AEDC Superintendent Chief Master Sgt. Heckman retiring after 28 years of Air Force service

  • Published
  • By Deidre Moon

Serving his country as active duty Air Force for the past 28 years, Chief Master Sgt. Robert Heckman’s last duty day in the U.S. Air Force was Feb. 15, 2021, which means he also stepped down from his most recent role as the Arnold Engineering Development Complex superintendent.

As superintendent, Heckman acted as the “right-hand man of the AEDC Commander,” assisting with operations, readiness, force development and utilization. In addition, his duties included advising the commander on morale and good order and discipline at the Complex. Heckman’s interim replacement as superintendent will be Senior Master Sgt. Jason Harlan.

Before departing, Heckman agreed to answer some questions about his service in the Air Force and his time spent as part of AEDC. Please see that Q&A below:

High Mach: When did you serve as AEDC Superintendent?
Heckman: May 28, 2018 - Feb. 15, 2021

HM: You took on the role in 2018. Prior to that it had been vacant since 2006. Why and how do you think it was significant for AEDC that the role was filled?
Heckman: The role of superintendent has always been a part of AEDC since 2006 but what changed was it being filled by a chief master sergeant in 2018. Assigning a chief master sergeant was an important step because it was an added change meant to leverage the right amount of experience but also push AEDC beyond its well-established borders. Three years later we have installed superintendents, changed the organization’s structure, and are navigating the process to become a wing comprised of groups and squadrons. There is much work to be done and I think chief master sergeants bring the right experience and horsepower to the table to get after AEDC’s most difficult challenges.

HM: What is your most memorable accomplishment as AEDC superintendent?
Heckman: My most memorable accomplishment, though still not finished, would be the creation of the superintendent at the division level. Senior non-commissioned officers are an incredibly important asset to an organization’s ability to operate efficiently and effectively. In order to operate efficiently and effectively, an organization must know how personnel are being utilized, have established repeatable processes, and ensure communication flows up, down, and across the organization. If allowed, SNCOs in the superintendent role are capable of solving incredibly challenging problems in ways not previously considered possible due to a variety of factors.
The program is still in its infancy, but I look forward to the day when organizations are operating at the peak of efficiency and effectiveness because behind the scenes is a SNCO who understands, engages and solves the organization’s most difficult challenges and does so completely agnostic to whether that person is a contractor, civilian or military worker.

HM: In what ways do you feel you’ve made an impact during your time with AEDC?
Heckman: I don’t spend any time carving notches in my belt and certainly don’t keep track of personal accomplishments. The question I always have to ask myself is, “Did I move the ball?” I never ask myself if I moved the ball far enough because any running back or receiver would tell you their goal is the end zone 100 percent of the time. Unfortunately, it is not realistic to reach the end zone on every catch or possession. So, did I move the ball? I think the answer is “yes” on many fronts, but there is work yet to be accomplished.

HM: What will you personally take away from your time here?
Heckman: The incredible spirit that lives in and through AEDC. These men and women who are contractors, military and civilians give their hearts and souls to perform this mission. What I will take from AEDC is the peace of mind that our nation’s most difficult problems will be solved by those who work at AEDC.

HM: Do you have any advice or parting words for Team AEDC?
Heckman: King Leonidas once commented that the strength of the Spartan Army was because each soldier trusted the man to his left and his right. It was this trust that allowed the Spartan Army to conquer great foes even when faced with impossible odds. Though this story does not have a happy ending, it does offer lessons we can learn from and serve as the basis for my parting words. I would offer to the men and women of AEDC that we must trust each other, we must have a common goal, and we must hold each other accountable when we falter. Finally, I would offer this. While you look forward to the future and its demands, never forget to look back at AEDC’s history – a history laden with success and accomplishing the impossible. I would encourage you to use it as a source of strength to make it through difficult and uncertain times. Always remember, we put a man on the moon!

HM: Over the course of your 28 years of active duty, what would you say your biggest accomplishment has been while serving your country as part of the U.S. Air Force?
Heckman: I can say with great confidence that I didn’t accomplish anything in the U.S. Air Force without my team. As I progressed through my career and got promoted, that team grew and so did my responsibilities to look after them and ensure they had what they needed to get the job done. My greatest accomplishment was the day I realized the whole thing wasn’t about me, my promotions, and my recognition, but instead it was about them and embracing the service required to, at all costs, make them better than me.

HM: What inspired you to join the USAF?
Heckman: The need for a paycheck, three squares a day, and I needed a purpose.

HM: Is there anyone you would like to thank for their support of your career?
Heckman: There are far too many to list but the most important people I want to thank are my bride, Suzanne, and our children, Cecilia and Colin. Suzanne has been my rock and air throughout the entirety of my career, and I can say with the utmost confidence that I would not be a chief master sergeant today if not for her. Our children were a constant source of support and sacrificed so much for my career and have continued to do so even in adulthood. While many in my Air Force family are deserving of thanks, there is not enough room in this article to do so. As a final note, I would like to thank Col. Jeffrey Geraghty, Mr. Jason Coker, and Mrs. Sarah Beth Morgan for their unwavering support and leadership over the course of the last two years. Thank you, and I wish you great success in the coming years!

HM: What are your plans for retirement?
Heckman: We (my wife and I) are going to retire to the sunny state of Florida where we will work as defense contractors for a few years before we launch our own business that focuses on two things I hold very dear, recognition for others and woodworking. I should probably start working on that Etsy page.