Editor’s Note: I recently had a chance to chat with Willes Lee, who was sworn in January 30, as the newest member of the National Rifle Association’s board of directors. Lee is serving out the remaining term of civil rights icon and 25-year NRA board member Roy Innis who recently passed away. Lee is also a candidate for election this year to a full 3-year term on the NRA board. With a family hailing from Maui, Lee is the first Hawaii resident to be on the board.
Q: Willes, tell us about your background. Where did you grow up and where do you live presently?
A: Nice to speak with you, Rob. First a disclaimer. I am not speaking for the NRA, in any way. This is me as a candidate for the NRA board, the first from Hawaii.
I’m married, have two grown daughters. Our Lutheran church is in Aiea and we live in Aina Haina. I’m an Army brat, grew up in France, Germany and Virginia. Went to West Point, served 22 years, a Defender of Freedom, in all sorts of places. I was with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon when the Army offered a command here in Hawaii. My family is from Maui, most are now on Oahu. No brainer. We came to Hawaii for a two-year tour of duty, that was 22 years ago.
Q: Can you provide some highlights about your military service?
A: Great career, serving with people of great character. So, the highlight is being one of the few privileged to lead America’s amazing young men and women military members. Did border duty in Germany during the Cold War, fought terrorists in Europe, a couple of Pentagon stints with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Desert Shield and Desert Storm, taught ROTC at the University of Kentucky, schooling in Virginia and Kansas, stationed in Georgia. There’s more, it was a normal military career.
Q: We ran a story earlier about your being sworn in as a new NRA Board member to fill the void of a deceased board member. Given that you will have a board seat, why is it necessary for you to run for election?
A: Been around guns all my life. The Second Amendment is my hot button issue. There are many good pro-second amendment organizations, the NRA is the biggest, most influential. When we retired from the Army, I looked for a way to continue to positively impact people’s lives, military service engrains that in you. I got into politics. I was the Hawaii Republican Party Chairman and RNC member. Now, I “do” conservative politics, and linked up with NRA reps. Sounds simple but it took a while to get here.
Q: What prompted you to run for a board seat?
A: I serve, always have. This is an opportunity to give back to a community which stood up for me. I’m on several NRA committees. I am a co-Chairman of the Trump-Pence Second Amendment Coalition, and have Ollie North’s endorsement, the first-time Col North endorsed in an NRA race. I was privileged to be a Defender of Freedom for 26 years, I am honored to continue to defend freedom with the NRA. I hope to earn NRA-voters votes to continue to serve.
Q: What would you like to accomplish as a board member?
A: The NRA did an outstanding job protecting our rights these past eight years in the face of oppressive Obama and liberals’ attempts to regulate and take away my Second Amendment rights. Today’s board will be more offensive-minded, more aggressive, and more agile in defending our rights and regaining the rights taken. Ask the local political folks, I am that person.
Q: Who exactly can vote for an NRA Board member?
A: NRA life members and people who have been NRA members five years or more received their ballots last week. I hope to earn their vote and support. Please have readers view www.WillesLee.com and www.facebook.com/WillesLeeNRA.
A: Politics and campaigns, these days’ politics never takes a break. I enjoy skiing, SCUBA diving but haven’t had much time lately. I like to shoot, any weapon. I’m a runner, or a reformed runner. I trained for and won our State 800m in an age group category and ran the Honolulu Marathon four times. I was a bit younger.
Q: What kind of “firsts” would a Willes Lee board membership represent?
A: Hawaii shooters are a strong bunch, adults and youth. There are many leaders, in particular Hawaii Rifle Association’s Harvey Gerwig and Friends of NRA rep Dawn Horn. They, and many others helped me, and Hawaii, to be the first from Hawaii on an NRA committee, now a couple, the first to be nominated for the board, the first to gain ballot access for the board by petition. While I am running for election for a three-year term, I am completing the term of a deceased member, so today I am the first from Hawaii to be a member of the NRA Board of Directors. You asked if I am the first of Asian descent on the board. I don’t know. Never thought about it.
Q: Hawaii is not known as a very gun-friendly state. How do you see yourself changing the landscape?
A: I’d state that in a more forceful manner. Hawaii government is anti-gun, anti-Second Amendment, period. However, I’m on the NRA Board to help guide the NRA. I hope to be an asset for our Hawaii affiliates, pro-gun groups and legislators, most of whom are in the Democratic Party. And, I am always an advocate of gun safety and training, youth shooting, collecting, self-defense, hunting, competitions, and conservation of our natural resources.
Thank you, Rob, for this opportunity to chat. One more first, because of the timing of our talk. You are the first in Hawaii to interview the first Hawaii member of the NRA Board of Directors. Congratulations.