By Sofia Bledsoe, Program Executive Office for AviationJune 30, 2015
REDSTONE ARSENAL -- There was no pomp or circumstance at this ceremony. Just a simple and small gathering of colleagues and friends from the Armed Scout Helicopter Project Office, the Program Executive Office for Aviation, and some members of the Redstone-Huntsville community.
The focus of the Armed Scout Helicopter change of responsibility ceremony, in which Col. James Kennedy relinquished responsibility to his deputy Jimmy Downs on June 18, was about what makes up ASH Project Office -- its people.
For the past year and a half since Kennedy assumed responsibility in December 2013, the ASH Project Office has been charged with divesting the Army's entire fleet of 737 scout and training aircraft under the Aviation Restructure Initiative.
Despite the "right sizing" activities within the office, ASH Project Office has continued to provide world class support to the enduring missions of the war fighter and the aviation training base. The office has had to assume the heavy lifting of continuing to support war fighters at home and in forward deployed areas around the world with Kiowa Warrior units deployed in Afghanistan and Korea.
In the midst of the divestiture, the office has also had to weather the challenges of an ever evolving workforce as colleagues departed for other programs while those that remained picked up the workload.
"This organization is so deserving of recognition for all the work that it has continued to do over the period of time during ARI," Brig. Gen. Bob Marion, program executive officer for aviation, said. Just two years ago, he said, one of the Army's biggest concerns in executing ARI was the divestment piece.
"This team has done so well and the divestment is going so smoothly that it is almost going below the radar. You don't hear people talking about it inside the building (the Pentagon) as being the dramatic piece of the Aviation Restructure Initiative, so that is a real testament to how well you are executing this mission," Marion said.
For more than 30 years, the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior has directly supported the ground commander, providing intelligence critical to defining and controlling the battlefield. KW units find, fix, report, engage and destroy enemy forces with direct and indirect fire capability while routinely maintaining the highest operational tempo of any Army rotary-wing asset.
In 2013, as it became clear that ongoing sustainment of aviation modernization programs, force levels, and training across all three components was not supportable, the Army began re-evaluating the aviation strategy, and ultimately developed the Aviation Restructure Initiative. Under ARI, divesting the OH-58 fleet and canceling OH-58D KW upgrade and fleet replenishment programs would enable re-purposing of funding to support other Army priorities.
Despite the mission change, limited funding and with no divestment blueprint to follow, in addition to a shrinking workforce, ASH Project Office continued to function with the same cavalry spirit symbolized by the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior and internalized by the U.S. cavalry trooper.
During the ceremony, a slide show was shown depicting ASH Project Office's divestment timeline and many photos of its employees celebrating the holidays and fellowship. Evident was the esprit de corps, pride in the organization, professionalism and unwavering support to the war fighter.
In keeping with the theme and tone of the ceremony, the ASH Project Office recognized those who exceeded expectations in performance.
Hal Ridley, Ron Beach, Jack McRoberts, Jeff Lang and Gil Mesecher -- ASH divestment team -- received a Certificate of Appreciation from the 3rd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, recognizing the team's professionalism and support to the war fighter that contributed to the overall success of the squadron's divestment.
Gloria Aubuchon, ASH budget analyst, was recognized by Marion with the PEO Aviation coin for her exceptional and dedicated performance. During a period of significant personnel losses within the budget branch, Aubuchon provided the stability in the office, properly managing and executing funds and ensuring no gaps were created.
"Execution of the budget in that position is as close to a zero defect environment as possible especially today," Marion said.
Aubuchon researched, formulated and compiled all the necessary data and information required to support the PEO's midyear review of research development test and evaluation, procurement, and operation and maintenance accounts. Her analyses of financial database records provided accurate details of the Kiowa Warrior program obligations and disbursements for PEO review and subsequent action. She identified current and future excess program funding for return to PEO or the Army Budget Office for re-prioritization to other programs.
Kennedy thanked the workforce and senior leadership, also citing then Maj. Gen. Tim Crosby, former PEO for aviation, for having the confidence to put Kennedy in the position.
"I came in with my eyes wide open," Kennedy said. "It has truly been one of the more enjoyable jobs and all because of the people I work with." He credited the team for learning to accept the uncertain challenges and meeting them head on, accomplishing tasks and the mission, often ahead of schedule.
"I've never had an office that was asked to do so much with so little. You guys really are the ones that deserve the respect. Every time we needed the next person to take the job, you stood up and accepted the mission and continued without the office missing the beat," Kennedy said.
The OH-58D Kiowa Warrior divestment began in May 2014 with the 6-17 Cavalry Squadron KW fleet at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, followed by divestment out of the Army Aviation Center of Excellence later that fall. The 2-6 CAV, Wheeler Army Air Field, Hawaii, and the 7-17 and 2-17 CAV Squadrons, Fort Campbell, Kentucky, turned in their Kiowa Warriors in the late winter and early spring of 2015.
"Today is not a sad day, but just a closing of another chapter in the life of this office," Kennedy said. "Even without a colonel coming in behind me, it doesn't diminish the importance of the job and this mission. We can all count ourselves as having been blessed by our experiences in one way or another. You've performed in a way that is beyond reproach. I am so very proud of all of you."
Kennedy assured the workforce that out of these changes "are going to come a lot of good" including opportunities to apply lessons learned to make the Army better.
He thanked Jimmy Downs for being the foundation and continuity, and for always keeping the focus on supporting the war fighter. "I would have you as my deputy any day," Kennedy said.
Emphasizing the impact of PM leadership, Downs noted that during the period of having to say goodbye to more than 180 people over the last 14 months, "you always made the selfless service of making sure each person had a place to go and was properly recognized for their contributions to our mission," Downs said of Kennedy. "You are truly an inspiration, and I certainly look forward to continue working with you."
"I'm truly honored and humbled for this opportunity to lead a fantastic team of military, civilian and contractors," Downs continued. "You continue to deliver world class capabilities for the defense of our nation with the 'can-do' spirit of the U.S. cavalry to remain out front."
Divestment of the KWs will continue through the end 2017, when the last OH-58D Kiowa Warrior is scheduled to leave the Army inventory. Until then, the remaining KW units will support and sustain current operations and maintain readiness for emerging and future contingencies.