FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Fort Rucker welcomed its new garrison commander during a change of command ceremony June 17 in the U.S. Army Aviation Museum.
Col. Robert J. Holcombe assumed command of the garrison from Col. Whitney B. Gardner when he accepted the unit colors from Vincent E. Grewatz, director of Installation Management Command – Training, who hosted the event.
Holcombe, an aviator, said he and his family are excited to be back at Fort Rucker, and he feels he’s set up for success thanks to Gardner’s efforts the past two years.
“Whitney, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the welcome you gave to us,” the new commander said. “Every time I meet a new director, or go to a new office or agency, I keep thinking to myself, ‘OK, here is where the problem is … or maybe this one,’ and it just doesn’t ever happen. You’ve built a team here that is exceptional. Clearly, I have big shoes to fill.”
The new commander added that he is honored by his new assignment.
“It’s a sacred duty to be given the opportunity to lead our Soldiers – the sons and daughters of our nation,” Holcombe said. “I’m doubly blessed, and this garrison is doubly blessed, to be able to take care of our families, our community and our dedicated civilians. Major General Francis (Maj. Gen. David J. Francis, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general), thank you so much for your confidence to trust me with that duty, and I will do my best to honor that confidence. Thank you to my wife and daughter for being with me every step of the way and being so enthusiastic about this new adventure. I’m happy to be here.”
The Holcombe family brings to IMCOM “a track record of excellence and a clear passion for mission, people and families,” Grewatz said at the ceremony. “I can’t think of a better couple to lead the garrison as we move forward. His record for excellence and leadership speaks for itself.
“Rob, hold fast to all of those tactical and operational skills that you’ve honed over a career of excellence – one day you’ll need them again,” he added. “Welcome to Installation Management Command. I’m confident that you will lead this organization with pride and distinction, and will successfully meet all of the new challenges you will face while elevating this garrison to new levels of innovation and performance.”
Grewatz also spoke about Gardner and his accomplishments while commanding the garrison, saying the colonel and his team performed admirably.
“They postured the garrison for continued success – we’re fortunate that Fort Rucker is one of the best garrison teams in all of IMCOM,” Grewatz said. “They advanced efficiencies, responsiveness and innovation by driving change, and posturing the installation for success for today and in the future.
“This leadership team masterfully managed garrison resources during a time of enduring and emerging requirements that optimized base operations support,” he added. “Whitney postured a positive command climate consistent with mission first, people always. He was a hands-on leader – he led by example and he built a cohesive team, which is the aim of our service culture campaign at IMCOM, and made it better at Fort Rucker.”
Maj. Gen. David J. Francis, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, complimented Gardner on his work during the pandemic where the colonel and his team worked tirelessly to protect the Soldiers, families and employees of the post while continuing to support ongoing training operations.
“As you drive through the gates of Fort Rucker, what the security guards are going to tell you is, ‘Welcome home.’ When you enter this installation that’s where you are – you’re home,” he said. “Fort Rucker is the home of Army Aviation, and Colonel Gardner has led this installation, our home, with distinction for the past two years, ensuring that people remain our No. 1 priority.
“When Whitney took command two years ago, nobody could’ve imagined the challenges that he would face as the garrison commander, but Whitney and his team were absolutely up to the challenge – we didn’t miss a beat on training the world’s best aviators,” Francis added.
The general also spoke about Gardner’s success in strengthening positive relationships with surrounding Wiregrass communities and developing his workforce.
“Whitney and Melissa, thank you for your leadership to this installation, our home, and throughout this great community, and also for maintaining Fort Rucker as a great place to live, train, play and pray,” Francis said. “We’re excited for you and Melissa as you take on the challenges as USAACE chief of staff.”
Gardner thanked garrison employees, the garrison command team and USAACE leadership, along with on- and off-post partners who helped make his time as commander a success.
“They never fail our Soldiers, they never fail our families,” he said. “Our partners, our volunteers, local community leaders and sponsors give us the ability to punch above our weight and deliver services beyond what a small garrison should be expected to do.”
Gardner also mentioned that when he stood at the same podium two years ago, he said he would act on three simple basic actions: always do no harm, always do as much good as he could, and adhere to the regulations, policies, directives and senior guidance that exists to support those who call Fort Rucker home.
“I am confident that we met those initially broad expectations and, despite a lot of challenges along the way, we improved those processes,” he said. “We got stronger and more efficient as a team to better serve USAACE and our community, and we had a lot of fun.”
Gardner also welcomed the new garrison commander.
“I’m leaving you the best garrison, the best garrison workforce, and most definitely the best command group and team of directors,” he said. “We are grateful to have you. You will make this garrison truly Above the Best.”