Air Force Col. John M. Devillier, who became the commander of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base on Thursday, says his priorities will focus on base security, building on community partnerships and dealing with budget cuts.
The 21-year career officer became the commander of the 88th Air Base Wing at Wright-Patterson in a ceremony at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in front of a crowd of about 500 local and state leaders, airmen and others.
“I’ve hit the lottery from an Air Force officer’s perspective,” he said. “To take command of one of the most diverse wings in our Air Force, and to do so at the birthplace of air power, is humbling, to say the least.”
Devillier, 43, said he had “huge shoes to fill” with the departure of Col. Cassie M. Barlow. Barlow, 47, will retire after a 26-year Air Force career capped with leading the 88th Air Base Wing and its 5,000 airmen. The wing provides a wide range of support services to Wright-Patterson, the largest single-site employer in Ohio with more than 27,000 military and civilian personnel.
“There is no doubt we will face many challenges in the coming months and years,” he told a group of airmen standing in front of him. “As a wing, and an installation, as a Miami Valley community, and as a nation. While we cannot necessarily control those challenges, we can control how we react to them and how we come together as a team.”
In an interview with reporters afterward, Devillier counted ongoing defense spending reductions the biggest challenge to the base.
“The Department of Defense, the Air Force, is under great strain due to the Budget Control Act, and I think that’s probably going to be the No. 1 challenge we face …”
During her two-year tenure, Barlow dealt with the furlough of civilian employees twice last year, a federal government shutdown, and spending reductions.
The popular commander who built a reputation working with local communities and organizations had a long list of local mayors and state lawmakers on hand Thursday to see her retire.
“For some reason, Col. Barlow was more approachable than what I’ve seen in the past,” said Riverside Mayor Bill Flaute. “She had her plate full with all the furloughs and sequestration issues so she had to reach out to the communities more than what I’ve seen in the past.”
The outgoing commander said she will stay in the Dayton area, but has not yet announced what she will do next. Barlow praised several airmen by name and cited examples of their work or exploits in her goodbye to the crowd.
Devillier became commander of the Air Force’s Mortuary Affairs Operations at Dover Air Force Base, Del., in May 2012 after allegations of mismanagement, missing human remains and whistle blower retaliation, according to The News Journal in Wilmington, Del. He said he imitated reforms in the aftermath of the 2011 scandal.
Lt. Gen. C.D. Moore II, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center commander, said Barlow faced a multitude of challenges with “finesse” and, he said, Devillier was “tested, he’s smart, he’s an accomplished commander.”
Chris Ford, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of defense, said Devillier will face a challenge learning the diversity of organizations and missions on the sprawling base and continuing momentum Barlow began both on the base and reaching out to neighboring communities.
Brian L. Grubb, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local F88 at Wright-Patterson, said he hoped the new commander would listen to firefighter concerns, as he said Barlow had. Grubb said the firefighter’s union has ongoing concerns about the drop in the number of firefighters stationed at the base over the years.