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Maj. Gen. Kenneth Merchant
Maj. Gen. Kenneth Merchant (official photo)
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AAC commander addresses Eglin, changes, future

Posted 11/28/2011   Updated 11/28/2011 Email story   Print story

    


by Samuel King Jr.
Team Eglin Public Affairs


11/28/2011 - EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Upon taking command of the Air Armament Center, Maj. Gen. Kenneth Merchant never expected to be its last commander and to possibly only serve in the position for a year, but that is exactly what happened after Air Force Material Command's restructuring announcement, Nov. 2.

"Sue and I came back expecting a two-year assignment here, so it's more than a little disappointing," said the general. "I didn't expect to have to stand the flag down, but that's what leadership is asking me to do to make the Air Force whole, so that's what I'll do."

Taking over the center was Merchant's third assignment here - first as a lieutenant in 1984, then as a colonel in 2000.

"I'm very proud to be back here," he said. "This is a job I never thought I'd compete for, let alone get as a non-rated engineer and program manager, but it was my good fortune to return as the commander."

He said he expected to return to the same talented workforce he left in 2002.

"It's still here," he said. "We're well-known as the place to come if you need something really quick, done effectively and within a tight budget. On the acquisition side, we still do that hands down."

The general remembered Eglin was less busy during his first assignment, but was already becoming the center of excellence for military weapons like laser-guided bombs, bunker busters and inertially-aided munitions, which later became the joint-direct attack munitions program.

Besides the workforce and technology programs on base, Merchant said he was ready to return to the community of Northwest Florida.

"I was looking forward to the weather and seeing those beaches after four years of Illinois cornfields," he said. "Also, we'd made some great friends that were still here too. There are just so many people and organizations that are supportive of this base. It makes coming to work so much more enjoyable."

The general barely had a month as the AAC commander before he had to begin plans for Eglin's restructuring and announcing it to his people.

"When the announcement was made, I wanted our workforce to hear the details of this reorganization directly from me," he said. "I felt it was important. It is a big deal. We knew changes were going to happen and in AFMC, it was clear the leadership chain needed to be more focused. There are going to be challenges of distance and communication in that leadership chain, but with our talented work force and evolved technologies, we can make that work."

The proposed changes condense AFMC's 12 centers into five. The goal behind the transformation is to streamline the way the major command accomplishes its work without harming its ability to perform the mission.

During the time leading up to the announcement, impact statements were developed to deduce the effects of the restructuring.

"Those were limited in the full scope of these moves," said Merchant. "We've gained more insight into other challenges and impacts we couldn't foresee. Those issues will be identified locally and expressed to AFMC. I think we'll see a lot of this evolve over the next few months."

"Our goal from day-one was to cover as many positions as we could," he continued. "We chose to give up the empty positions to save others. The reality is, however, there will be some positions where we won't be able to help people due to skills mismatches. We just ask for everyone to be flexible as the dust settles."

The general said he doesn't expect the center to miss a beat even with the impending changes.

"There's a great need for what we provide here with development and test capabilities," said the 31-year veteran. "So much of our weapons development occurs right here. It begins in the weapons lab, then to concept and development, over to testing with the 46th (Test Wing) through operational testing and sustainment."

With the recent restructuring announcement and impending holidays, the general emphasized focus on the mission is critical during such a distracting time.

"These decisions affect some more than others, even me personally, but the bottom line is the mission must be accomplished," said Merchant. "There are people in the Area of Responsibility depending on us every day. We have to ensure they are properly equipped to do their jobs. If a weapons system doesn't function correctly, bad things happen. We know weapons and we know what it takes to get them developed and fielded quickly. We must continue to do what we do day in and out at the high quality I know we're capable of."

Although unit names and leadership may change, the general doesn't see many significant changes in Eglin's future mission. For himself, however he wants to continue serving wherever the Air Force sends him.

"Hopefully, there's something out there for me in the operation," he said. "I'm not ready to retire just yet. I'll stay with this as long as I can contribute. All it takes is one trip visiting our young Airmen and civilians and I'm recharged and ready to go."



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