OGDEN — Utah said goodbye Monday to a man who helped lead its Air Force base to becoming an innovative, award-winning complex in the wake of a recession, nuclear weapons blunders and sequestration.
"Our Air Force owes you a debt of gratitude for all you've done in your leadership," Lt. Gen. Bruce A. Litchfield, Air Force Sustainment Center commander, told Maj. Gen. H. Brent Baker Sr. in the Lindquist-Hadley Fighter Gallery in the Hill Aerospace Museum.
He added to Brig. Gen. Carl A. Buhler, who took command of the Ogden Air Logistics Complex Monday: "I could not have built a better officer to come in and take this on."
More than 200 people attended the change of command ceremony Monday, including Maj. Gen. Jefferson Burton; Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah; Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton; Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox; Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton; Utah Defense Alliance President Tage Flint and mayors from Kaysville, Ogden and Layton.
During the ceremony, Baker was also awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his work between 2011 and 2014.
In July 2012, the Ogden Air Logistics Complex, one of three bases under the Air Force Sustainment Center, came under the command of Baker.
He led the team out of what Litchfield called an "awful, tough time" that came when the base had "nuclear issues," first in 2005 when nuclear missile parts, instead of batteries, were sent to Taiwan. The Air Force secretary and chief of staff were fired and 17 generals and colonels were disciplined, including the then-commander of Hill's Ogden Air Logistics Center. In 2010 more problems came to light when a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that HAFB did not account for 100 nuclear-related parts.
"I didn't realize just how much that that blanket was probably cast and what it did to motivation, but I will tell you today, that blanket is off. The innovation, I can see it in your eyes. Enthusiasm and the talent is just unfolding everywhere I go," Litchfield said to those gathered.
Baker led the team through creating 1,400 aircraft, 98 percent of which were on time, insourcing F-22 work that will save $500 million over the life of the project, and activating the first F-35 depot on time, among other projects. The team also won the 2014 Air Force Materiel Command Maintenance Effectiveness Award for depot-level maintenance.
"Hill Air Force Base and Ogden Air Logistics Complex in my mind are better prepared to thrive in the future today than they were just two short years ago, and that's due to great leadership, that's due to a great team, not only within the base itself but external outside the fence," Litchfield said to those gathered.
Bishop was among those who were pleased with the changes that occurred under Baker's watch.
"This base is very secure. It has good leadership. I have to be honest, a couple of years ago, I did not like the restructuring that came forth and I have to admit, I was wrong. This worked out brilliantly," the congressman said.
Buhler, who has been training for the position for nine months, will be responsible for scheduling, paying for and ensuring the quality of depot repair, alterations of the Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile system and overhaul of the following aircraft: A-10, C-130, F-16, F-22, F-35 and T-38.
He will also oversee machinery landing gear, wheels and brakes, rocket motors, air munitions, guided bombs, photonics equipment, software, electronics, avionics, hydraulics, power systems and other aerospace-related items.
"I'm excited to jump in feet first," he told the Deseret News after the ceremony. "It's my job to take the baton, sprint as fast as I can and then make it even better for the next individual that's going to take command."
Before taking this post, Buhler was director of logistics, installations and mission support at Pacific Air Forces headquarters, at the Joint base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii.
With Buhler's background and training, the change of command will be less of a change than a transition, Litchfield said.
"Like an Olympic sprinter in a relay race, the only thing that happens (with the change of command) is the baton gets passed, but you still stay between the white lines and you still sprint just as hard as you can to make things better and to win the gold medal."
Baker will become the director of logistics and sustainment at Air Force Materiel Command on the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
"This assignment has made me better person. You, collectively, have made me a better person," Baker told those gathered.