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Maj. Gen David J. Francis, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, leads local and Department of Defense Education Activity officials in the ribbon cutting on the new Ellis D. Parker Elementary School during a ceremony Sept. 29. Pictured are Francis; Judy Clair Matthews Parker, spouse of the school’s namesake; Dr. Vicki Gilmer, school principal; Dr. Christy Huddleston, Dr. Judith Minor, Dr. Lisa Coleman and Thomas Brady from DODEA; and Col. Whitney B. Gardner, Fort Rucker garrison commander. Fort Rucker students are scheduled to physically start going to the school Oct. 1. (Photo Credit: Jim Hughes) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Fort Rucker officially opened its new elementary school during a ribbon-cutting ceremony that featured five generations of the family of its namesake in attendance Sept. 29.

Ellis D. Parker Elementary School is named to honor the late retired lieutenant general who is remembered by many as the godfather of Army Aviation, according to event host Maj. Gen. David J. Francis, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general.

“We’re honored to have the five generations of the Parker family here today – a true testament to the incredible dedication, love of family and selfless service of lieutenant general and Mrs. Parker,” Francis said during the ceremony.

“Today marks a great step forward in our continuing efforts to provide world-class education for our military families and children,” the general continued. “We’re proud to partner with the Department of Defense Education Activity and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide a high-quality, state-of-the-art institution and education facility here on Fort Rucker.”

The former Fort Rucker Elementary School opened at the same spot in 1963, Francis added.

“At the time of its opening, I’m sure it was a state-of-the-art, modern facility that provided top-notch education,” he said. “But 57 years is a long time, and over time much has changed in how we educate and prepare students for success.”

For decades, Fort Rucker operated two schools on Fort Rucker, a primary school and an elementary school, and then for the past three years the elementary school operated out of a temporary facility while Parker Elementary was being built, Francis said.

“With the opening of Parker Elementary School, all Fort Rucker students in pre-kindergarten to sixth grade will be in one outstanding facility,” he said. “This will simplify transportation, and improve safety for families and children. This new elementary school is not simply a nice-to-have, but absolutely a necessity for Fort Rucker’s primary students and their teachers.”

The general added that cutting the ribbon was a symbolically small act that provides “a modern 21st century education environment designed specifically to enhance learning, collaboration, exploration and higher-order thinking skills.”

He added that when deciding who to name the school after, there was really only one choice.

“No one individual had a greater impact on the establishment, evolution and wellbeing of the Army Aviation Branch,” Francis said. “After retirement, the Parkers settled in Enterprise and he continued his amazing service to Fort Rucker and the Wiregrass community for over 25 years. This is truly an amazing opportunity to honor a man who had such a positive influence on the Army, the Aviation Branch and the Soldiers and families of Fort Rucker.”

The school principal, Dr. Vicki Gilmer, agreed that the naming deserved an A+.

“Many wonderful families have come through Fort Rucker and many have come through Fort Rucker multiple times,” she said at the ceremony. “The Parker family is one of those families. For decades, this wonderful family has made contributions to the US military and so many of those contributions are tied to this community. Today we recognize excellence in our DODEA schools, the organization that proudly serves the families that serve, the Parker family represents the great connection between a family who served and an extraordinary school system that has the privilege to serve them.

“DODEA has a rich tradition in providing excellence in education,” Gilmer continued. “The DODEA mission is to educate, engage and empower military-connected students to succeed in a dynamic world. So, as we stand in front of this beautiful, remarkable 21st century school, we see clearly the dedication DODEA has in providing top-notch education to our military families. We are so proud to serve the families of this highly acclaimed Army installation.”

One of the Parkers in attendance spoke at the ceremony, retired Col. David Parker, the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center chief of staff, and said his father would be proud to have the school named after him.

“Words cannot express the gratitude the Parkers feel today,” he said. “Those of you who knew my father knew his passion he had for Fort Rucker and Army Aviation. He bled blue for Army Aviation and this post.

“I cannot think of a more meaningful tribute to not only my father, but also to all of those aviators and families whose careers he championed, than having his name on this magnificent facility,” Parker said. “I’m confident their spirit will carry on in the small souls that will soon walk through these doors. I am truly grateful, honored and humbled that our father will forever be a part of Fort Rucker and Aviation history.”

Parker added that he likes the mascot name, as well. “I never claimed to be a New England Patriots fan, but now I can proudly say. ‘Go Patriots!’”

Another person happy to see the school’s opening was Col. Whitney B. Gardner, Fort Rucker garrison commander.

“It’s an honor to be here in the presence of so many of you who were directly or indirectly involved in the idea of this new facility and had such a major part in its creation – it is magnificent,” the colonel said. “Even those of us in green who arrived here in its final stages, we share your intense pride and look forward to an even stronger partnership in the future.”

The head of one of those partners, Thomas Brady, DODEA director, also spoke at the event.

“This building – the general talked about 21st century teaching and learning and how it is going to be different and not how it used to be – when you go into it you’ll see it, we’re neighborhoods, the wonderful teachers and staff have been professionally developed to have small group instruction,” Brady said. “It’s just totally different than when old people like me went.

“It’s a wonderful educational facility in a very strange time (COVID-19 pandemic), and we need our children safely back in school,” he said, adding his appreciation “for the remarkable command relationships” with USAACE and Fort Rucker leadership. “We couldn’t do it without them. We thank you for that support. This school has a great staff – they are prepared and excited, and it will be safe.

The event was to feature a performance by the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team, but the planned jump was called off because of in-climate weather. However, a flyover by UH-72 Lakota, UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters did take place.

Students are expected to begin attending school in person Oct. 1.