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Oklahoma Aerospace, Defense Innovation Institute gains first executive director

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GeneKirkland

Retired Lt. Gen. Gene Kirkland will serve as the inaugural executive director of the Oklahoma Aerospace and Defense Innovation Institute.

Retired Lt. Gen. Gene Kirkland has been appointed as the inaugural executive director of the Oklahoma Aerospace and Defense Innovation Institute at OU. 

The appointment is effective Dec. 1, pending the OU Board of Regents’ approval, according to a university research press release. Kirkland has 34 years of experience in the Air Force, with 19 of those spent in executive leadership positions. 

The release reads Kirkland most recently served as the commander of the Air Force Sustainment Center, Air Force Material Command, which is headquartered at Tinker Air Force Base. According to The Oklahoman, Maj. Gen. Tom D. Miller has taken over the position from Kirkland, making him Oklahoma's new highest-ranking Air Force official. 

“(Kirkland) brings a wealth of expertise in aerospace sustainment, strategic insight into national defense trends and a strong record of senior executive experience,” OU President Joseph Harroz said in the release. “His leadership will be instrumental as our university accelerates our research initiatives to advance Oklahoma’s growing aerospace and defense industry.” 

According to the Oklahoma Department of Commerce website, aerospace and defense is the second-largest and fastest-growing industry sector in the state. The release reads OADII was launched at OU as part of its aerospace, defense and global security research initiative — one of four strategic research verticals identified in the university’s strategic plan. Its website states OADII provides “holistic solutions addressing the aerospace, defense, and global security challenges of today and tomorrow.”

Kirkland will build connections with strategic partners in the aerospace, defense and global security sectors, like military commands, research laboratories, intelligence organizations and industrial contractors, according to the release. 

The release reads Kirkland entered the Air Force in 1988, and has lived in Oklahoma for six of the nine last years of his career in the branch. He holds master’s degrees in national resource strategy from National Defense University, national security and strategic studies from the Naval War College and administration from Central Michigan University. He also earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Florida. 

While serving as the Air Force Sustainment Center commander at Tinker, he led 40,000 Total Force U.S. and U.K. airmen across three air logistics complexes, three air base wings and two supply chain wings, according to the release. These operated from a global network of 26 locations. 

Kirkland served on the logistics staff in the U.S. Central Command and the Joint Staff, and as executive officer to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force. He also acted as commander of the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex and director of logistics at the headquarters of the U.S. Air Force, according to the release. 

“The institute will be well served by Gen. Kirkland’s experience and leadership at Tinker Air Force Base and his entire Air Force Career,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said in the release. “I look forward to see what he will accomplish by facilitating stronger connections between research at OU and private-sector partners to develop innovative new solutions to national security challenges.”

Kirkland said in the release OADII promises to be “win-win-win” for OU, Oklahoma and national security. 

“I am proud to join the OU team and specifically the (Vice President for Research and Partnerships),” Kirkland said in the release. “There is great potential for OU’s world-class research capabilities in radar, sustainment, modernization and advanced technologies. I look forward to working with faculty to expand OADII’s partnerships with industry and government.”

senior news reporter

Ari Fife is a senior news reporter and a senior journalism major minoring in international studies and political science. Previously, she served as a summer editor-in-chief, news managing editor, assistant news managing editor and a senior news reporter.

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