McAlester Army Ammunition Plant has a new commander.

Col. Joseph D. Blanding relinquished command to Col. Shane M. Upton in a change of command ceremony at the McAlester base on Wednesday.

“It’s a humbling honor to stand before you with a team with the reputation that McAAP has,” Upton said.

“It truly feels like home already to the Upton family,” he added.

Officials attending the ceremony included District 17 State Rep. Jim Grego, District 18 State Rep. David Smith, and District 7 State Sen. Larry Boggs, McAlester Mayor John Browne, McAlester City Manager Pete Stasiak, McAlester Economic Development Director Kirk Ridenour, Pittsburg County Sheriff Chris Morris; representatives of U.S. Senator James Inhofe, Senator James Lankford, and Congressmen Markwayne Mullin, and others.

McAlester Army Ammunition Plant is the Department of Defense's premier bomb- and warhead-loading facility, and supplies about one-third of munitions across the Department of Defense. The plant delivers thousands of Mark 84 2,000-pound bombs, M11 artillery rounds, 105 artillery rounds, massive ordinance penetrators, and more.

McAAP is one of 14 Joint Munitions Command installations and one of 23 organic industrial bases under U.S. Army Materiel Command.

Upton is McAAP’s 36th commander and the 19th since the plant transferred from the Navy to the Army on Oct. 1, 1977. He comes to McAAP from the Advanced Strategic Leadership Studies War College program at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he earned a master's degree in Strategic Studies.

Brig. Gen. Michelle M.T. Letcher, commanding general of Joint Munitions and Lethality Life Cycle Management Command and Joint Munitions Command, hosted the event.

She said the change of command ceremony dates back to 1066 and represents the passing of responsibility, authority and accountability of command before she commended Blanding’s leadership.

“I think Joe’s strength is his care for people,” Letcher said. “He’s not a man of very many words. He’s one of those silent professionals. But every time Joe engages me, it’s about people.”

During his tenure at McAAP, Blanding developed a Leader Investment For Tomorrow (LIFT) program to develop employees’ leadership skills. Twenty-two employees completed the program and seven have been promoted, Letcher said.

Blanding guided upgrades of the legacy X-ray systems — increasing productivity by about 20% — and carried out a JMC initiative to reform munitions storage at McAAP, Letcher said. She added that the changes at McAAP exceeded JMC expectations by more than 400%.

“The munitions beat the soldiers to the point of need; they’re sitting there waiting for soldiers to show up,” Letcher said. “That’s how fast and how efficient this organization is.”

McAAP has issued and received 44,682 tons, processed 4,180 reacquisitions, manufactured 4,915 pallets, 662 wooden crates, 7,514 additional products — “100% on time,” Blanding said.

He thanked employees for their efficiency and hard work.

“Thank you all for what you do every day — and more importantly, the way you do it: with pride and patriotism,” Blanding said.

Blanding read William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus” to call McAlester to “master its fate” and “control its future.” He challenged city and community leaders to set the standard for success at McAAP.

He thanked retired Civilian Deputy Gary Reasnor, current Civilian Deputy Brian Lott, Chief of Staff John Ross, and McAAP directorates for their support.

Blanding thanked city and community leaders for their support and surrounding communities for making his family feel at home.

“We have never felt so welcomed and part of a community as we have here,” Blanding said.

Contact Adrian O’Hanlon III at aohanlon@mcalesternews.com