The United States Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker welcomed a new commanding general during a change of command ceremony held at Howze Field on Monday, June 17.

Maj. Gen. David J. Francis took control of USAACE and Fort Rucker from Maj. Gen. William K. Gayler. Francis previously served as the director of Army Aviation, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-3/5/7, in Washington, D.C.

He has served in several positions at Fort Rucker, including as the deputy commander and the commanding general of the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center and director of Army Safety.

Gayler assumed command on April 6, 2016. He will next serve as director of J-3 Operations/Cyber of the United States Africa Command in Germany.

Combined Arms Center Commanding General Lt. Gen. Michael D. Lundy, reviewing officer for the ceremony, thanked Gayler for his service to Fort Rucker and Army aviation for the last three years.

“If you look at what’s happened over the last, really, three years under Bill’s leadership here, it’s quite remarkable,” Lundy said. “This branch has continued to undergo a transformation much like our Army does.

“I would say this branch, under Maj. Gen. Gayler’s leadership, has led the way (in change). Across our doctrine, organizational design, the training that we’re doing at the schoolhouse, as well as the material solutions that we’re pursuing… you’ve done a phenomenal job, Bill. You are leading change across our Army. You’re leading change across our branch.”

He said Francis and his family were “more than ready” to take over command of Fort Rucker. “Our branch is in great hands, and our Army will be in great hands,” Lundy said of Francis. “You will do a phenomenal job here in command.”

Gayler, in his speech, spoke about the importance of serving in the Army.

“Traditions are pretty cool, and this is one of those traditions that we have that’s a formal ceremony to recognize the transition of responsibility,” he said. “I’m reminded of how very special it is to be a soldier in our Army, and there’s no better time than on the 244th birthday of our Army last week. Our forefathers founded that Continental Army that has met every challenge this nation has ever had, and it continues today. They are responsible for those freedoms we hold so precious, and it’s only because of the courage and the selflessness and the professionalism of the American soldier, like those on the field in front of you.”

He said these soldiers are “a representation” of all soldiers who serve the United States around the world, who remind him “daily” of why he serves in the military.

Gayler thanked his staff and “the soldier.”

“The first (thank you) goes to the soldier, not just the soldiers on the field, but all across the aviation branch,” he said. “We ask a lot of you. In fact, every combatant commander continues to ask for more aviation. You serve and you sacrifice and you deliver, time and time again, as the finest aviation force in the world. I want to thank you and your families for what you’ve done and what you will do in the future.”

He challenged soldiers to “lead well” and to be open to change. He also thanked the Wiregrass communities around Fort Rucker for their support to the Army and aviation.

“Whether our soldiers were training, at Fort Rucker or deployed around the world, they were supported and made welcome by the finest community that serves anywhere in the Army,” Gayler said. “It’s truly world class and indicative of a family that takes care of its own.”

He said he knows Francis will “take this branch to even greater heights.”

Francis also thanked the soldiers, the Wiregrass community leaders and those who support Fort Rucker and the Army aviation branch.

“We are really excited to be here,” he said. “I’ll tell you, for Lt. Gen. Lundy and Maj. Gen. Gayler, it’s an absolute honor to stand on the field with you two who have led this branch over the last five years and set the wheels in motion for the future of this branch and the future of our Army. It’s been an honor to serve with you.

“We have big shoes to fill and a lot of work to be done, but you set that in motion. Thank you.”

Following the ceremony, Francis continued to say that Lundy and Gayler have set Army aviation “on a great path” for him to continue on as Fort Rucker’s newest commanding general.

“The one constant we have in our Army is change,” he said. “The good news is that I have worked in the aviation enterprise with Lt. Gen. Lundy and with Maj. Gen. Gayler, so we’re very consistent with the strategy going forward with Army aviation.

“There’s always different challenges that we face, but I will tell you that the preparation and the groundwork laid by those two leaders in particular, Lt. Gen. Lundy and Maj. Gen. Gayler, have set us on a path. It’s never easy, but we are on a great path right now for the branch.”

He said his first steps in his new position will focus on three major aspects of Army aviation.

“There’s always a lot of things going on in the aviation branch: the training of our aviation force everyday, the development of doctrine and, of course, aviation is the third of the modernization priorities of the Army, so we’re going to be very busy looking at the modernization of that,” he said.

He also said he will continue to meet with national leaders to help meet the needs of the Army and aviation.

“We (meet with national leaders) on a regular basis as we continue to compete for resources to make sure that we have and we maintain the most asymmetric aviation force in the world,” he said.

Francis said he is happy about returning to the Wiregrass, stating he and his family “feel like we’re coming home.”

“We feel very much a part of this community already,” he said. “We’re excited to be back.”

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