Naming the new elementary school on Fort Rucker in honor of the man called the “Godfather of Army Aviation” was never in question.
That fact was stressed by all who addressed the in-person and on-line attendees at the official ribbon cutting ceremony for the Ellis D. Parker Elementary School Sept. 29.
The audience physically present at the ceremony held in front of the 175,000 square foot kindergarten through sixth grade school was limited due to COVID-19 social distancing mandates but the event was Facebook Live streamed for family, friends and supporters attending virtually.
The new school replaces the two Department of Defense Education Activity elementary schools on post built in 1963. “At the time of its opening I’m sure it was a state-of-the-art, modern facility that provided top-notch education,” said United States Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker Commanding General Maj. Gen. David J. Francis. “But 57 years is a long time and over time much has changed in how we educate and prepare students for success.
“Today marks a great step forward in our continuing efforts to provide world-class education for our military families and children,” Francis said. “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.
“With the opening of Ellis D. Parker Elementary School, all pre-kindergarten to sixth grade students will be in one outstanding facility which will simplify transportation and improve safety for families and children,” Francis added. “This new elementary school is not simply a nice-to-have, but absolutely a necessity for Fort Rucker’s primary school students and their teachers.
“As we were considering who to name this remarkable facility after there was truly only one choice,” Francis said, citing the late Lt. Gen. Ellis D. Parker known to many as the Godfather of Army Aviation.
A native of Sadlersville, Tenn., Parker graduated from Field Artillery Officer Candidate School as a distinguished honor graduate and was commissioned as an Army second lieutenant in 1957.
Parker graduated from Army Primary Flight Training in 1958. In September 1969, he attended rotary wing qualification training, after which he returned to Vietnam as a company commander, flying the Bell UH-1B and H Iroquois gunship and airlift helicopters.
In March 1981, Parker was selected as Requirements and Army Aviation Officer Deputy Director, Headquarters Department of the Army. It was under his watch that Army Aviation officially because a branch on April 12, 1983. Parker was chosen Commanding General of the Aviation Center.
Parker retired from the Army in 1992 with more than 5,000 flying hours. He was inducted into the Army Field Artillery Hall of Fame in 1982 and the Army Aviation Hall of Fame in 1995.
Parker was temporarily brought back to active duty to chair the Army Retiree Council and the Department of Defense Retiree Council.
Parker and his wife, Judy Claire Matthews Parker, retired in Enterprise where he continued to serve as a leader in the Fort Rucker and Wiregrass community for nearly three decades. He held numerous positions to include an appointment by the Governor of Alabama to serve on the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission and the Alabama Hall of Honor Board. He served on the Army Aviation Museum Foundation Executive Committee and the Army Aviation Museum Hall of Fame Board of Directors.
Parker died on March 26 of this year.
Francis said that when he and his wife first came to Fort Rucker 31 years ago when he was a second lieutenant, Parker was one month from giving up a five-year command as Aviation Branch Chief. “In our second lieutenant eyes, he loomed larger than life and has continued to do so,” Francis said. “And having the privilege of having met Gen. Parker, I can tell you that he was larger than life and every bit as gregarious and passionate about Fort Rucker in his retirement as he was when he was on active duty.
“No one individual had a greater impact on the establishment, evolution and wellbeing of the Army Aviation Branch,” Francis added.
Francis called naming the school after Parker, “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.”
Ellis D. Parker Elementary School Principal Dr. Vicki Gilmer agreed. “Many wonderful families have come through Fort Rucker and many have come through multiple times,” she said. “The Parker family is one of those families. For decades, this wonderful family has made contributions to the United States 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,” Gilmer added. “The Parker family represents the great connection between a family who served and an extraordinary school system that has the privilege to serve them.”
“There really is no one who comes to mind that has had more of an impact on the development, growth and health of the Army Aviation Branch,” said Fort Rucker Garrison Commander Col. Whitney Gardner about Parker. “Then, on top of that, he retired here and committed over 20 years of his life to Fort Rucker, Enterprise and the Wiregrass community. Naming the school after him is an amazing opportunity to honor him and his family for all they’ve given to our communities.”
The Parker’s sons, Donald S. Parker, retired Col. Phillip R. Parker and retired Col. David Parker, had attended the old elementary school on Fort Rucker as did three of their children.
David Parker is currently the chief of staff for the United States Army Combat Readiness Center at Fort Rucker: He noted that five generations of Parkers were in attendance at the ceremony, some physically and some virtually. “Thank you for bestowing this wonderful and humbling honor on my family for my dad’s legacy,” he said. “I know without a doubt that he would be so proud to be remembered in this way.
“Words cannot express the gratitude the Parkers feel today,” he added. “Those of you who knew my father know the passion that he had for Fort Rucker and for Army Aviation. I am truly grateful, honored and humbled that our father will forever be a part of Fort Rucker and aviation history.”
A performance by the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team planned to precede the ribbon cutting was called off due to weather conditions but a flyover by UH-72 Lakota, UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters did take place.
“Each time I have the privilege of seeing a military display, I become overwhelmed with emotions,” said Dr. Lisa B. Coleman, DoDEA Community Superintendent. “Today’s display only reminds me of the commitment and the sacrifice made by so many men and women in our audience and our virtual audience. We are appreciative of those commitments.”
“DoDEA has a rich tradition in providing excellence in education,” Gilmer said. “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,” she added. “We are so proud to serve the families of this highly acclaimed Army installation.”
The school opened to students Oct. 1.