ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (November 28, 2017) -- The command sergeant major for the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command, or ATEC, bid farewell during separate retirement and change of responsibility ceremonies at ATEC headquarters Nov. 28.

Command Sgt. Maj. Andrew B. Connette relinquished responsibility to Command Sgt. Maj. Jon E. Helring during a ceremony presided over by ATEC commanding general, Maj. Gen. John W. Charlton.

Charlton passed the ATEC unit colors to its new senior enlisted advisor to signify the trust and confidence he had in Helring's ability to fully and faithfully execute the duties of his predecessor.

Charlton welcomed Helring's wife, Army Master Sgt. Sonya G. Helring, and their daughter Callie, to ATEC and Aberdeen Proving Ground. Sonya is a senior intelligence sergeant at Fort Meade.

Helring, a native of Killeen, Texas, served as commandant at the Noncommissioned Officer Academy at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, before assuming responsibility as ATEC's command sergeant major.

Following the passing of the colors, Charlton spoke highly of Connette's professionalism and expressed his gratitude for his service to his country and the ATEC family.

"CSM Connette is a battle-tested and proven leader who embodies the warrior ethos," Charlton said. "He takes great pride in what he does and displays professionalism in all aspects of his duties."

A native of Wilmington, North Carolina, Connette has been ATEC's senior enlisted advisor since June 2015. Prior to ATEC, Connette worked at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy in Fort Bliss, Texas, as a military history instructor for the Sergeants Major resident course.

At his retirement ceremony, Connette was surrounded by his wife of 13 years, Jules, and two of his four siblings, his brother Woody and his wife, Jane, from Charlotte, North Carolina, and Albert and his wife, Charlotte, from Charlottesville, Virginia.

Charlton thanked Connette for serving as a mentor to many of ATEC's finest Soldiers and most importantly, for being a leader who led by example.

"Andy saw his time here at ATEC as a chance to mentor and pass on the wisdom he has gained over the course of his career to the Army's next generation of great NCOs," Charlton said.

"He is a highly respected and well-regarded senior leader who has built up a well-deserved reputation over the years for being the epitome of a professional Soldier."

Charlton presented Connette with the Legion of Merit award for his exceptionally meritorious service during an Army career that spanned more than three decades and the ATEC Medallion in appreciation of his exceptional duty performance while serving as ATEC's command sergeant major.

For Connette, receiving his retirement flag symbolized the successful culmination of his Army career.

"Receiving this flag today means an awful lot to me," Connette said. "I've carried it on my shoulder to a lot of places and it feels like it's saying let's go home."

Connette's wife received a certificate of appreciation signed by the Army's chief of staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley, for the tremendous support she gave Connette throughout his 32-year Army career.

Charlton commended Jules for serving as a key member of the Army's Family Readiness Group and for her dedication to helping Army Families in any way she could.

"Jules, you are a rock star military wife, and I know Andy appreciates everything you have done for him and the Army community along the way," Charlton said.

Charlton also shared Jules' love for fishing, which had sealed the deal on their marriage, according to Connette.

Connette said he didn't realize how much Jules liked to fish until the day he fell overboard into the Atlantic Ocean while they were fishing 12 miles offshore. Connette, who wasn't wearing a life vest at the time, said he eventually managed to climb back into the boat -- on his own. Jules, who didn't know how to drive or operate the boat, had never let go of the fishing rod.

Charlton had only one question for Connette: Who caught the most fish?

Connette would only admit he's gone fishing more times than he's caught any, but said he credits his favorite de-motivational poster for helping him learn to enjoy doing the hobbies he doesn't do well.

Connette thanked his wife for sharing in his love of fishing, but most of all, for willingly picking up, moving and doing most of the packing and cleaning that came with every new assignment.

"My wonderful wife Jules, I've never had the right words to say to her," Connette said. "Throughout deployments, she's lived with the unknown and served as a beacon of strength for those around her."

"I couldn't be more proud of her."

ATEC's chief of staff, Karen Taylor, credited Connette for being one of the greatest leaders she'd had the privilege to work with.

"Andy is kind, tough, caring and most of all, humble," Taylor said. "He epitomizes the NCO Corp, always looks out for others and puts their needs above his own at all times."

"He will be greatly missed, but his legacy of caring for people and supporting the Army and ATEC missions will go on forever."

"I hope he gets time to relax and catch a lot of fish!" Taylor said.

Connette's retirement speech reflected on how his military career got started. He said he realized his life needed discipline and structure while he was in his first year of college. Connette said after he joined the Army in 1985, he gained the discipline he needed and the structure his life was missing, but he also discovered his life's purpose as well.

Connette said in addition to those things, and 50 pounds of muscle, he's also accumulated, received and acquired a host of other things he didn't have before either.

"I've got a wife, a couple of dogs and an email account; a lawn mower, silverware and a college degree," Connette said. "I've got ulcers and arthritis, but I've also made enduring and lifelong friends along the way."

Connette said he was humbled by the service and sacrifices of the thousands of wonderful people he had met over the years who are still alive today because of the exceptional men and women at ATEC who have dedicated themselves to the mission essential task of making sure warfighters have equipment that works.

"I can't tell you how honored I am by your presence, nor can I express how proud I am to have been on the same team with you," Connette said.

Friends and colleagues of Connette's shared that the Army is not just losing a valued Soldier, but also a trusted leader who's invaluable wisdom and breadth of knowledge will be sorely missed.

"We will lose a hardworking Soldier and a focused leader who always put himself where all leaders should -- at the point of friction," said Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher A. Prosser, command sergeant major for Yuma Proving Ground in Yuma, Arizona. "I will miss his candor and willingness to help out when and wherever he was needed."

In closing, Connette thanked God for seeing him through events he said most people wouldn't be able to comprehend and for sparing him to carry out the purpose he had for him.

Connette shared one last bit of wisdom for the road.

"There are no atheists in a foxhole," Connette said.

Connette and his wife plan to relocate to coastal North Carolina after retirement.