Col. John M. Devillier will become the new commander of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, in mid-July.
He is currently the leader of Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations and served a tour of duty in Afghanistan, officials said.
Devillier will assume the top leadership post of the 88th Air Base Wing, replacing Col. Cassie B. Barlow, who will retire after a 26-year military career.
“You want to take care of the airmen and they’ll take care of the job and that’s my number one motivator to take care of the folks around me,” Devillier said in a telephone interview Thursday from Dover Air Force Base, Del., where he is currently assigned. “Leadership is about trust. It’s hard to lead people if they don’t trust you.”
Devillier, 43, said he expected fiscal challenges will be a major issue in his upcoming two-year tenure at the base. As commander, Devillier will oversee more than 5,000 airmen within the wing. Wright-Patterson is the largest single site employer in Ohio and has a $4.5 billion economic impact.
“I think across the Air Force we obviously have a challenge in terms of the fiscal environment,” he said. “Money is tight across the Department of Defense.”
Sequestration impacted Wright-Patterson, and the rest of the military, last year with civil service furloughs and mid-year spending reductions that shuttered or curtailed services, backlogged work and led to a reduction in base maintenance.
The automatic budget cuts known as sequestration are set to return in 2016.
“He will have to deal with uncertain budget situations,” said Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of government affairs and a long-time base observer. “The sequester has only been temporarily averted and it will be back. We do not know how Congress will deal with the budget situation in the future.”
Lexington Institute defense analyst Loren B. Thompson said the most immediate challenge the new commander will confront is “maintaining a very large and diverse base despite cutbacks in support for defense infrastructure.”
“Wright-Patterson is one of the biggest and best military bases in the world but the Pentagon has cut funding for military construction and for building maintenance so it’s going to be a challenge to keep this base in its usual state,” Thompson said.
Gessel said Barlow, who became a high-profile commander at the height of the turmoil of furloughs and sequestration, kept an ongoing communication with employees and the community “which soothed over tension in a very difficult situation. There was an era of openness that was refreshing.”
New commander to assess morale, address sexual assault issue
When Devillier arrives, he said he will meet with airmen to outline expectations and assess morale. He said he also will address the problem of sexual assault in the Air Force. “You want people to come to work and feel safe,” he said. The Air Force officer added he expected to find the wing well-run after Barlow’s tenure. Col. Barlow was not available for comment Thursday.
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said in part in a statement Barlow ensured major projects were completed on time and on budget and “provided critical reassurance during sequestration furloughs and worked to protect the base from the impact of sequestration cuts.”
Fairborn city officials commended Barlow for the base’s involvement at community events.
Paul Newman, executive director of the Fairborn Area Chamber of Commerce, said Barlow assigned base representatives to area chambers of commerce.
“She’s done an excellent job of being proactive,” Newman said. “She doesn’t let anything fall through the cracks.”
Fairborn Mayor Dan Kirkpatrick, who retired from the Air Force in 2007 after 34 years and had three assignments at Wright-Patt, said it’s not unusual for senior base leadership to be active in the community.
“But she has been more active than most,” Kirkpatrick said. “We welcome the new base commander, and we hope he is integrated in the community as well as Col. Barlow is.”
Fairborn City Manager Deborah McDonnell said partnerships with the base will not be affected by the change of command. Those projects include sewer and water line improvements and installation, parks and recreation, and shared services involving equipment maintenance.
Riverside Mayor Bill Flaute said Barlow was instrumental in forming an Air Force community partnership. Riverside residents now have the opportunity to swim at the base’s pool, and future opportunities to golf and fish on the base are under discussion, the mayor said.
Flaute said Barlow did not allow any past differences between the city and base to “interfere with our working together to get things accomplished.”
Phil Parker, president and CEO Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, said he hopes Barlow stays in the Dayton area because she is a valuable and active community leader.
Former base commander Col. Colleen Ryan stayed in the area after her retirement and worked for the Dayton Development Coalition and then became the president of Vectren Energy Delivery of Ohio, Parker said.
“She remained in our area and developed great relationships with people,” he said, adding that he is unaware of Barlow’s plans after retiring.
Barlow has tremendous leadership skills and is extremely educated and understands the economic significance of the base, Parker said.
“This is a person who really knows how to get things done,” he said.
Parker said he had a strong relationship with Barlow, who served as the liaison between the chamber’s board and Wright-Patterson.
Devillier, a 21-year career Air Force officer, is the son of a retired Air Force chief master sergeant and a French mother. He was born on a military base in Germany. He graduated from Florida State University in 1992 with a bachelors degree in education and has four masters degrees. He and his wife, Kathryn, have three daughters. Devillier, a human resources officer, has had assignments across the United States and in South Korea and Germany.
“I’ve been all over the world, but I’ve never been to Wright-Patterson,” he said. A board of generals choose him to become the next commander of Wright-Patterson. “Being a commander is a fairly rare event, but to be a wing commander is an extremely high honor so it’s got to be at the top of the list.”