By Kari Hawkins, USAG RedstoneJuly 23, 2014
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Col. Courtney Cote is glad to be home, although he admits he has a lot of catching up to do with news on the home front.
During a change of charter ceremony July 11 in a nearly full Bob Jones Auditorium, Cote took the helm as the project manager of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Project Office, Program Executive Office for Aviation. He replaces Col. Tim Baxter, who is returning to the Special Operations Command as the military deputy to the acquisition executive at McDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida.
"It's good to be home," said Cote, whose military career has included assignments with the PEO Aviation as its assistant project manager for UH-60A/L/M and HH Black Hawk Training Aids, Devices, Simulants and Simulation, assistant project manager for UH-60M Black Hawk Upgrade, special project officer for Setting the Aviation Force and product director for Light Utility Helicopter (UH-72A Lakota).
Cote, a senior Army aviator, has also served as the Plans, Programs and Resource staff officer in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology; product manager for the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter, the Iraqi Armed Bell 407 and the Armed Aerial Scout; and commander of the Aviation Applied Technology Directorate.
His first week on the job was spent "being educated" about the Army's unmanned aircraft systems fleet. Those were the first of many days he will spend learning about UAS, and its capabilities and opportunities.
"I am humbled and also fully recognizing the incredible opportunity I'm being afforded," Cote said. "I will immerse myself in the unmanned aircraft community. I look forward to working with the great UAS government team and industry team."
Brig. Gen. Bob Marion, the program executive officer for aviation, said, "it's been an incredible time of growth in some very unique conditions" during Baxter's three years as the UAS project manager.
Marion gave the audience a little inside scoop on the UAS project officer, saying there was discussion among Army leadership at one point to make the UAS project manager a general officer position. In the end, the Army couldn't afford that move.
But Marion believes it could have actually happened because of the broad scope UAS has both within the Army and throughout all military branches. The UAS Project Office includes four programs of record -- Gray Eagle, Shadow, One System Remote Video Terminal and Small UAS; and four non-programs of record -- Hunter, Puma, Sky Warrior Alpha and Universal Ground Control Station.
"These systems have been deployed to the threat and they are critical every day," Marion said. And, they support, he said, customers -- Soldier operators and their combatant commanders -- who are "demanding for all the right reasons."
Marion said the success of UAS in supporting the war fighter is due to an "A-plus team all the way up and down the formation. But it takes the leader to keep an organization headed in the right direction. With the various degrees of life cycles and customers with UAS, that is a very difficult and complex task."
While the Army helicopter fleet includes 464 Chinooks, 690 Apaches and 2,135 Black Hawks, the UAS fleet includes more than 6,100 systems, supported by about 400 employees at Redstone and about 500 contractors in theater in Afghanistan. Of the 2 million flight hours flown, 40 percent were flown during Baxter's three years leading the UAS Project Office, with greater than 90 percent of those hours flown in combat.
"The scope is so vast and so broad. … That project office has done so much over time and has delivered such a great capability," Marion said.
One milestone during Baxter's three years of service was the Gray Eagle's successful completion of Initial Operating Test and Evaluation at the National Training Center, at Fort Irwin, California. The event assessed that the Gray Eagle met all requirements designated to go forward with full-rate production decisions.
"That team did just a fantastic job and fueled the full-rate production decision," Marion said.
Marion said he also had the opportunity in May to see Shadow teams in operation at Fort Bliss, Texas, a trip he made at Baxter's urging.
"I'm really grateful that Tim made me go," Marion said to laughter from the audience. "I met Soldiers who are doing things with a version of Shadow that will be a breakthrough with Army aviation in the future. … The trip reopened my eyes to appreciate all the team has to do to make sure we are doing all we need to do to support Soldiers."
During the ceremony, Baxter received the Legion of Merit, the St. Michael's Bronze Award from the Tennessee Valley Chapter of the Army Aviation Association of America, and the Order of Prometheus from the Pathfinder Chapter of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
"Thank you to the workforce," Baxter said. "It's incredible the things the workforce has done over the last three years."
Joking that retired Maj. Gen. Tim Crosby, the former PEO for aviation, and Marion have both called him an "unskilled laborer" in reference to his lack of an aviation background coming into the job with UAS, Baxter said he was, rather, a leader with "specialist skills."
"They both let me lead and that's what good leaders do. They let their subordinates lead," Baxter said.
Besides the accomplishments of the UAS Project Office team, Baxter is also proud of his softball team -- Unmanned & Unafraid -- and their two-year record of 25-4-2 in the MARS league at Redstone Arsenal and the PEO Aviation tournament. The team came in second during their first season and took the commander's cup the second season. Baxter's wife, Anne, was also on the team.
Both Baxter and Cote thanked their families for their support. Baxter and his wife have four daughters and one son, Robert, a former Army Ranger and now a student at Louisiana State University. Cote and his wife Shelly have one daughter.
But Baxter's last words as the commander of UAS were for Cote.
"You're the right guy for the job," he said. "I know you've been preparing yourself for this. You're not going to miss a beat. Your career has prepared you for this."