Col. Stephen Aiton’s time with the Army and the Soldier Support Institute formally ended with the traditional passing of the unit colors and his reception of his retirement certificate May 6.
Aiton, who had spent the past five years as SSI commander, passed the colors to Maj. Gen. Mark T. Simerly, commander of the Command Arms Support Command, during a ceremony on Fort Jackson’s Darby Field. Col. Cort Jackson Hunt became interim SSI commander during the same ceremony.
Passing of the organization colors is ritual rich in tradition that signifies the transfer of responsibility for the unit.
“We conduct both the (SSI) and relinquishment of command ceremony the retirement” of Aiton, Simerly said during the ceremony attended by many leaders including Brig. Gen. Patrick R. Michaelis, Fort Jackson commander and Post Command Sgt. Maj. Philson Tavernier. “We celebrate him and his Family for their outstanding contributions during their 32 years of service.”
Aiton’s career spanned multiple commands at 11 duty stations, three combat deployments and culminated as the leader of an organization responsible for training Soldiers at the Finance and Comptrollers, Adjutant General, and interservice postal schools. SSI also encompasses a Noncommissioned Officers Academy, the Army School of Music and the 369th Adjutant General Battalion.
He was the Fort Knox, Kentucky garrison commander prior to taking SSI’s reins in 2017. Other positions of leadership he held weas Chief of J1 Personnel Division with U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida; and G1 of the 3rd Infantry Division in Fort Stewart, Georgia.
Simerly lauded SSI’s success as the result of Aiton’s leadership when he said, “we know that a team’s success is a reflection of his intelligence, character, diligence, but also the strength derived from a wonderful Family.”
Aiton said there were numerous challenges he faced during his five years at Fort Jackson including “a challenge none of us could have foreseen in early 2020 as rumors of a new virus evolved into the global COVID-19 pandemic.” SSI operated in the pandemic to various degrees.
“While large portions of the world literally stopped, I am incredibly proud that this team never did,” Aiton added. “We couldn’t because the Army’s readiness depended on the officers, warrant officers and (noncommissioned officers), and Soldiers” trained and sent out to the ranks.
“Time doesn’t allow me to give individual thanks and due you justice,” he said to the Soldiers standing in formation before him. “You are true professionals, and I am privileged to have been on this team.”
Simerly gave Aiton his retirement certificate and the Legion of Merit for his service later in the same ceremony. Aiton would receive his retirement flag from his son Capt. Matthew Aiton, who was handed the flag by his brother Cadet Ryan Aiton from the Citadel.
At the end of the ceremony, Aiton and his wife Becky stood before the unit one last time.