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NEWS | Jan. 31, 2019

Aviation enterprise honors retiring senior executive

By AMCOM Public Affairs

The longtime director of the Aviation and Missile Command’s Aviation Integration Directorate was inducted in the Army Materiel Command Hall of Fame, during his retirement ceremony at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Thursday.

John Shipley served as the AID director since 1982. Army Materiel Command’s Commander Gen. Gus Perna presided over the induction and retirement ceremony at which Shipley officially retired after more 60 years of service. More than 300 family, friends and colleagues, including more than 25 active-duty and retired general officers and members of the Senior Executive Service, from across the Army and the aviation enterprise attended the ceremony at which Shipley was honored for his lifetime of achievements. 

“There is a cliché we have all heard – ‘He was a legend in his own time.’ But when that is said about Mr. John Shipley, it is not a cliché. It is the truth. And that is why we are all here today -- to honor a living legend,” Perna said.

As the AID director, Shipley was responsible for the development, acquisition, modernization, fielding and sustainment of the Army’s Special Operations’ classified and unclassified aviation fleet. These low-density, high-demand classified and unclassified enablers provide the needed capability for Special Operations forces to find, fix and finish targets of national interest anywhere in the world under all conditions. 

Shipley began his career of service in 1954, shortly after graduating from high school. He served in the 11th and 82nd Airborne Divisions until 1956. After his enlistment, Shipley graduated from North Caroline State University in 1960 with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering. In 1966, he finished his master’s in mechanical engineering. 

From 1960-67, Shipley served as a flight test engineer at the Flight Test Division of the Naval Air Test Center at Patuxent River, Maryland. From 1967-70, he worked as an aerospace engineer at the Army Aviation Materiel Laboratories, the predecessor of the Aviation Applied Technology Directorate at Fort Eustis, Virginia. From 1970-81, Shipley served as the chief of the Army Research Group, Aerostructures Directorate at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. In 1982, Shipley took the helm as the director of the Special Operations Directorate and the Integrated Aviation Systems 21 Working Group, the predecessor organizations of what is now AID. 

AID was established as a result of lessons learned from the failed Desert One mission in 1980 to rescue 53 Americans held hostage in Iran. The Department of Defense and Congress recognized that the success of highly complex missions in demanding environments requires a group of well-trained and dedicated individuals supported by highly reliable and extremely capable aviation assets. 

“After what is commonly known as the failed ‘Desert One’ rescue attempt of our hostages in Iran, the joint force knew we had to fix our aviation problem,” Perna said. “And in 1981, we turned to John Shipley for the answer.”

Shipley was appointed to the Senior Executive Service in 1984. He was appointed as the AID director in 1991. 

“John Shipley made the AID mission a success, time and time again,” AMCOM Commander Maj. Gen. Doug Gabram said. “He was instrumental in developing new systems and integrating unique technologies, sensors and weapons systems on new and existing aircraft platforms for Special Operations’ classified and unclassified missions. 

“As a result of his planning and vision, the Department of Defense and the Army, in particular, have the most capable aircraft in the world. These aircraft and – most importantly – their crews are able to safely operate in extreme environmental and threat conditions. His accomplishments significantly benefit conventional Army aviation and other agencies by assisting with and transferring capabilities, where appropriate.”

Over the course of his career, Shipley received four Presidential Rank Awards, three meritorious and one distinguished. He also received the Order of St. Michael Award, both in bronze and gold and the Department of the Army Superior Civilian Service Award. He has been named the Civilian of the Year for both the Army Aviation Association of America and the Joseph P. Cribbins, Redstone/Huntsville Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army. He was also the first civilian selected as an honorary member of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne). 

“Under his direct leadership, Mr. Shipley helped write the requirements and oversee the design and procurement of today’s fleet of Army Special Operations airframes,” Gabram said. “No other nation in the world can match the capability of the fleet he essentially built. Mr. Shipley has devoted his professional career to ensuring Special Operations aviators have the best aviation systems in support of those on the ground. We have this incredible fleet of aircraft because of his ability to foresee and articulate requirements. That fleet gives our Special Operations aviators a distinct advantage.” 

Last year, Shipley’s contributions to the Special Operations community were commemorated when the Aviation Materiel Management Center at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, was named “Shipley Hall,” to honor Shipley’s dedication and commitment to the modernization, readiness and capability of special operations aviation for the Army Special Operations Aviation Command. 

Retired Gen. Bryan “Doug” Brown, a former commander of the Special Operations Command, presided over the dedication ceremony.

“When Rangers, Marine Raiders or the Night Stalkers go after a target of their own, it is John Shipley who got them there, with the hardware to accomplish the mission,” Brown said.

During the building dedication ceremony last year, Brig. Gen. Allan Pepin, the commander of the Special Operations Command said, “Mr. John Shipley’s dedication to acquisition, innovation, mentorship and unwavering support of the operator who uses the equipment has been extraordinary. For decades, his expertise, his influence and acquisition strategies have immeasurably contributed to the success of the 160th (Special Operations Aviation Regiment) and for the Army Special Operations, Aviation. The building dedication in his name is a well-deserved recognition for his positive and lasting impact to special operations aviation. John Shipley’s legacy will forever be a part of the unit’s history.”

Perna recapped many of Shipley’s accomplishments and accolades during the ceremony. He shared anecdotes and quotes about Shipley’s achievements and his impact on the Army aviation community. 

“Mark Twain once said that the two most important days in your life are the day you were born and then the day you figured out why,” Perna said. “Mr. Shipley, it is easy to see that you figured out ‘why’ way back in 1960. It was to help save the lives of our service members and help them accomplish their mission.  So, on behalf of the countless Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, civilians and their families who you have served during the past six decades, I say, ‘Thank you.’”

In his closing statement, Shipley paid tribute to special forces pilots and crews and gave some parting advice. He gave special thanks to the members of the 160th Special Forces Aviation Regiment. Shipley said when he first started, they flew an average of two rescue missions a year. 

“We’d go out, come back and have a few beers,” Shipley said. “(Now, they) fly more extreme missions every single night in countries all over the world, more than we thought would ever be flown. … If somebody needs rescuing, they go get them. It’s amazing. … They are all volunteers. They wear the American flag on their hearts, not on their lapels.”

Shipley thanked several members of the Army aviation enterprise, his colleagues and family. He closed with a bit of advice for the assembled guests. “Take care of your family, take care of yourself, and take care of your country,” he said.