Maj. Gen. David J. Francis assumed command of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker from Maj. Gen. William K. Gayler during a ceremony on Fort Rucker's Howze Field June 17.

Ceremony host Lt. Gen. Michael D. Lundy, commanding general of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, Fort Leavenworth, Kan., said the event marked a special day.

"There's nobody who is more ready to take the reins than Dave Francis and Jodie," Lundy said. "Our branch is in great hands, and our Army will be in great hands."

Francis comes to Fort Rucker from his most recent assignment as the director, Army Aviation, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-3/5/7, Army Pentagon.

No stranger to USAACE and Fort Rucker, Francis held multiple positions here in the past. Most recently, he served as the commanding general of the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center/director of Army Safety. He served as the USAACE deputy commander when Lundy served as USAACE commanding general. He also previously served as a small group instructor for the Aviation Captain's Career Course here, and as battalion S3, 1st Battalion, 145th Aviation Regiment, in addition to having completed flight school training here.

His previous command and staff positions include the deputy commanding general (Support), 2nd Infantry Division (Combined), Eighth Army, Republic of Korea; commander of 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Div. (Light), Fort Drum, N.Y.; and as the chief of staff, Division Rear, 25th Infantry Div., Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. He commanded 2nd Bn., 25th Aviation Regt. (Task Force Diamond Head), and he served as the chief of the Joint Task Force Certification Branch, U.S. Pacific Command at Camp Smith, Hawaii.

Francis served as a battalion executive officer at 2-25th Aviation Regt., Wheeler Army Airfield, Hawaii; assault helicopter company trainer and S3 trainer at the U.S. Army National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif.; and assault helicopter platoon leader, battalion flight operations officer, battalion adjutant and assault helicopter company commander in 2nd Bn. (Assault), 82nd Aviation Bde., Fort Bragg, N.C. He also served as an assault helicopter platoon leader and Infantry liaison officer at 2nd Bn. (Assault), 2nd Infantry Div., Camp Stanley, Korea.

He deployed multiple times in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

His military awards and decorations include the Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster, Bronze Star Medal with two oak leaf clusters, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, and various other awards and decorations.

Francis said he was excited to be back at Fort Rucker, and thanked Lundy and Gayler for their leadership.

"It's an absolute honor to stand on the field with you two who have led this branch over the last five years and set the wheels in motion for the future of the branch and the future of our Army. It's been an honor to serve with you and we have big shoes to fill, a lot of work to be done--but you set that in motion," Francis said.

He thanked his wife and family members, former branch chiefs, and community leaders for their support.

"The partnership and the teamwork with the local communities here is evident by those of you in attendance--our mayors, our (Civilian Aides to the Secretary of the Army), our representatives in government. We appreciate everybody being here, and we look forward to continuing that partnership on behalf of our Soldiers and our families and the local communities," he said.

During the ceremony, Lundy lauded the Gaylers for being "great teammates," and for leading change during a time of transformation for the Army as it prepares for complex threats it has not faced in the past 17 years.

"As we look at what the National Defense Strategy lays out, having to be able to really focus on great power competition and great power conflict, that required us to make significant changes, and to continue to make changes, across our Army. I would tell you this branch, under (Maj. Gen.) Gayler's leadership, has led the way across our doctrine, organizational design, our training that we're doing here at the schoolhouse, as well as the materiel solutions we're pursuing--all those things that the proponent is responsible for," Lundy said. "I'm very proud of the work you have done here."

Developing Soldiers and leaders, the Army's true combat power, is integral to the Army's success.

"And that's what you've been focused on--developing Soldiers of character that are fully committed, masters of what they need to be able to do, and that's happened under your leadership. So Bill, I want to thank you and Michele. You've been absolutely phenomenal," Lundy said.

Gayler in his remarks thanked his family for their support, area leaders who create a "world class" community, and the staff members and Aviation professionals that made it the best job he has had in the Army.

"We ask a lot of you. In fact, every combatant commander continues to ask for more Aviation. You serve and you sacrifice and you deliver, time and time again, as the finest aviation force in the world. And I want to thank you and your families for what you've done and what you will do in the future," Gayler said. "You make us very proud."

Gayler's next assignment is the director, J-3 Operations/Cyber, U.S. Africa Command, Germany.