The commander of Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) — the Air Force’s $4.4 billion research arm — has been removed from command while allegations of misconduct against him are investigated, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base said.

Top ranking AFRL commander at Wright-Patt under investigation, removed from command

General Arnold W. Bunch Jr., commander of Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC), relieved AFRL commander Maj. Gen. William Cooley from command Wednesday due “to a loss of confidence in his ability to lead, related to alleged misconduct which is currently under investigation,” the base said in a statement Thursday.

Both AFMC and AFRL are based on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, one of the nation’s largest Air Force bases and Ohio’s largest single-site employer, with 30,000 military and civilian employees and contractors.

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Bunch determined new leadership was necessary to ensure order and discipline and high performance within the organization, the base said.

Maj. Gen. William Cooley, who was just removed as Air Force Research Laboratory commander, gave the keynote presentation at the Air Force Institute of Technology centennial symposium on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in November. (U.S. Air Force photo by R.J. Oriez)
Photo: Staff Writer

“The Air Force takes any misconduct allegation seriously,” Bunch said in the statement. “I expect our leadership to uphold the highest standards and live up to the Air Force’s core values.”

Brig. Gen. Evan Dertien has been appointed AFRL commander, the base also announced. He most recently served as the Headquarters AFMC director of Air, Space and Cyberspace Operations. Dertien was previously AFRL’s vice commander from July 2016 to May 2017.

“I have great confidence in Brig. Gen. Dertien and in the professionalism of the entire AFRL workforce,” Bunch said. “Together, they will remain focused on implementing the U.S. Air Force science and technology 2030 strategy and ensuring AFRL is best postured to support the national defense strategy.”

A base spokesman said he could not answer questions about the alleged misconduct.

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The Air Force Office of Special Investigations is investigating the matter, he said. And Cooley has been reassigned as special assistant to the AFMC commander.

A spokeswoman for the office Thursday declined to comment, citing a policy of not commenting on open investigations. 

“At this point, that investigation is open and ongoing,” AFOSI spokeswoman Linda Card said. 

Cooley assumed command of AFRL in May 2017. The laboratory employs about 10,000 military and civilian personnel, including directorates in several states.

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As commander, Cooley managed a $2.5 billion Air Force science and technology program and an additional $2.3 billion in externally funded research and development, according to an Air Force description of AFRL. He also led a 6,000 people in the laboratory’s nine component technology directorates and the 711th Human Performance Wing.

AFMC is the acquisition arm of the Air Force, responsible for logistics decisions across the Air Force and employing some 80,000 military and civilian employees.

Cooley entered the Air Force in 1988 through the ROTC program after graduating from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a degree in mechanical engineering.

Wright-Patterson and its continued strength is a primary concern of the Dayton Development Coalition, which represents JobsOhio, the state’s private jobs creation arm, in the Dayton region. Jeff Hoagland, the coalition’s chief executive and president, said he expects the missions of AFMC and AFRL to continue unimpeded.

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“They have an unbelievable pool of employees,” Hoagland said. “To me, I think the continuity is very critical in the team that I know they have. That continuity will stay in place until this investigation is over. And then things will continue as they have for decades.”

He added: “The missions that are being done are being done by thousands of people at the base on a day-to-day basis. This will cause probably a little pause. But the critical work that AFRL is doing, that Life Cycle Management is doing … that work will continue.”

“The Air Force, obviously, they saw something, they want to investigate it, and they are going to follow their rules and procedures,” Hoagland added.

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