By KARI HAWKINS
Special Operations officer has enjoyed experience
For much of his Army career, Col. Tim Baxter hasn’t been able to share his military experience.
As a Special Operations Soldier, the code is “to be a quiet professional.”
So, leading the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Project Office for the Program Executive Office for Aviation gave Baxter one of those rare opportunities to publicly share in the success of the Army’s unmanned aircraft systems.
When he arrived in 2011, the first objective on his calendar was to lead efforts of the first-ever manned/unmanned teaming exercise at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, an event that brought Army leadership, national media, and a team of contractors, civilians and Soldiers together to prove such teaming was possible.
And now, as he goes on to another challenging assignment with Special Operations, Baxter is still excited about being part of the celebration of the 2 million mark in flight hours for UAS. The accomplishment was recognized in March with a special program and demonstrations at UAS headquarters at the Sparkman Center, where congressional and Department of Defense leaders as well as state and local leaders joined employees for the event.
“This is an outstanding organization, and it was my number one choice for an assignment three years ago,” Baxter said. “In survey after survey with employees, UAS is one of the highest rated organizations at Redstone Arsenal.
“We have such a diverse portfolio that touches all formations within the Army. The employees who work here have an opportunity to really support the entire Army.”
In many ways, the success of UAS stems from the motivated employees who saw an opportunity for UAS in post-9/11 operations, and then dedicated themselves to developing, fielding and acquiring systems that Soldiers could use effectively in both battle and peacetime operations.
“This organization has been really good over the years about getting input from employees and then using that input for improvement,” Baxter said. “What we are doing ultimately supports the Soldiers on the ground.
“From 2001 on, there has really been an explosion in UAS. We started with larger programs for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. We used that technology to develop smaller and more affordable UAS. As the size has gone down, the capabilities have pushed down from the brigade level to the squad level.”
The UAS fleet – which includes highly successful Gray Eagle, Hunter and Shadow on the larger, team approach end of the spectrum and the Raven and Puma on the smaller, single-Soldier end of the spectrum – is supported by more than 400 employees at Redstone and about 500 support employees deployed on the battlefield along with hundreds scattered throughout industry.
“Each one of them is unique. Each has a different customer base focused on different Army formations,” he said.
“The challenge is to continue to improve our products and the ability to maintain our technology. We have the most advanced UAS in the world right now. It is important to maintain that and overmatch with improved products. We’ve matured our programs and moved them forward in terms of vision and mission, and this team does an outstanding job in continuing to support those deployed.”
Today, with unmanned aircraft going commercial in many ways, Baxter said the Army will benefit from what industry is doing to develop commercial technologies.
“From our perspective, that really allows the technology to mature,” he said. “The government doesn’t have to focus on internal research and development because industry is doing that for us. It is a good thing that industry is now pushing the envelope in terms of technology.”
UAS, which is currently flying an average of 4,000 hours a month stateside, will demand more access to the national airspace to keep troops fully trained on the system, he said.
Baxter, whose background includes both Special Operations and acquisition, brought to the job as the UAS project manager the knowledge of how unmanned aircraft systems are used in missions. Now, as he goes back to Special Operations Command as the military deputy to the acquisition executive at McDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, he will take with him his experience in leading an organization that impacts all Army missions and all branches of the service.
“This is a natural progression for my career. I still like what I do and I want to continue to serve,’ he said.
“With every job, you learn a lot about yourself and how to support the Army mission. Here at UAS, it has come down to knowing the vision and mission, and then setting priorities and executing.”
Baxter’s 30-year Army career began in 1979, when, as a young man not quite ready for college, he enlisted to pursue an Army infantry career.
“I was fascinated with the Army,” he said. “I had always been an outdoorsman. I enjoyed hunting, fishing, camping. So, the infantry was appealing to me.
“As enlisted, I had an opportunity to observe, see things that I liked and that I didn’t like about my leaders, and how to do things right. Learning from others is an important part of maturing your leadership skills. It’s about observing and taking the best parts, and incorporating those into your leadership skills.”
After six years, he accepted a two-year ROTC scholarship at Northern Michigan University, graduating in 1988 as a distinguished military graduate. He commissioned into the infantry, where he has served in several infantry and Special Forces assignments prior to transitioning to the acquisition corps.
His assignments have included TOW platoon leader and Rifle Company executive officer, 4th Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, North Carolina; operational detachment commander, A Company 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Operations Command, Fort Bragg; acquisition officer, Light Tactical Vehicles Project Office, Program Executive Office for CS-CSS, Warren, Michigan; and deputy product manager and product manager, Counterproliferation Project Office, Special Operations Command, McDill Air Force Base.
During the busy years of his career, his wife Anne and his five children – one boy and four girls now ages 16 to 24 – have been his support.
“They have been very, very strong. I couldn’t do what I am doing without the support of my family,” Baxter said.
His family has enjoyed the Huntsville area community and the relationship Redstone Arsenal has with the community outside the gates.
“There is a very good alignment between Redstone Arsenal and that’s demonstrated every day,” he said.
He and his wife have especially enjoyed playing softball for the Unmanned & Unafraid team in the Army/NASA softball league, where Baxter is a pitcher and his wife a catcher.
While Special Operations was Baxter’s niche, the acquisition field gave him a unique role that led to furthering his education and, now, allowing him to combine his two career fields in his new assignment at McDill Air Force Base. As he moves into his new position, he will take with him the leadership lessons he learned from now retired Maj. Gen. Tim Crosby and Maj. Gen. Bob Marion, the former and current PEO for aviation, respectively.
Baxter pointed out that UAS is usually “the last man out” when a deployment comes to an end. For him, as he leaves the UAS Project Office, Baxter is confident that UAS will remain in high demand in pre-deployment, deployment and post-deployment scenarios.
And he is looking forward to making a special visit back to Redstone soon to celebrate the 3 million mark in UAS flight hours.