Retired Col. David T. “Buck” Buckwalter, a former Air Force Association executive vice president who inaugurated its CyberPatriot and StellarXplorers programs, died Feb. 27 at the age of 72. Buckwalter spent 27 years in the Air Force as a weapon systems officer, logistician, and an instructor.
Buckwalter was commissioned out of Air Force Officer Training School in 1972, after earning a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology from Rensselear Polytechnic Institute in New York. He attended navigator training and was a weapon system officer and flight commander on the RF-4C Phantom reconnaissance jet in Vietnam, where he earned the Air Medal. He accumulated more than 2,200 flight hours during his time in the service.
He was a maintenance squadron and logistics group commander, and the senior Air Force advisor to the president of the Naval War College, as well as executive officer to the director of operations for U.S. Air Forces in Europe. Buckwalter retired as a colonel in 1999, having earned a Master’s degree in management from Troy University and another Master’s in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College. He also received a certificate in general studies from Salve Regina University.
“Buck was a wonderful friend and leader over the years,” said AFA President, retired Lt. Gen. Bruce “Orville” Wright. “Remembering our time flying F-4 Phantoms as we defended our nation, Buck was always an exemplary air warrior and it was an honor to serve together in the higher calling of our Air Force mission.”
Buckwalter was a Life member of AFA, which he joined upon his entry into the Air Force in 1972, and served as a Chapter, State, and Region president. He was a trustee of the former Aerospace Education Foundation (AEF) and headed the Strategic Planning Committee and the AFA21 Task Force Tax Status team, which earned AFA its 501(c)(3) tax status. He also chaired the Constitution Committee and managed the merger of AFA and the AEF. He was an AFA national director from 2004-2007 and vice chairman of the Aerospace Education Council in 2007.
Among his AFA awards were the Medal of Merit, Exceptional Service Award, and Presidential Citation.
Buckwalter joined the AFA staff as executive vice president in 2008 and held the role until 2012, where he managed the association’s professional staff and day-to-day operations. In 2009, while EVP, Buckwalter executed the first full season of CyberPatriot, a cyber defense competition designed to interest students in science, technology, engineering, and math. Today, CyberPatriot is a global success, with nearly 5,000 teams competing from schools in the United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, Germany, and the Republic of Korea.
Later, as a volunteer, Buckwalter sought to build on that success, helping to found StellarXplorers. StellarXplorers is a space system design competition that teaches participants about satellite design, orbits, and operations.
Gerald R. Murray, former Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force and Chairman of the Board of AFA, noted that 2022 marks Buckwalter’s 50th year as an AFA member.
“For decades, he has put his time, treasure, and heart into serving AFA,” Murray said. “Buck always looked out for our chapters … He made work fun for AFA staff and treated everyone with respect.”
Buckwalter was the “guiding hand in the fundamental reorganization of AFA, enabling us to transform into the vibrant aerospace education organization we are today,” Murray said. Of all the AFA programs he got involved with, CyberPatriot and StellarXplorers were “perhaps the nearest to his heart,” Murray continued. “Buck’s legacy will live on in the smiles of students competing in these programs for many years to come.”