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Wright-Patt commander dismissal ‘very unusual,’ observer says

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, gate. (U.S. Air Force/Released)

The Air Force announcement came late on a Friday afternoon: The commander of the 88th Air Base Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base was relieved of command due to a loss of confidence in his ability to lead.

Col. Christopher B. Meeker was removed by Lt. Gen. Donna D. Shipton, who has recently assumed command of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) at Wright-Patterson.

The announcement from Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) — also headquartered at Wright-Patterson — included language the military typically uses in situations where specific reasons for dismissal are not immediately given: Shipton expressed a “loss of confidence” in Meeker’s ability to lead.

An AFMC spokesman has declined to elaborate on the announcement. He could not immediately say if an air base wing commander at Wright-Patterson had ever been relieved of command previously.

The move is very unusual, according to one close observer of Wright-Patterson and the Air Force.

“Removal from command may be due to personal or professional dereliction of duty,” said Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Arlington, Va.-based non-profit Lexington Institute. “It is very unusual for a leader to be fired from a position at this level of responsibility in the chain of command. Whatever Col. Meeker’s infraction may have been, it clearly was a major violation of the rules.”

Thompson noted further that Wright-Patterson is “one of the Air Force’s biggest bases, and usually considered one of the best run.

“Base activities are critical to the equipping of the force. Given Col. Meeker’s previously unblemished record, it would be reasonable to conclude that the reason for his removal was of a personal nature,” Thompson said.

Representatives of the Dayton Development Coalition declined to comment on the situation. Through a spokesman, U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, declined to comment Tuesday. Turner has made protecting Wright-Patterson one of his key objectives.

According to his Air Force biography, Meeker entered the Air Force in 2000 after earning a commission at the Air Force Academy.

A career civil engineer, Meeker served at five base-level assignments, including the headquarters of the Air Force, the Air Force Personnel Center and the Air Force Civil Engineer Center.

His service abroad includes four deployments, including the the 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany; and 379th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron, Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.

Before coming to Wright-Patterson, Meeker served as commander of the 86th Civil Engineer Group at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

The last prominent officer to lose command at Wright-Patterson was Maj. Gen. William T. Cooley, former commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory, in January 2020.

After being convicted of one specification of abusive sexual contact against his brother’s wife, Cooley retired in May last year as a colonel.

In March this year, six Air Force officers in charge of the infrastructure, fuel and logistics for a North Dakota nuclear missile base were relieved of command due to a loss of confidence in their ability to carry out their responsibilities, the Air Force said.

In May, the Air Education and Training Command commander relieved the 19th Air Force commander, Maj. Gen. Phillip A. Stewart, from command, again due to a loss of confidence in his ability to lead. The Air Force at the time said the dismissal was related to “alleged misconduct.”

Then in October, the Air Force formally charged Stewart with sexual assault, dereliction of duty and other crimes under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the Air Force Times reported at the time.

At Wright-Patterson, Shipton announced that Col. Travis W. Pond, 88th Air Base Wing deputy commander, has been appointed interim wing commander.

Pond has been the deputy commander since June.

“I made this decision in the best interest of the men and women of the 88th Air Base Wing,” Shipton said in Friday’s statement.

The 88th Air Base Wing oversees security and infrastructure at a big Air Force base, home not only to crucial Air Force missions such as AFMC and AFLCMC, but some 600 buildings, 8,145 acres, and 18.9 million square feet of airfield pavement. The base is home to some 115 missions.


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