Story by Deidre R Ortiz on 01/24/2019Being in the role of AEDC Superintendent at Arnold Air Force Base for only seven months now, one could still consider Chief Master Sgt. Robert Heckman as being "new" to the job.
However, Heckman is quickly adapting to, and enjoying, his duties, which often require him to be a problem-solver.
"My job entails organizational transformation which is a fancy way of saying I hunt down real' problems impacting AEDC's ability to execute its mission," he said. "In a sense, I am the eyes and ears of the AEDC Wing Commander (Col. Scott Cain). I regularly engage in issues regarding operations, personnel utilization, processes and things affecting everything from good order and discipline to force development. Understanding the Complex's mission and how our people accomplish that mission enables me to get first-hand exposure to our challenges and work with our professionals to solve those challenges."
Heckman has a bachelor's degree in Computer Science and is currently pursuing a master's degree in Project Management.
Originally from Semmes, Alabama, Heckman began his career in the Air Force as an F15 and F111 back shop avionics technician before crossing over into communication in 1999.
"As a communicator, I would manage multimillion dollar communications projects and design/implement communication infrastructure for new facility construction."
Though his past experiences have been rewarding, Heckman stated that his current position is an especially rewarding one because it allows him to "engage directly with the Air Force's most precious asset which is its people."
"Seeing our professionals moving the ball forward for our nation in areas like hypersonics, propulsion and global strategic deterrence make this the most rewarding position I have held in 25 years of service to the Air Force," he said. "I am humbled and honored to be AEDC's Chief and hope to make a difference that leads to positive change across the Complex."
In the time he's been at Arnold, Heckman has spent most of his time familiarizing himself with the mission and the people, which means less time spent at his desk and more time being where the action is.
"In seven short months, I have been privileged to travel to all of the GSUs (geographically separated units) and see the outstanding accomplishments of the men and women of AEDC. What makes this role memorable is being part of the transformation currently underway that will take AEDC into the future long after I am gone. How our Complex is contributing to the transformation of warfighting in hypersonics, space test and Ground Based Strategic Deterrent will have lasting effects on how our nation engages and succeeds in future conflicts."
He also mentioned the importance of the work of those at AEDC and how that work is significant to the nation.
"This team is tackling our nation's toughest challengesperiod! The team accomplishes the impossible with less than adequate resources and still finds time to think about the future. The future of this nation depends on this team."
When asked what the highlight of his career is, Heckman has a hard time pinpointing just a single experience or event.
"Years ago if you asked me this question I would respond by telling you that my time assigned to a data masked unit was my most memorable. Today I would tell you that my entire journey as a United States Air Force Airman has been memorable. After 25 years of service you look back at who you were when you started your journey and compare it to who you are now.
"In between are a host of memorable experiences, some good and some bad, and people, some good and some bad, that have shaped me into the Airman I am today. I wouldn't trade any of those experiences nor would I change any decisions made because to do so would rob me of precious experience and memories that made me who I am today."
In his downtime, Heckman has quite a few hobbies he enjoys.
"When I am not working, I can either be found in my garage working with pallet wood, outdoors hiking or on my computer. I am kind of a computer nerd who likes to play World of Warcraft when I have time. I also like to run and have been known to go fishing on occasion."
Between woodworking and gaming, Heckman is also a big family man.
"My successful career would not be what it is without the love and support of my beautiful bride, Suzanne, and our children Cecilia and Colin. Suzanne and I have been married for 24 years; she is my air, she is my rock and has pushed me during times I just wanted to quit. I am a proud Papaw, or grandfather, to three grandchildren, and I like to spoil them whenever I can."