Col. Deborah Marquart Liddick ’88 Leads Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland During Time of Change
By Vicki Mayk
When Col. Deborah (Marquart) Liddick ’88 learned she was assigned to command Air Force Basic Military Training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, shortly after sexual misconduct scandals there made national headlines, she said just two things to her commanding officer.
“ ‘I’m ready, sir,’ ” Liddick recalls telling the four-star general. “The only other question I asked was, ‘how soon?’ He said, ‘Within days.’ ”
Since assuming command at the base in September 2012, Liddick has been charged with carrying out the 46 recommendations made for improvement following an investigation by Chief of Air Force Safety Maj. Gen. Margaret H. Woodward. The investigation followed a scandal cited as one of the largest in military history. It included some 31 female recruits reporting infractions, ranging from rape to inappropriate relationships. At least 34 military training instructors were investigated and to date 26 have been convicted by court martial. Four received disciplinary action and two are still under investigation.
“Certainly it was a challenging job coming in and, looking back, it hasn’t been the easiest job,” she says. “It’s helped that I am someone who believes in doing things by the book. If you are fair and consistent and you train folks to understand the rules and meet your expectations, and hold them accountable, you are going to succeed.”
Lackland is where every U.S. Air Force enlisted recruit completes basic training.
Annually more than 35,000 active-duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve members begin their training annually at JBSA-Lackland.
Liddick quickly defines her fundamental role heading a group with more than 5,500 trainees under her command in any given week. “We’re going to make sure that they’re properly trained and ensure that they’re safe while they are doing it,” she says without hesitation. “You have to make sure that everyone is safe under your command. That’s your job as a commander.”
It was not Liddick’s first major assignment. Prior to Lackland, she was chief, Maintenance Division, Directorate of Logistics, Installations & Mission Support, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, and, from 2010 to 2012, she commanded the 56th Maintenance Group at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, the largest fighter maintenance group in the Air Force. More than 2,600 officers and enlisted personnel were under her command at that assignment, maintaining 138 F-16 Fighting Falcons.
Liddick traces her interest in an Air Force career to when she was still a student at Carle Place High School in her hometown of Westbury, located on New York’s Long Island. “I didn’t have anyone in my immediate family in the military,” she recalls. “I was at one of those college fairs and I picked up a brochure from the Air Force Academy.”
Entering the service academy became her goal and her congressman nominated her. She was not accepted. “I was crushed,” she says. Completing a college Air Force ROTC program became her backup plan, and the choice led her to Wilkes. Three factors played a role in her decision to go there.
“It had ROTC, I could play field hockey and it was a small school, far enough from Long Island that I couldn’t come home on the weekend to do my laundry, but close enough that I could come home on holidays,” Liddick says, chuckling. She and her father, Frank Marquart, a retired New York City firefighter, visited campus and met women’s field hockey coach Gay Meyers.
“She was a huge role model for me,” Liddick says of Meyers, who died in 2011. “She was the main reason why we picked Wilkes. She walked us around campus and my father and I felt she would be a good mentor for me.”
Liddick majored in math – one of the majors qualifying her for an Air Force scholarship. She was one of only three math majors in her graduating class. “Out of the three people, I was not the smartest,” she quips, adding, “Getting the math degree was one of my biggest challenges in life. But it gave me the confidence that I could do anything.”
The small classes allowed her to receive personal attention. “It was like being tutored individually,” she says. She cites that kind of personal attention as one of the positives of attending Wilkes. “No one is there to make you fail. All of the faculty are there to make you succeed. The whole experience at Wilkes was great. Wilkes was really the foundation. Who I am today is because of Wilkes.”
Some of her fondest memories involve playing field hockey and living in McClintock Hall, where having just 12 hall mates gave the living experience a family feeling. “We used to say it was worth the walk,” she says, referring to McClintock’s position on South River Street two blocks from the center of campus.
Maria (Saracino) Mooney ’88 was a friend from McClintock. Although Mooney remembers that she and Liddick were “normal college kids going to campus parties,” she offers a description of her friend that would indicate her future success. “If I were to pick three words to describe her, they would be focused, goal-oriented and determined,” Mooney says.
Mooney’s mother, Doris Saracino, then Wilkes athletic director, also remembers the “tall redhead” on the Wilkes field hockey team. “She was the most committed person I’ve ever seen,” says Doris Saracino. “Whatever she did, she was greatly committed.”
It’s a trait that has stayed with Liddick, professionally and personally. “I’m a goal setter,” Liddick states. “I like to set goals for myself and for the organization. If you set goals, good folks will rise to that expectation. If you want to achieve something, it’s good to set goals. For example, I want to get 100 percent on my PT (physical training) test. That’s my goal. I’m in the high 90s. If I set the goal of being in the 90s, then I’d probably only be in the 80s.”
Her goal-oriented mindset carries over to activities she pursues in her spare time. “I run half marathons, three or four times a year. I just ran the San Antonio Rock and Roll Half Marathon. I have all my medals on my wall. I run for myself, to keep myself motivated, to keep myself in shape.”
She remembers setting high goals for herself when she left Wilkes. Confident that she wanted to make a career in the Air Force, she says, “I went in as a second lieutenant and, because I believe in setting goals, I wanted to be a general.” She chose a technical career path, training in aircraft maintenance and munitions. Liddick says she’s never focused on the fact that she’s a woman in the male-dominated military. “I consider myself an officer in the U.S. Air Force first,” she states. “I’m someone who’s a maintenance officer who just happened to be female.”
