The command sergeant major for the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command, or ATEC, bid farewell during separate retirement and change of responsibility ceremonies at ATEC headquarters Nov. 28.
Command Sgt. Maj. Andrew B. Connette relinquished responsibility to Command Sgt. Maj. Jon Helring during a ceremony presided over by ATEC commanding general, Maj. Gen. John W. Charlton.
Charlton passed the ATEC unit colors to its new senior enlisted advisor to signify the trust and confidence he had in Helring’s ability to fully and faithfully execute the duties of his predecessor.
Charlton welcomed Helring’s wife, Sonya, and their daughter Callie to ATEC and Aberdeen Proving Ground. Sonya is a master sergeant in the Army assigned to Fort Meade as a senior intelligence sergeant.
Helring, a native of Killeen, Texas, served as commandant at the Noncommissioned Officer Academy at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, before assuming responsibility as ATEC’s command sergeant major.
Following the passing of the colors, Charlton spoke highly of Connette’s professionalism and expressed his gratitude for his service to his country and to the ATEC family.
“CSM Connette is a battle-tested and proven leader who embodies the warrior ethos,” Charlton said. “He takes pride in what he does and displays professionalism in all aspects of his duties.”
A native of Wilmington, North Carolina, Connette has been ATEC’s senior enlisted advisor since June 2015. Prior to ATEC, Connette worked at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy in Fort Bliss, Texas, as a military history instructor for the Sergeants Major resident course.
Connette retired surrounded by family members — his wife, Jules and his two brothers, Woody and Albert and their wives, Jane and Charlotte.
During his retirement ceremony, Charlton thanked Connette for serving as a mentor to many of ATEC’s finest Soldiers and most importantly, as a leader.
“Andy saw his time here at ATEC as a chance to mentor and pass on the wisdom he has gained over the course of his career to the Army’s next generation of great NCOs,” Charlton said.
“He is a highly respected and well-regarded senior leader who has built up a well-deserved reputation over the years for being the epitome of a professional Soldier.”
Connette, who was awarded a Legion of Merit for the outstanding work and impressive accomplishments he achieved during an Army career that spanned over three decades, was also presented with the ATEC Medallion in appreciation of his exceptional duty performance while assigned to ATEC.
Connette’s wife received a certificate of appreciation signed by the Army’s Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley, for the tremendous support she gave Connette throughout his 32-year Army career.
Charlton commended Jules for serving as a key member of the Army’s Family Readiness Group and for her dedication to helping people in any way she could.
“Jules, you are a rock star military wife, and I know Andy appreciates everything you have done for him and the Army community along the way,” Charlton said.
Charlton also shared Jules’ love for fishing and said that according to Connette, it was what had sealed the deal on their marriage.
Connette said he didn’t know how much Jules liked fishing until the day he fell overboard into the Atlantic without a life vest while they were fishing 12 miles offshore. Connette said he eventually made it back into the boat – but without Jules’ help. He said that Jules, who didn’t know how to operate the boat, had never once let go of the fishing rod.
Charlton had only one question for Connette: Who caught the most fish?
Connette thanked his wife for her love of fishing and for gladly picking up and moving and doing most of the packing and cleaning with each new assignment.
“My wonderful wife Jules, I’ve never had the right words to say to her,” Connette said. “Throughout deployments, she lived with the unknown and served as a beacon of strength for those around her.”
“I couldn’t be more proud of her.”
ATEC’s chief of staff, Karen Taylor, credited Connette for being one of the greatest leaders she’d had the privilege to work with.
“Andy is kind, tough, caring and most of all, humble,” Taylor said. “He epitomizes the NCO Corp, always looks out for others and puts their needs above his own at all times.”
“He will be greatly missed, but his legacy of caring for people and supporting the Army and the ATEC mission will go on forever.”
“I hope he gets time to relax and catch a lot of fish!” Taylor said.
Reflecting on his military career, Connette said he accumulated, received and acquired a lot of things while in the Army that he didn’t have before he joined in 1985.
“I’ve got a wife, a couple of dogs and an email account; a lawn mower, silverware and a college degree,” Connette said. “I’ve got ulcers and arthritis, but I’ve also made enduring lifelong friends along the way.”
Connette said he was humbled by the service and sacrifices of the thousands of wonderful people he had met throughout his career who were still alive today because of the important work carried out by the dedicated men and women at ATEC who committed themselves to making sure warfighters have equipment that works.
“I can’t tell you how honored I am by your presence, nor can I express how proud I am to have been on the same team with you,” Connette said.
Friends and colleagues of Connette’s shared that the Army is not just losing a valued Soldier, but also a trusted leader who will be missed for his infinite wisdom and the level of knowledge and experience he brought with him.
“We will lose a hardworking Soldier and a focused leader who always put himself where all leaders should – at the point of friction,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher A. Prosser, command sergeant major for Yuma Proving Ground in Yuma, Arizona. “I will miss his candor and willingness to help out when and wherever he was needed.”
In closing, Connette thanked God for seeing him through events he said most people wouldn’t be able to comprehend and for sparing him to fulfil his life’s purpose and carry out the Army’s mission.
Connette also shared one last bit of wisdom for the road.
“There are no atheists in a foxhole,” Connette said.
Connette and his wife plan to relocate to coastal North Carolina after retirement.
By Sandy Gibson, ATEC