still lives there.

“My mom’s a proud mom,” he said. He knows she boasts about him.

“I try to get back once a year or so,” he said. His wife and three children like Maine, particularly a family home in Westport Island, where his brother lives.

Yet, the quaintness of his hometown can be startling for the officer who has traveled the world for 30 years.

“When I go back I always stop at the barbershop,” he said wistfully. “That’s the center of governance in a small town.”