AEDC advocate Mike Niederhauser remembered

  • Published
  • By Bradley Hicks
  • AEDC Public Affairs

Local businessman and staunch Arnold Engineering Development Complex advocate Mike Niederhauser passed away Dec. 20, 2023, at the age of 68.

A resident of Estill Springs, Niederhauser was born in 1955 in Nashville. He owned Mike Niederhauser’s China & Gifts in Tullahoma for more than three decades and served on numerous community boards and in various local organizations. He was a past president of both the Manchester and Tullahoma Chambers of Commerce. He was a founding member and served on the Board of Directors with First Vision Bank. He served on the Board of Directors for Unity Hospital and the Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Group.

Other organizations with which Niederhauser was involved included the Mach Tenn Running Club, the Greater Manchester Economic Development Board and Storehouse Food Pantry in Manchester.

However, Niederhauser was best known to those at Arnold Air Force Base, headquarters of AEDC, for championing the complex while serving on the Arnold Community Council, which was formed in 2000 to promote and support AEDC, and as a member of the Air Force Materiel Command Community Liaison Program.

AEDC Commander Col. Randel Gordon said Niederhauser is what is referred to as a “fire-and-forget kind of weapon,” meaning an issue impacting AEDC could be brought to Niederhauser’s attention and he would personally work to resolve it.

“He was the type who could kind of intuit what you needed and then, before you could even figure out what you needed to ask, he would have already solved it for you,” Gordon said.

As an example, Gordon recalled the assistance Niederhauser provided to AEDC officials in making sure the correct verbiage was in place for items that affected AEDC in the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act. 

“We sat down with Mike and kind of explained to him the entire situation,” Gordon said. “He asked a couple of questions just to make sure he could kind of clarify what we were trying to do and then, shoot, within like minutes, we were getting calls from all the right people in the congressional delegation to try to help us solve it and then, sure enough, he did. He did. We could not have done that without Mike. He had a huge impact on AEDC just because of his networks and his connections and his warmth.”

There are multiple other examples of Niederhauser’s efforts in recent years to see to it that AEDC received the support he felt it deserves. 

In spring 2011, Niederhauser, then-Arnold Community Council public and community relations chair, joined with members of the ACC in visiting Washington, D.C., to meet with lawmakers and their staff to discuss the importance of AEDC to the nation.

“It never ceases to amaze me how many people in Washington, D.C., want to help when they understand how important Arnold AFB is to the defense of our national,” Niederhauser said after the trip. “Arnold Air Force Base is the lifeblood of our community and an asset to our nation. We as individuals must do everything we can to protect it.”

ACC visits to Capitol Hill remain an annual occurrence, and Niederhauser would continue to visit the nation’s capital with the organization in subsequent years.

Niederhauser also served as the ACC Legislative Affairs Chairperson, a role he held for a number of years.

Niederhauser’s work in this capacity would earn him high praise from then-ACC president Jim Jolliffe in 2015 after the annual visit to Washington, D.C. Niederhauser was lauded for his significant role in the planning and execution of the trip itself, as well as his effort in scheduling appointments and planning the breakfast the ACC holds for elected officials and their staff members.

“Mike Niederhauser’s leadership as the ACC Legislative Affairs Chairman resulted in two action-packed days of appointments with Congressmen, Senators and staffers,” Jolliffe said at the time. “Our ability to meet with them and share the importance of AEDC and the Major Range and Test Facility Base was invaluable.”

As a member of the AFMC Community Liaison Program, Niederhauser had the opportunity to meet with AFMC leadership to further advocate for Arnold.

Along with advocacy, the purpose of the AFMC Community Liaison Program is for its members to obtain information from AFMC leadership to share in their communities. According to AFMC, program members from across the country meet twice annually to receive updates on AFMC and Air Force issues.

In 2010, Niederhauser received and accepted a personal invitation from the then-Secretary of the Air Force to attend the Annual National Security Forum at the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, after being nominated by AEDC to attend.

The purpose of NSF is to expose influential citizens to senior U.S. and international officers and civilian equivalents in order to engage each other’s ideas and perspectives on Air Force and national and international security issues.

During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the decision was made to close around three-quarters of Arnold AFB to safeguard the workforce. Some of the workforce were in a leave-without-pay status for several months, and the enhanced unemployment insurance benefits were not equivalent to their normal pay.

In March 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, was signed into law. There was some question as to whether a provision in the law would allow contractors who were unable to receive pay during the reduced operational status at Arnold would be able to be reimbursed.

Niederhauser took it upon himself to contact congressional representatives and senators to ensure contractor employees with AEDC who were affected were covered under the CARES Act. He first approached Gen. Arnold Bunch Jr., then-commander of AFMC, before bringing the matter to the attention of Congress. Sen. Marsha Blackburn and Rep. John Rose sent a joint letter to then-Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett, and the Air Force was able to allocate funding for reimbursement.

“Several other hurdles had to be overcome due to varied interpretations and implementation policies,” David Duesterhaus with the ACC wrote in an article published in High Mach September 2020. “Throughout these challenges, Niederhauser and the ACC remained engaged and proactive to assist the local community and all the AEDC employees by making sure they received the benefits under the CARES Act. As a result of this coordination, in early August it was determined that funds could be paid to the contractors.”

Former AEDC commander Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Geraghty, commander of the 96th Test Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, referred to Niederhauser as a “tremendous partner” during his time leading AEDC. Geraghty, in particular, highlighted Niederhauser’s efforts to see to it that contractors across the complex were paid during the pandemic lockdowns.

“He showed up to every community meeting with a smile, ideas and solutions,” Geraghty said of Niederhauser. “He boosted the welfare of the base contractor workforce by partnering with elected officials to ensure the CARES Act covered their back pay after our mission pause during the early days of the COVID pandemic.

“He cared deeply about our national defense mission and the people who served to support it. I will forever treasure the time I got to spend with him, and I’m forever grateful for his partnership.”

Gordon echoed Geraghty’s sentiment, calling Niederhauser a “fantastic partner” to AEDC.

“When I heard news of his passing, that really hurt,” Gordon said. “I’m still reeling a bit from it personally because I just liked him as an individual, even beyond what he could do for AEDC. I thought he was just a really, really great man, and now I know we’ve really lost a champion for the base. He’s going to be really, really missed.”