AFIT gets new leadership

  • Published
  • By Christopher J. Warner
  • 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio - The Air Force Institute of Technology welcomed two new senior leaders in separate ceremonies at Wright-Patterson AFB.   

Dr. Walter Jones officially became AFIT’s new director and second chancellor in an acceptance-of-leadership ceremony July 27. The following day, Col. Paul Harmer took command as the AFIT director of staff and Air University Detachment 1 commander. The two ceremonies took place at Kenney Hall Auditorium.

The presiding senior leader and officiant for both was Lt. Gen. James Hecker, commander and president of Air University.

Jones is the 50th AFIT leader in school history. For many years, the chancellor position was known as commandant. Jones joins a lineage that includes Gen. Benjamin Chidlaw.

Prior to Jones’ appointment, he served 11 years as executive director of the Office of Naval Research, planning and managing the entire $3 billion science and technology program for the Navy and Marine Corps. Jones has also served in many military and civilian research and higher-education roles through his career.

He replaces Dr. Todd Stewart, who retired in March as AFIT’s longest-serving leader. Stewart was the first civilian leader and chancellor at the institute. During his nine-year tenure, over 270,000 students graduated and he achieved AFIT’s current academic accreditation.

Hecker, who formally welcomed Jones and his family to the AFIT and Air University family, said he was handpicked based on his various experience in private, military research and university roles, at the most senior levels.

During the ceremony, Jones was presented the AFIT chain-of-office by Stewart, while Hecker presented him with the school’s ceremonial mace.

“AFIT provides a unique opportunity for educating the future leadership of the Air Force, the Space Force and others in key roles in the national security enterprise,” Jones said during his inaugural remarks. “Several phrases were used to describe AFIT, my favorite being national treasure; it is indeed that.”

According to its website, AFIT’s official mission is to educate the “total force” military and civilian defense professionals to innovatively accomplish the deterrence and warfighting missions of the U.S. Air and Space Forces … today and tomorrow.

“So why am I so excited about being here at AFIT? Here at AFIT, our continuing professional education and courses provide the educational foundation for our civil engineering community, cyber community, nuclear community, logistics community, acquisition community and the space community,” Jones said.

“Officers and civilians come to AFIT for their initial training and badging, and then they return to AFIT for additional training as they progress throughout their careers.”

Jones pointed out that AFIT is training “real-world problem solvers” for current and future unique Department of Defense-specific issues and problems. 

Prior to Harmer’s assignment as AFIT’s senior military leader, he was the National Air and Space Intelligence Center vice commander.

Harmer replaces Col. Paul Cotellesso, who retired after 30 years on active duty with the Air Force, including the past five as AFIT director of staff.

During Cotellesso’s tenure, he was responsible for managing AFIT’s footprint, which covers 46 states, 15 countries and over 400 institutions. He also enabled the first partnership with the Coast Guard. Following Stewart’s retirement, Cotellesso served as acting commandant.

Hecker praised Harmer as the perfect choice for this position.

“He has been here three times, well educated – here at AFIT on two occasions, to include assignments at (Air Force Research Laboratory), (Air Mobility Command) and NASIC,” Hecker said. “He has what it takes – no question – and I know he is going to do well here.”

In recognition of Costellesso’s retirement, the general presented him with the Legion of Merit.

In his farewell comments, Costellesso thanked Hecker, Stewart, Jones and several other Team Wright-Patt and community leaders. Most notably, he recognized his wife, Jenn, and family.

Signifying the transfer of command, Cotellesso passed the guidon to Harmer during the ceremony.

“I learned at AFIT that (Wright-Patt) is an amazing place and does great things for the Air Force and our nation,” Harmer said. “I recently learned that AFIT educates about 30,000 students a year. Everything we do here is amazing and far reaching beyond the Air Force.

“We do more than just teach — we truly educate in multiple disciplines. But what I really learned here was how to think and think with rigor. It is that rigorous thinking that will propel the Air Force into the future.” 

Both ceremonies can be watched at AFIT’s YouTube page.