Two Air Force generals took over key commands employing thousands at Wright-Patterson and made history of sorts in what was believed to be a first-of-its-kind transition ceremony Tuesday.
Lt. Gen. Robert D. McMurry was given a third star and became commander of the Air Force Life Management Center while Brig. Gen William T. Cooley took over the post McMurry vacated as commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory. Both commands are headquartered at Wright-Patterson.
The transition marked the first time in the commands’ histories two transitions, called change of command ceremonies, occurred on stage in quick succession, according to Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, Air Force Materiel Command leader and who led the event.
About 600 people gathered for the hour-long ceremony Tuesday at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
”I think you’re well qualified Bill, but don’t screw it up,” she quipped, telling McMurry later: “And Robert, same thing I told Bill, don’t screw it up.”
McMurry will oversee 26,000 employees, about half of whom work at Wright-Patterson, and the rest at 60 locations around the world. The center is responsible for equipping the Air Force with major weapon systems. McMurry succeeded Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, who was named leader of the Air Force Space and Missile Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif., and who bid farewell to Wright-Patterson at the ceremony.
Cooley, who has worked in four of AFRL’s nine directorates, will oversee more than 10,000 employees and a more than $4 billion budget.
McMurry led AFRL nearly a year to the day in his first tour of duty at Wright-Patterson before taking over the AFLCMC.
At the AFLCMC, McMurry will have responsibility for continued development and purchase of the KC-46 Pegasus aerial tanker, the future B-21 Raider bomber, the Air Force version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and a future jet trainer called T-X, among major programs.
“You’re the people who turn those ideas, those technologies, those capabilities from ideas, dreams, demonstrations, requirements and specifications into something real that actually works, that can actually be maintained and that will work every time when it needs to,” Murry told the crowd. “That is not easy.”
In a brief interview, McMurry said he wants to “incrementally improve at everything we do” and ensure the bureaucracy is as efficient “as it can be.”
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Cooley, a former high-level officer at the Missile Defense Agency, said research is vital to keep an edge over the nation’s adversaries.
“… The challenge has probably never been greater,” he told the audience. “The gap in technological advantage has shrunk and so it’s essential that the Air Force Research Lab hear that call and respond.”
He told the AFRL workforce he would listen, be transparent and have a sense of urgency. “… Time is money and technology is a key advantage,” he said. He was expected to gain a second star and promotion to major general in his new job.
AFRL leaders in recent years have the had attention of both the service branch’s top civilian and top military leaders, who have met with the research and development agency’s officials several times to set technology priorities and learn of technology research at Wright-Patterson and AFRL sites in Florida, New Mexico, New York and Virginia.