By Mitch Meador, Fort Sill TribuneMay 9, 2019
FORT SILL, Okla. (May 9, 2019) -- Col. Mark Holler has stepped into the role of commandant for the Air Defense Artillery (ADA) School and chief of the ADA branch following a change of responsibility ceremony here May 3.
In his last assignment Holler was the Fires representative on the Department of the Army Headquarters staff. He graduated from the University of North Florida in 1992 as an ROTC Distinguished Military Graduate and was commissioned into the ADA Corps.
The former ADA School commandant, Brig. Gen. Brian Gibson, now becomes director of the Air and Missile Defense Cross-Functional Team (CFT), which is part of the newly established Army Futures Command.
As officiating officer for the ceremony, Maj. Gen. Wilson A. Shoffner, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill commanding general, said the transfer of responsibility is very significant for the branch and the rest of the Fires community.
"Under Brian's leadership in the past roughly 12 months there have been some significant institutional changes under way for the air defense artillery," Shoffner noted. "The commandant wears many hats. He's in charge of leadership, training, education, all aspects of leader development. He's also the personnel proponent, so he's in charge of assignments and talent management for the entire branch."
Since Shoffner's background is not in air defense, he asked Gibson to do one other thing; namely, to advise him on force modernization. Shoffner praised Gibson and Brig. Gen. Randy McIntire, the outgoing director of the Air and Missile Defense CFT, for doing that "remarkably."
"Between the two of them, I always felt like I was on really solid ground" in advising senior leaders on the right thing to do for the ADA branch and air and missile defense going forward, the CG said. Of the latter, Shoffner said, "It truly is rocket science, and missile science, and all of that. So I am awed and inspired by all that Brian has done in the past year."
Shoffner credited Gibson with working really hard on perhaps the largest institutional change in the air and missile defense community in the last 20 years -- bringing back short-range air and missile defense (SHORAD) to the Army.
"One of the things he's done that may seem fairly simple but really wasn't, was gaining the authority to fire our short-range air defense vehicle, the Avenger, here on Fort Sill. We couldn't do that before, which meant our Avenger units, our short-range air defense units that were here and the Soldiers who were undergoing that training, couldn't really train on that system. They can do that, on Fort Sill, live," Shoffner said.
Other changes include increased rigor in all aspects of training at the ADA school, he added.
Shoffner said the incoming commandant was a key person in his life as he was taking his current job here. He admitted being nonplussed when, during their initial meeting in Holler's office, Holler unexpectedly stood up and walked out of the room while Shoffner was in mid-sentence. It turned out Holler had the best excuse in the world -- he'd gotten a call from the Secretary of the Army, who urgently wanted something at that very moment.
Holler took it upon himself to become subject-matter expert for air and missile defense and anything having to do with Fires for the Army at a level "that vastly exceeded his pay grade and had a level of influence that cannot be overstated. Because of that, it's part of why we are in good shape with the Department of the Army going forward on Fires," Shoffner said.
Gibson offered his thanks to the crowd for allowing the schoolhouse to do what mattered for the Army and its Soldiers, and to his family members for their support.
"For the commandant's staff, you are a squad of people, but you punch above your weight. And keep punching, because this branch and our Army need you to do what you do on a daily basis," Gibson said.
Holler said it's a blessing to him to become the 43rd commandant of the ADA School and chief of the branch. He added that he looks forward to working with Gibson in his new role as director of the Air and Missile Defense CFT and he's happy to be part of moving that into the future.
After the ceremony, Holler said it means a lot to be commandant of the school that provides junior ADA officers their education.
"The Army's a people business, and this is definitely a job where we'll be able to train, educate, and develop Soldiers and leaders in our branch. It's an important time for our branch, as we're growing both capability and capacity to meet future threats. I'm very excited to be here and be part of that growth," Holler said.
Live fires of the Avenger weapon system and its M3P .50-caliber machine gun are already happening at Fort Sill, and that fires enthusiasm among trainees, he noted.
"Absolutely. Any time that you can put live rounds on steel, that's a great opportunity for Soldiers to understand the capability of their weapon systems," Holler said.
"Maneuver Stinger" is a program that's been going on for about two years, and it's reintroducing SHORAD to Army brigade combat teams by bringing infantry, cavalry, and maneuver Soldiers here to show them how to use the Stinger weapon system.
"It's a very exciting time, and I'm happy to be here in Oklahoma, and I'm just loving the Lawton area," Holler said.