Lt. Col. Eric J. Schilling officially took over for Lt. Col. Stephen Kohler.

MIDDLETOWN — It's been 25 months since Lt. Col. Stephen Kohler first addressed a crowd of people outside the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant's administration building as he took command of the 19,000-acre installment, and with two years passed, it was time to pass on that command to another.

Lt. Col. Eric J. Schilling officially took over that role Thursday, a day before the U.S. Army's 244th anniversary, during a Change of Command ceremony. The ceremony is an important one for all military sectors as it honors the departing commander and marks the peaceful and orderly transition of authority and responsibility with the transfer of the unit colors.

Officiating the ceremony was Col. Michael Garlington, commander of Crane Army Ammunition Activity.

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"Obviously, as one commander leaves, another must be chosen to take over. That choice is not easily made," Garlington said, addressing a crowd of friends and family of the two honored military men who had gathered alongside community members and IAAP employees to observe and celebrate the symbolic passing of colors meant to mark the peaceful transition of command. "Selection for command can be considered the ultimate voice of confidence by our Army senior leadership, as only the top 25 percent of all lieutenant colonels are selected to be commanders at the battalion level."

Schilling first joined the Army in 1990 as a tracked vehicle mechanic. Prior to his appointment as commander of the IAAP, Schilling oversaw the disposal side of munitions as deputy director of the Tradock Capability Manager - Explosion Ordnance Disposal in Fort Lee, Virginia, but for the next two years, he will oversee their manufacture.

It was an appointment Schilling had hoped for, and the IAAP was his first choice when filling out his command preference sheet.

"It's another opportunity to learn kind of the life cycle of ammunition, so as an explosive ordnance disposal officer, we are there to protect against explosive hazards on the battlefield, caused by unexploded ordnance remnance on the battlefield, so really this is just seeing the other side of that life cycle into how those ordnance items are manufactured," Schilling said during a reception following the Change of Command ceremony. "It's really a unique opportunity to see that whole process all the way through from a cradle to grave perspective for ammunition."

As Schilling greeted new faces, Kohler said goodbye to familiar ones.

Kohler will go on to fulfill his new appointment as deputy commanding officer of the First Armored Vision Support Brigade. But before moving forward, he looked back on May 16, 2017, when he took command of the Middletown plant.

"I stood here almost in this exact same spot 25 months ago having no idea what laid before me, and I said that I was full of many emotions, and the three that really stood out to me were how fortunate I am, how grateful I am and how excited I am, and I still feel all those emotions," Kohler said. "But the most out of all of those today, I am immensely grateful."

Kohler spoke of his gratitude to the people of southeast Iowa for the warmth and graciousness they have shown him over the past two years, to the 785 IAAP employees for their dedication in providing the nation's military with the munitions needed to keep the country safe, as well as for their professionalism and institutional knowledge, and to his family.

During his time at the IAAP, the plant was recognized for its manufacturing and recycling efforts. Garlington commended Kohler for his vision and partnership with the Iowa National Guard and Reserves, which revived land use and training at the installation, resulting in 12 field exercises being held.

"Additionally, Iowa's lauded as the organic industrial base's best armament retooling and manufacturing support program for new munitions and funding new technologies," Garlington said. "Steve excelled as a strategic logistics commander who has greatly assisted improving operations at this installation."