AEDC leaders induct community leaders as Honorary Commanders

  • Published
  • By Kali Bradford
  • AEDC Public Affairs

Arnold Engineering Development Complex personnel and community leaders came together for an induction ceremony March 8 to further the relationship between Arnold Air Force Base and the community.

The gathering officially launched the Arnold Air Force Base Honorary Commander program. The first of its kind at Arnold AFB, headquarters of AEDC, the purpose of the program is to continue strengthening the community and Air Force partnership.

During the ceremony, Jason Austin, chief of AEDC Public Affairs, spoke about the program.

“The Honorary Commander program is part of the Arnold Air Force Base Commander’s community relations program,” Austin stated. “Shortly after Col. [Randel] Gordon took command, he tasked his public affairs team to stand up the Honorary Commander program to build on the partnerships we have with our local community and strengthen our bond with community and business leaders.”

Seven business and community leaders were chosen by AEDC leadership. Each Honorary Commander will gain insight into the mission, policies and programs of the Air Force, Air Force Material Command, the Air Force Test Center and Arnold AFB.

After an introduction by Austin, AEDC Commander Col. Randel Gordon spoke about the program’s origin and what Arnold AFB hopes to gain from its implementation.

“What an amazing opportunity it is to get to do something like this,” Gordon said. “Former Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. C.Q. Brown made a statement that resonated with me. As military bases, we have essentially brought the draw bridge up and, unless you have the secret decoder ring badge to get in through gate, you have no idea what’s actually happening on the base itself. Some of that was driven by COVID. Some of it was driven by security policies that came about after Sept. 11. But the end result of that is that we have drawn up the bridge, just like medieval castles surrounded by the community, but no one actually knows what’s going on inside and that’s bad.

“There are many times when the community and the base need to work together to get something done and if the first time you meet us is when we need something from you, that’s bad because we haven’t properly handled those relationships. We’ve been charged with letting that draw bridge down. Let’s bring folks onto the base. Let’s extend our good relationships with the community, and I fully agree with it and understand it. This is a very special base that we have here that you need to be a part of.”

Each Honorary Commander will serve a two-year term. During that time, they will be invited to various base and unit events. They may also extend reciprocal invitations to military commander and unit personnel. 

Commemorating the occasion, AEDC leaders were called to represent their respective units and present AEDC lapel pins to their Honorary Commanders.

The following individuals were selected:

  • Scott Ladd, director of operations, Black Rifle Coffee Company. Ladd is the honorary commander for Col. Randel Gordon, commander, Arnold Engineering Development Complex.
  • Hope Nunley, executive director, Tullahoma Area Chamber of Commerce. Nunley is the honorary commander for Col. Eric Withrow, commander, Test Support Division.
  • Paul Parsley, principal, Coffee County Central High School.  Parsley is the honorary commander for Col. Jason Vap, commander, 804th Test Group.
  • Dr. Catherine Stephens, superintendent, Tullahoma City Schools. Stephens is the honorary commander for Lt. Col. James Gresham, commander, 716th Test Squadron.
  • Suzanne Mitchell, career and technical education director, Franklin County Board of Education. Mitchell is the honorary commander for Lt. Col. Ryne Roady, commander, 717th Test Squadron.
  • Stephen Crook, executive director, Industrial Board of Coffee County. Crook is the honorary commander for Lt. Col. Bradley Breaux, commander, 718th Test Squadron.
  • Winston Brooks, executive director, Tullahoma Area Economic Development Corporation. Brooks is the honorary commander for Joshua Meeks, director, 804th Test Support Squadron.

The late Mike Niederhauser was also named and recognized as Emeritus Honorary Commander. Niederhauser, who passed in December, was known for his continuous support of AEDC along with serving on the Arnold Community Council and serving as a member of the Air Force Materiel Command Civic Leader Program.

Gordon spoke about remembering Niederhauser and his commitment to AEDC.

“The last time I saw Mike, and I’m always grateful for this moment, was the event for our local veterans to be able to come to the base and we treated them,” Gordon said. “We gave them horse and buggy rides, cooked food for them and took them around the lake. By that point, Mike had lost his voice, and he wasn't able to really speak. But he was there and the look on his face was one of almost angelic. He was completely content and happy to see what the base had done and that the veterans were getting their proper due. He didn't have to say anything. It was just the look on his face, that he was in complete total bliss. That's the image that I keep in my mind of Mike.”

Niederhauser’s sister, Reecie Campbell, and brother, Butch Niederhauser, attended the event where they both received a lapel pin in honor of their brother.

Following the event, a luncheon was held in celebration of the day’s events.