As the #MeToo movement continues to shake the country, a female colonel is taking charge at Scott Air Force Base, replacing a male commander who is under investigation for allegations of sexual misconduct.
Col. Leslie A. Maher, 49, the new commander of the 375th Air Mobility Wing, made brief comments at her assumption of command ceremony Tuesday in the Scott Events Center. She focused mainly on her enthusiasm for the challenge and her appreciation for the troops.
"Thank you for what you do," she said. "You are making us the best nation we can be."
Maher spoke with a decidedly casual tone and demeanor, taking the microphone out of its base and holding it in her hand while moving around on stage.
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"I'm not going to sit behind a desk either, so I won't stand behind the podium," she quipped.
Maher admitted to feeling emotional while introducing her personal guests, including husband Ed, a retired Air Force master sergeant; her two sons, Luke, 11, and Nick, 10; her sister, who has moved to the area to help care for the boys; and an old high-school cheerleading friend from South Dakota.
"I'm the crying colonel, so just get used to that," Maher said.
The 375th Air Mobility Wing provides aeromedical evacuation for patients, airlift for high-priority passengers and cargo and installation support to 31 mission partners, including the U.S. Transportation Command, Air Mobility Command and 18th Air Force.
"(Maher) leads more than 3,100 personnel, oversees assets totaling more than $4 billion and controls an annual budget exceeding $130 million," according to her Air Force bio.
Maher is the third female commander in the wing's 69-year history. The last one was Col. Laura L. Lenderman, who served from 2015 to 2017.
The next commander, Col. John Howard, served only five months instead of the usual two years. He was removed Dec. 11 by Lt. Gen. Giovanni Tuck, 18th Air Force commander, who "lost confidence" in his ability to lead the wing, according to a written statement.
"Howard is under investigation for alleged sexual misconduct," a Dec. 13 press release stated. "An investigation is being led by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. While the investigation is ongoing, additional details surrounding the alleged misconduct cannot be released to ensure the integrity of the process. Airmen are innocent until proven guilty."
The removal came in the midst of a national #MeToo movement, which centers on a woman's right not to be sexually harassed or abused by men in power. Dozens of celebrities, businessmen, politicians and organizational leaders have been reprimanded, suspended, fired or shamed as a result of allegations made in the past five months.
"The investigation (involving Howard) is still ongoing, so we can't make a comment on it," Master Sgt. Tom Doscher, of 375th Air Mobility Wing media operations, said Tuesday.
For the past two months, Col. W. Chris Buschur, the wing's vice commander, has been in charge at Scott. Howard is now working in Operational Acquisitions Support with the Air Force Installation Contracting Agency at Scott, according to Capt. Ryan DeCamp, of 18th Air Force public affairs.
Because of the unusual circumstances, the base held an "assumption of command" ceremony for Maher instead of the traditional "change of command" ceremony. In the latter, a former commander would turn over the wing's guidon.
In his remarks, Tuck praised Maher for her "instrumental" command during U.S. military relief operations in the Caribbean after Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
"She has a lot of depth and breadth, and as you look at her and give her the opportunity to lead, she's going to knock it out of the park," he said.
When Tuck handed Maher the guidon, she flashed a big smile and shook it in her hands, prompting laughter and a round of applause from the audience.
Maher came to Scott in July as chief of the Special Access Programs Division with Headquarters Air Mobility Command. Before that, she was special assistant to the commander and later commander of the 621st Contingency Response Group at the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey.
Maher enlisted in the Air Force in 1987 and later served with the 184th Fighter Wing, Kansas Air National Guard while earning a bachelor's in Spanish at Wichita State University. She did officer training in Alabama and navigator training in Florida and Texas.
"She earned her wings in 1997 and has participated in numerous operations, including Operations Southern Watch, Allied Force, Noble Eagle, Desert Fox, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and the relief efforts in support of (Joint Task Force-Matthew in Haiti)," according to her bio.
Maher also has served or studied at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas, U.S. Air Force Headquarters in Virginia, Fairchild in Washington state, Kadena in Japan, MacDill in Florida, Presidio of Monterey in California and the National War College in Brazil.