By Jim Hughes, Fort Rucker Public AffairsJuly 2, 2019
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- The U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory welcomed its new commander July 1, also the organization's 57th birthday, during a change of command ceremony at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum.
Col. Mark K. McPherson assumed command of the unit from Col. Jonathan Craig Taylor as he accepted the unit colors from Maj. Gen. Barbara R. Holcomb, commanding general of the Medical Research and Development Command at Fort Detrick, Maryland.
McPherson is the perfect leader to head up USAARL's efforts to live up to its "Forge the Future" motto, Holcomb said.
"I'd like to officially welcome Colonel McPherson back to Fort Rucker," Holcomb said, adding that he recently served as action officer for general officer readiness, executive health and senior leader sustainment at the Office of the Surgeon General, and he still serves as the consultant to the surgeon general for aerospace medicine.
"However, prior to this, he's performed almost every position at Fort Rucker that a flight surgeon could possibly do," she said. "I know Mark considers these grounds his home, so welcome home.
"Aerospace medicine is Mark's passion, and, as a doctor in this field, his career focus is purely on flying and aviation in space," Holcomb added. "Mark is known as an excellent team builder, and he has a proven track record of leaving an organization in better shape than it was in when he found it. He thinks strategically and he successfully moves units towards their mission objectives, but he is still agile enough to change as the Army and Army Medicine changes. He also has a gift for bringing disparate stakeholders together to form teams with a shared vision and goal."
The general added that she knows McPherson will lead USAARL well over the next few years and continue the unit's success.
"I'm so proud of the USAARL service members, civilians and contractors, and how hard you've worked to accomplish USAARL's mission," Holcomb said. "Your agility and your flexibility to change and to stay relevant is tremendous, and I really do want to say a special thank you to all of the team members for USAARL. With Colonel McPherson's experience and passion, you will remain an unstoppable team."
McPherson said he is excited to return to the home of Army Aviation and to assume leadership over USAARL, which was established by his hero, Maj. Gen. Spurgeon Neel, a pioneer in aerospace medicine.
"It's a great honor to be returning to Army Aviation amongst so many of my close mentors, friends and colleagues," the new commander said. "I'm literally overwhelmed at the embrace of the Army Aviation community, and I'm humbled to once again serve alongside the great men and women of Army Aviation and Army Medicine.
"Maj. Gen. David J. Francis (U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general) met with Colonel Taylor and I last week, and he firmly reminded us that we are in a period of great power competition," he added. "He noted that what our scientists do or fail to do will echo in the future as we face our enemies in the coming multi-domain fights. No pressure.
"It is time for us to produce what aerospace medicine does best: relevant, practical solutions focused on real-world aviation problems," McPherson said. "We must seize the opportunities that we have right now to Forge the Future. There is no more operationally relevant medical lab in the U.S. Army, and it is a great honor to lead its scientists and Soldiers as we deliver the science our warfighters need to face our nation's growing competitors."
Taylor will move on from USAARL to become the U.S. Army Africa surgeon at USAG Stuttgart, Germany, according to Holcomb, who also offered praise for Taylor and his efforts in navigating USAARL during a period of "immense change."
"As Craig came into the command, the timing was perfect because that was when the start of the cross-functional teams occurred, including the one for Future Vertical Lift," she said. "As the only rotary wing aeromedical lab in the DOD and truly across the world, he knew from the start how USAARL could support the Army's cross-functional teams and modernization priorities, especially with regards to FVL."
Taylor implemented new strategies to transform the laboratory's internal and external operations, Holcomb added, and "instead of being reactive to challenges, he remained patient and proactive, which is one of the hallmarks of a great leader.
"Looking back, it's evident how Craig's vision paid off. His steps pivoted the lab towards the Army's modernization strategy, and placed USAARL in a position to remain viable and relevant across the Army and the Department of Defense," she said.
Taylor, during his final speech to the USAARL team, brought up a catchphrase he said he used often during time as commander: "all of us together."
"To the team at USAARL, thank you for the extraordinary chapter that we wrote together," he said. "You demonstrate each day the extraordinary contribution you make to science, to the Aviator, to the warfighter -- you're a critical part in ensuring America's sons and daughters have an unfair advantage in all that they do in training and in conflict.
"It's an incredible team of teams that we have here at Fort Rucker," Taylor added. "It's only when it's all of us together that we can achieve the impossible, shape the future and secure the American dream that we need to for the next generation. So, let us begin the next chapter with Col. Mark McPherson at the helm of USAARL. He and I have been brothers for many years, and I know he is the right leader for this next chapter. All of us together."