A maintenance officer has a behind-the-scenes role with a high level of responsibility. She has supervised staff assembling munitions and maintaining aircraft both in the United States and on deployments overseas. When she was assigned to Hill Air Force Base in Utah, she supervised crews building bombs that were loaded on airplanes used in operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
She also has been deployed overseas a number of times. Liddick served in Desert Shield and Desert Storm as a munitions officer with an F-16 fighter wing; NATO Operation Deny Flight as an A-10 squadron maintenance officer; and operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom as an expeditionary maintenance squadron commander with a B-1 bomber group.
Liddick does not find deployments difficult. “When I was deployed with my unit, it was easier because you can be focused on the mission. At home, there are more distractions: maybe your spouse is sick, or you’re figuring out who is going to pick up the groceries,” she says. “When you’re deployed, you can completely focus. My spouse was at home. He had to deal with paying the bills and shoveling the snow.”
Liddick’s husband, Terry, is a wildlife biologist and pilot with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, where his responsibilities include tracking migration of ducks and setting dates for hunting season. The couple married on July 4, 2000, in Las Vegas. Picking the date was easy: “I knew I would have the day off work,” Liddick says. Her husband is a native of Berwick, Pa., less than an hour from the Wilkes campus, but the two didn’t meet until she was stationed in Utah. Their assignments frequently separate them, but, Liddick says, “Absence does make the heart grow fonder. I think we appreciate each other more.”
The separations will end in 2014, when Liddick retires from the Air Force. They will move to the home they built in Spearfish, S.D., in the area where Terry Liddick conducts his wildlife work.
When Liddick was promoted to colonel in 2009, her husband was among those she thanked publicly for their support and encouragement. She is among the few in the Air Force who achieve the rank. Less than 1 percent of airmen are promoted to colonel, and the honor is bestowed less frequently to non-pilots. Wilkes alumnus Col. Mark Rado ’80, deputy to the adjutant general of the U.S. Army, grew up with on Long Island with Liddick and attended the same high school. Rado, who also has spent his career in the military, has a special understanding of what it takes to be promoted. “You have to work your butt off to make colonel in the Air Force,” Rado states. “If you’re not a pilot, you have to be a great leader.” Liddick, he says, has displayed leadership since her high school days.
Liddick emphasizes that she isn’t accomplishing her goals alone. “I always go back to my field hockey experience and my ROTC experience at Wilkes,” she says. “It’s a team effort. I learned the importance of teamwork. I cannot do this job – or any job – alone.”
When she first took command at JBSA-Lackland, there were 11 officers on her leadership team. Now there are 51, from captains to majors. In addition to those officers, the base now also has more senior enlisted leaders like chief master sergeants. . Such a team has been necessary to help initiate the many changes needed at JBSA-Lackland, many of which have involved changing the culture at the base. “It’s a slow process,” Liddick acknowledges. “I’ve been here 14 months, and every day we make progress.” She pauses. “I say it’s like turning the Titanic, slowly.”
In addition to implementing 46 recommendations made after the Air Force investigation, Liddick has initiated changes of her own. Previously, the military training instructors – referred to as MTIs – who train recruits had completed their own training in one of seven squadrons. “People weren’t being trained the same way,” Liddick explains. “I established a trainer squadron that everyone is assigned to, so that everyone is learning the same rules, learning the same tasks, in the same way.”
She does not focus on the challenges of change. Instead she finds satisfaction in the job that is the primary focus of her command: ensuring the success of the new flights of airmen who enter the training program every eight weeks. She enjoys the day in, day out routine of monitoring their training. “I say that every day is different, but every week’s the same. “ She is actively involved in the process, welcoming each new class of 400-800 airmen, participating in physical training with them every day, attending some of their classes, and officially welcoming them to the Air Force. “On Friday, we have parade, where I get to salute each of them and administer the oath of enlistment.”
What she enjoys the most, perhaps, is watching the growth that is possible for individual recruits during that time.
“I had one female trainee tell me, ‘Ma’am, I failed all my life. I failed at college and I failed at home. I came here to basic military training, and I succeeded. I can’t wait to tell my dad,’ ” Liddick relates, adding, “When we graduate 600 airmen, to see them stand there – they look about 2 inches taller than when they arrived. When I see where they have come over the last eight weeks, it’s tremendously satisfying.”
Col. Deborah (Marquart)Liddick ’88, San Antonio, Texas
Bachelor of Science, Math, Wilkes
Master of Science, Aeronautical Science, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Master of Science, National Resource Strategy, Industrial College of the
Career: Commanding Officer, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, U.S. Air Force
Notable: Commands more than 6,500 officers and airmen at base where every recruit in the U.S. Air Force receives training
Favorite Wilkes memories: Playing field hockey under coach and mentor Gay Meyers, living in McClintock Hall with Sandra (Catina) Panzitta, Lisa (Mirin) Lokuta, Kim (Cooper) Garcia, Maria (Saracino) Mooney – all members of Wilkes Class of 1988 — and doing a 6 a.m. show on campus radio station WCLH, “The D & T Show,” named for Liddick and friend Tracy Hebron.