Military members and civilians gathered June 17 for a change of command ceremony held at the Aviation Museum for the first time in nearly two years.

“It’s been a while,” said United States Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker Commanding General Maj. Gen. David Francis to the capacity crowd. “Welcome back.”

Friends and family gathered to formally bid farewell to Col. Whitney Gardner in his capacity as Fort Rucker Garrison Commander and to welcome incoming Garrison Commander Col. Robert Holcombe.

Gardner now assumes duties as the United States Army Aviation Center of Excellence Chief of Staff and will remain at the Home of Army Aviation.

“When you enter this installation, the security guards are going to tell you, ‘Welcome home’ because when you enter this installation, you are home,” Francis said. “Fort Rucker, the home of army aviation.”

Francis commended Gardner for having “led this installation with distinction over the last two years, ensuring that people remain our No. 1 priority.

“When Whitney took command two years ago, nobody could have imagined the challenges that he would have faced as a garrison commander,” Francis added, citing the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic. “His leadership, collaboration and constant analysis of the conditions of the installation positively impacted the well being of the soldiers, civilians and families and kept our mission here at Fort Rucker going.

“His daily task during this unprecedented time was to provide and oversee the myriad of support services and programs that impact the training for over 6,500 soldiers, 5,300 family members, more than 10,000 civilians and over 33,000 retirees and family members that work, live and get services here at Fort Rucker,” he added. “It was a monumental task to say the least but Whitney and his team were absolutely up to the challenge and we didn’t miss a beat on training the world’s best aviators here at Fort Rucker.

“He led the effort to effectively and efficiently design and implement quarantine procedures while continuing to process more than 5,000 soldiers arriving to the installation from all over the world,” Francis said. “We didn’t have the luxury of closing down the only United States Army installation that produced aviators and aviation assets.

“Whitney’s strong relationship with our local communities was absolutely invaluable as we pursued and coordinated local mitigation measures,” he added.

The ceremony was hosted by Vincent E. Grewatz, Installation Management Command Training Director. During the ceremony the garrison colors, symbolizing the passing of leadership from the outgoing commander to the next, was conducted by the custodian of the garrison colors, Command Sgt. Maj. Raymond P. Quitugua Jr., the senior enlisted member of the command and principal advisor to the GC.

Francis welcomed Holcombe “to this wonderful installation and community.” Holcombe is the former Division Chief for Aviation and Contingency Operations at the United States Army Military District of Washington, Join Force Headquarters, National Capital Region.

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