The U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence conducted a mission-focused town hall for USAACE Department of the Army civilians, with multiple sessions held onsite at the Seneff Building and virtually July 22-23.The goal was to provide employees an opportunity to hear from leaders about current priorities, and to be able to ask their questions. Three sessions accommodated a limited number of onsite attendees, socially distanced and wearing masks, and for additional employees to participate via MSTeams.Maj. Gen. David J. Francis, USAACE and Fort Rucker commanding general, opened the event by thanking civilian employees for their support to the USAACE mission.“The Warrant Officer 1’s that were checking everybody in today--they all start the Black Hawk course on Monday. That is why we are here,” Francis said. “We are producing future army aviators for our nation, and each and every one of you have an important role in that, whether you work out on the flight line, at Building 5700, the hospital, our any of our tenant units on post. All of you are critical to that effort.”Francis acknowledged the unprecedented challenges facing the nation, including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.“I can tell you as the branch chief I never thought I’d become an epidemiologist—and I’m not--but here we are. And so we’re all facing this together,” he said. “I could not be more proud of how this community has continued the fight despite the COVID conditions. We have continued to train army aviators for our Army in the active component, National Guard and Reserves. Each and every one of you are key to that being successful and safe.”More than 1,100 DA civilians at USAACE contribute to the Army’s readiness by supporting the training mission during what Francis described as a “critical time” for the Nation.“The Army does not get a break in terms of deployments, in terms of our requirements around the world," Francis said. "Therefore it’s absolutely vital that we continue to safely execute our mission here at Fort Rucker, and we couldn’t do that without all of you."“Our ability to continue to produce our lieutenants, warrant officers and certainly captains in the Captains Career Course, all the way up through our Pre-Command Course is absolutely vital to our Army and our readiness right now,” he said.The USAACE’s complex mission set is multifaceted: to train, educate and develop agile and adaptive Army Aviation leaders; to manage the Aviation Enterprise; and to integrate Aviation capabilities and requirements across the warfighting functions to enable commanders and Soldiers on the ground to fight and win.Francis’ vision for the branch is a professional, modernized force that can do combined arms maneuver to support the ground force commander to compete and win in Large Scale Combat Operations.As the Army shifts its focus from approximately 20 years of counterinsurgency operations to large scale combat operations against potential peer threats, the one constant is change.“For all of you who served or are currently serving and you’re watching this transition occur, there are some pretty monumental things that we have to do. One of the biggest things is we have to get the force right,” Francis said.Issues facing the Aviation branch and the Center include a shortage of aviators that necessitated a ramp-up in training throughput at Fort Rucker and the need for more aircraft and instructor pilots. Fort Rucker received a plus-up in funding last year that allowed an increase in maintenance capability on the flight line, so the post has “better aircraft availability now than we’ve ever had,” Francis said.The branch is also addressing retention challenges particularly among Aviation warrant officers.“We just got the first flight pay incentive increase that we’ve had in 20 years, which started on January 1,” he said.Modernization remains a priority as the Army presses toward a Multi-Domain Operations capable force in 2028 and the branch makes strides toward Future Vertical Lift. However, Francis prioritized a focus on people, and leader development as “the most important thing we do.”“If I give the same piece of equipment to us versus any other nation, we’re going to win, and it isn’t because of the equipment, it’s because of our people. It’s because we have better leaders, better commanders, better NCOs, better Warrant Officers than any other force on our planet,” Francis said.The Army’s future leaders must train now for a different fight that will be very austere, violent, and complex.“We want to set the conditions for that in our aviation fleet, our UAS fleet, our maintainers across the board, to prepare our Army for large scale combat operations.”In a standards-based Army that lives by seven core Army Values, a key component of the Army’s strength is diversity.“We can take people from the widest array of backgrounds you can imagine, come together as a team to accomplish a mission. The Army does this better than any other institution in our nation. That we can do that with the scale, and effectiveness with which we do it, it’s incredible,” Francis said.Participant questions touched on a variety of topics, including talent management and future professional development opportunities.Going forward, civilian career programs will be more centrally managed, which means civilian functional-level training will be funded, according to William G. Kidd, deputy to the commanding general at USAACE.Because of COVID-19, civilian training may be online or a blend of online and resident.The Army’s People Strategy focuses on civilian workers as well as military, including “functional training and development for a lifetime of service with the department,” Kidd said.The Army looks to focus more on developmental assignment opportunities in the future, “short-term assignments that would give Army civilians experience and develop some skills you might need in your job or a future job, as well as (to determine) whether you would like to work in that functional area over time,” Kidd said.“I’d like you to sign up for them, and we’d like to sponsor you if you’d like to go to Command and General Staff College or one of the other developmental programs,” he said. “We’re going to work extra hard here at Fort Rucker to ensure all of you have opportunity to move up in your career or at least help you be effective in your job right now."Participant questions included a concern about wearing of masks and conducting training in the summer heat, with temperatures above 95 degrees and a heat index that has reached 110 degrees in lower Alabama.Francis said it’s understandable if people need to take a quick break from the mask now and then in the heat, but the COVID-19 measures are working and the safety of the workforce is his priority. The Center continues to work to acquire more maxillofacial shields for flight school students as more of those become available.Multiple participants asked about the potential for telework in the future beyond COVID-19, a matter the command is looking into, Francis said.