Formerly the director of the U.S. Air Force Central Command’s Program Management Office in Al Udeid, Qatar, Col. Robert Lance assumed the duties as chief of the Arnold Engineering Development Complex Test Support Division, or TSD, this past month
As Test Support Division Chief, Lance will oversee the organizations providing medical, civil engineering, communications, chaplain, security, logistics, readiness and quality-of-life services at Arnold Air Force Base, the headquarters of AEDC.
Tennessee is vastly different than Qatar, but having grown up in Georgia, Lance said he welcomes being back in the states and back in the southeast.
“My family and I love the area. We love the base and the fact that it’s really unique,” he said. “The location is great. The weather is great.
“Most of my and my wife’s family are about 2-2.5 hours from here, which to me is just the cherry on top.”
This is Lance’s eleventh move of his 22 years of service, but serving in the military, particularly the Air Force was always his first career choice.
“My dad’s a retired Air Force master sergeant,” he said. “He retired in 1982, but he was stationed in Turkey when I was born, so I was born at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. We moved to Beale Air Force Base, California, when I was 18 months old, and my dad retired from there and we moved back to northwest Georgia.”
Though he doesn’t consider himself a military brat, his family’s history of service inspired him to join.
“My first memories aren’t from Turkey,” Lance said. “I don’t remember Turkey at all, but I remember California. I remember being at Beale Air Force Base, then of course, Georgia. Even though I like Georgia, I wanted to see more of the world.
“With my dad being a retired military man himself, it looked very rewarding to me. I wanted to follow in my dad’s footsteps, and he encouraged me to try and get in the Air Force Academy, which is what I was fortunate enough to do. Then the rest is history.”
At the Air Force Academy, he earned a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering in 1999. He commissioned and from there started his civil engineer career.
He also has a master’s degree in human relations from the University of Oklahoma.
Lance mentioned that his role as TSD chief is the first job he’s had that hasn’t been civil engineering specific.
While in Al Udeid, he supervised the construction of several new facilities, a project that was estimated to cost $7 billion.
“This project came about when Qatar’s Minister of Defense came to Al Udeid Air Base and saw the quality of these temporary facilities we were working in, and these old trailers that were 20 years old and falling apart and said, ‘I don’t want any U.S. service member to go back and think this is what the country of Qatar is like,’” Lance said. “Their defense program agreed to spend the money to replace all the temporary facilities with legitimate permanent facilities. Qataris were building it for us, but the program management office was stood up by the U.S. Air Force to make sure we could use them and they would be to the standard that we need them to be.”
He added that this position gave him a broad overview of a large program, one in management that deals with all kinds of people – DOD civilians, civilian contractors, engineers, military members and foreign national engineers and their military members.
“Though it’s a diverse group of people with different backgrounds, they’re all moving towards one common goal, and that’s what we do here in TSD. We all are moving towards a common goal and making the mission happen.”
During a previous assignment before Al Udeid, Lance was a civil engineer squadron commander, and he said he feels this role also helped prepare him for his current job.
“My job there was to coordinate with my fellow squadron commanders to make sure we met the mission, supported the group’s needs and supported the mission of the wings,” he said. “I was constantly coordinating with the Services Squadron, communications folks, civil engineering folks, etc. Coming to this job, they’re all in TSD.
“I have an understanding of what all those communities do and what their mission is. Having that background, working with those guys and building a team with the other support-type functions, really sets me up well to hopefully excel in this job.”
Lance mentioned that he’s excited to get to work as TSD chief.
“In TSD, we touch the mission more directly than a lot of base systems, because a lot of utilities are so critical to the actual testing,” he said. “We maintain and provide those. Whether it’s the steam, the fuel or the power, they couldn’t test out here without those things.
“The role we play at AEDC is ensuring we can do the mission and the testing and development for new platforms for the Air Force to use. Most bases fly what they’ve been given and are more tactical in nature. They use what is there to make action happen today. We don’t necessarily do that, we look forward to the future to make sure that those folks 10 years from now can continue to make that action happen. Because if they continue to use the platforms we’re using today, they might not be viable 10 years from now. What we do is we’re enabling AEDC to ensure the Air Force’s mission is viable for the future.”
While still new to Arnold and AEDC and is still learning the ropes, Lance said he has already set one goal.
“My ultimate goal is to streamline the support function of AEDC; find ways we can make it better and more efficient,” he said. “I don’t know what those are yet, but we are looking for them. But my goal is to learn the mission, continue to support as we have in the past and make it better.
“My intention anytime I go into a job is to leave it better than I found it. So, when I leave here, whenever that may be, the Test Support Division and AEDC is better than when I got here.”