The End Of The 'McCorkle Era'
December 4, 2009
- "There are a lot of people here who continue to contribute tremendously to what we've done together."
- "I believe, very simply, that you have to put trust in people, and reward them tremendously, and give them opportunities."
- Members of the Senate "know who he is. They honor him. They know he is an icon."
- "We have an era that's closing - the McCorkle era."
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Thanks to Dr. Bill McCorkle, Redstone Arsenal\'s Thanksgiving week began with a visit from a prestigious group of local, state and national dignitaries, including the mayors of Huntsville and Madison, several retired and active Army generals, Rep. Parker Griffith and Sen. Richard Shelby. They gathered with employees of the Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center in Bob Jones Auditorium at Redstone Arsenal, Ala., at 9 a.m. Nov. 23 to congratulate McCorkle on 52 years of civilian service in leading the development of missile, aviation and simulation technology at Redstone. And they sent him into retirement with a rousing rendition of the Army Song. Thanking those in attendance for "all this attention," McCorkle, 81, spent his moments at the podium not glorifying himself, but attempting to throw the attention back on the employees who are committed to AMRDEC's role in supporting the war fighter. "There are a lot of people here who continue to contribute tremendously to what we've done together," he said. "I want to thank you for the opportunity I've had to participate in the many changes that have occurred, particularly since 1980." In November of that year, McCorkle was selected for the dual role as the technical director of the then Missile Command (now Aviation and Missile Command) and the director of the then Army Missile Laboratory (now the 3,100-employee AMRDEC). Since coming to work for the Army at Redstone Arsenal in 1957, McCorkle has had significant involvement in nearly every Army rocket and missile development program, and has established himself and AMRDEC as an international leader in aviation and missile technology. "We have been successful in the merger of aviation and missile communities," he said. "There is a huge amount of common technology in these areas in terms of seekers and controls, and we've all integrated these very well." In his comments, he touched on the challenges of AMRDEC's executive director - filling senior positions with capable and technical leaders - and AMRDEC itself - improving both rotor and fixed wing aircraft, continuing progress with unmanned systems, improving precision of guided missiles and better detection against improvised explosive devices. But it was McCorkle's expression of his own personal management philosophy that really spoke to the kind of leader he has been. "I believe, very simply, that you have to put trust in people, and reward them tremendously, and give them opportunities," he said. While McCorkle's comments reflected back on the employees of AMRDEC, comments from one of Congress' leading senators were focused on McCorkle's unique contributions to AMRDEC and the Army. "I'm here because I wanted to honor him. I've worked with him for years," Shelby told McCorkle's audience. "When I went to the Senate (in 1986), he was one of the first ones to knock on the door, and he knocked the door down because he wanted to be there all the time (lobbying for AMRDEC's future). I quickly realized his contributions and he had a standing invitation." Shelby thanked McCorkle for his dedication to the Army. "You have spent your life helping the war fighter provide security for this nation," Shelby said, adding members of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee "know who he is. They honor him. They know he is an icon." Because of McCorkle's work in aviation and missile development, "Soldiers love and respect you. Their enemies fear you. Thank you on behalf of the nation. As we honor you, you honor the nation," Shelby added. AMCOM and Redstone Arsenal commander Maj. Gen. Jim Myles pointed out to the retirement audience that McCorkle has served as an Army civilian during nearly six of the Army's 24 decades of existence, and was one of the charter members of the Department of Defense Senior Executive Service. "It's an incredible statement of work to be able to talk about that. Many will serve for four or five decades. But you've served through (nearly) six decades in positions of increasing responsibility. We have to stop and take notice of that," Myles said. McCorkle's and AMRDEC's success has always been viewed "through the prism of the way (that success) has supported the Soldier," he said. "Every weapon system, every missile system has had to go through the technical knowledge base that presides at AMRDEC. (The nation's missile defense) can trace its lineage all the way back to Bill McCorkle and AMRDEC." Comparing him to rocket and space scientist Dr. Wernher von Braun, Myles said all Arsenal employees should recognize the long-lasting contributions McCorkle has made to the nation's modern-day defense systems. He said the day's retirement ceremony was one of celebrating a physicist with a "fire that still burns in your gut." "We have an era that's closing - the McCorkle era," Myles said, adding that he is confident AMRDEC employees will continue to support the fight against freedom's enemies through technology that has its foundation in the discoveries made and developments accomplished during the McCorkle years. McCorkle was accompanied to his retirement ceremony by his wife, Nancy, and his niece, Laura Decker, and nephew, Brian Decker. He received several accolades during the program. "We had to come to this ceremony to honor his contributions," said Brian Decker, who served as a pilot in the Navy and who now flies with Delta Airlines, and who credits his interest in flying to his uncle, who is also a pilot. "He was my inspiration. We had to be here."