Wilson was born in Nassau County, in Long Island, New York to Frances and John Wilson, a United States Air Force officer.
Wilson grew up in Arlington County, Virginia and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in social sciences from Michigan State University. Wilson later earned Master degrees in education from Pepperdine University, psychology from the University of Northern Colorado, business management from Salve Regina College, National Security and Strategic Studies from Naval War College, and a Doctor of Education from The University of Southern California.
She also completed the U.S. Army Basic Airborne Course, Armed Forces Staff College’s Joint and Combined Staff Officer School, National Defense University’s CAPSTONE and PINNACLE courses, Naval Postgraduate School’s Revolution in Business Practices, and Harvard University’s JFK School of Government’s Senior Executive Course in National and International Security.
Wilson’s sister, Mary O’Donnell is a retired U.S. Coast Guard rear admiral, who in 2000 became the first woman to become a reserve rear admiral in the Coast Guard. At the time of O’Donnell’s retirement in 2004, Wilson and her sister were the highest ranking sisters in the U.S. Military.
Commissioned a second lieutenant in November 1972, she was the Honor Graduate and recipient of the Leadership Award from the United States Marine Corps Women Officer Basic School.
As a company grade officer, Wilson served as an Air Traffic Control Officer at Yuma and Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Stations and as an Instructor at Marine Corps Development and Education Center’s Instructional Management School. Following graduation from Amphibious Warfare School in 1980, she served as Staff Secretary, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Amphibious Force.
As a field grade officer she was a Company Officer, Brigade of Midshipmen, and an Assistant Professor in the Professional Development Department at the United States Naval Academy. After graduating with the 1985 class of the College of Naval Command and Staff, Naval War College, she reported to the Manpower Plans, Manpower and Reserve Affairs Department, Headquarters Marine Corps as a manpower management analyst. She then served as Special Assistant for General and Flag Officer Matters, Joint Staff, and as Executive Assistant to the Vice Director, Joint Staff.
Wilson commanded the Fourth Recruit Training Battalion at Parris Island Recruit Depot from 1988 to 1990. She then participated in a Federal Executive Fellowship with the Brookings Institution before reporting to the Marine Forces Pacific staff as Requirements and Programs Officer. In July 1993, she assumed command of Camp H. M. Smith and the Headquarters and Services Battalion, Marine Forces Pacific. Returning to Washington, D.C., in 1995, she participated on Roles and Missions Coordination Group, Requirements and Plans, Headquarters Marine Corps before being assigned as Secretary, Joint Staff.
Wilson commanded Marine Corps Base Quantico and the 3rd Force Service Support Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force. She then directed Manpower Management Division, Manpower and Reserve Affairs, Headquarters Marine Corps and was the Marine Corps representative to the Secretary of Defense’s Reserve Force Policy Board.
From 2003 to 2006, she served as Commandant of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, National Defense University. In 2006, she was appointed president of the National Defense University. On July 14, 2006 Wilson was promoted to lieutenant general and assumed her post as the 12th president of the university, succeeding U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael M. Dunn. In March 2009, she was awarded the French Legion of Honor in a ceremony presided by French Defense Minister Hervé Morin at the French Embassy in Washington, DC.
We honor you, Frances Wilson.