ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. --
When Col. Ernest Lincoln Bonner and his own family needed it most, they received an outpouring of support from his Air Force family.
“Our wing, group and squadron, they picked up every mission responsibility I dropped with literally no notice,” Bonner said. “They helped us take care of our oldest son. They checked on us in the hospital. And they never made us feel that we weren’t pulling our weight. They uplifted us.”
Bonner said his primary goal in his latest assignment at Arnold Air Force Base is to reinforce this type of climate in the Arnold Engineering Development Complex Test Division.
On June 25, Bonner officially assumed the role of AEDC Test Division chief.
The assignment marks a return to Arnold AFB for Bonner, who is bringing more than 20 years of Air Force experience to the position.
Bonner was first assigned to Arnold AFB, the headquarters of AEDC, from June 2001 to December 2003 when he served as Space Systems test manager and chief at the Nuclear Weapon Effects Test Facility in the Space and Missile Systems Test Division.
“Arnold is a great place to work, and it is hard to overstate the importance of its mission to the nation’s defense,” he said. “The development of nearly every major aerospace weapon system in the U.S. military was supported by the test capabilities at Arnold. There is no other assignment I can think of where I could be part of a team whose impact on America’s defense is as broad and enduring as right here. I am proud and excited to be a member of the Arnold team again.”
Bonner feels his prior experience at Arnold will benefit him in his new role.
“First, I was assigned here as a captain, so I have some familiarity with Arnold, its mission and the people here, a few of which I have managed to keep in touch with over the years since I left,” he said. “I have also been involved in test and evaluation for most of my career, even in my space operations assignments. One of the unique things about satellite operations is that it is not uncommon for new capabilities to be developed and tested on operational systems. Because satellite capabilities are so few in number, there is often no other choice.
“Lastly, I have frequently been assigned to organizations where large portions, if not the majority, of the workforce has been civilian or contractor.”
Along with Arnold, Bonner’s experience includes prior assignments at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California; Edwards Air Force Base, California; Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama; and Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado.
Bonner earned his Bachelor of Science in aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Among other educational highlights, Bonner was named a Distinguished Graduate from Squadron Officer School at Maxwell AFB in 2002, received his Master of Science in aerospace engineering from the University of Tennessee Space Institute in 2008, earned his Master of Philosophy in military strategy from the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies at Maxwell AFB in 2011, and earned his Doctor of Philosophy in military strategy from the same institution in 2019.
Several of Bonner’s previous assignments were at the U.S. Air Force Headquarters in Washington, D.C. From June 2017 until his return to Team AEDC, he served as chief of the Strategy Division, Directorate of Strategy, Posture and Assessments, Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategy, Integration and Requirements at the U.S. Air Force Headquarters.
His awards and decorations include the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, the Aerial Achievement Medal with two oak leaf clusters, and the Air Force Commendation Medal.
Bonner said he is looking forward to settling back into the southern middle Tennessee area.
“When I was last here, I was a single captain in my 20s focused on doing the best I could in my job and working on my Master’s degree at UTSI in hopes of applying to the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School,” he said. “I was involved in the local community then, but not in the same way I and my family will be now. Now, I return in my 40s, married with three small children, so I expect it will be a very different experience, but one that my entire family is looking forward to. Our boys are especially excited to live near the lake.”
He is also looking forward to forging more relationships within the Air Force family. Bonner realized the importance of this while serving at Buckley AFB, where he was assigned from July 2013 to June 2016 as an operations officer and squadron commander with the National Reconnaissance Office. Midway through his squadron command, Bonner’s second son was born with dominant dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa, a rare genetic skin disorder. Bonner said his son’s skin was so fragile as a result of this that the slightest fingernail scratch could tear away a patch of skin.
Bonner’s son suffered a seizure when he was 9 months old. Unbeknownst to Bonner and his wife at the time, their young son had a strep infection that had gotten into his blood and bone through an injury to his skin under his right arm.
“By the time he was admitted to the hospital, they warned us that he might not survive and, to save his life, they might have to amputate his right arm at the shoulder,” Bonner said. “When I got the call on that Friday afternoon, all I knew was my wife and son were on the way to the ER. I told my team I was leaving, and I didn’t return for over three weeks.”
Bonner and his wife leaned on their Air Force family at Buckley. Those serving at the base alongside Bonner responded by working to ensure the mission was carried out and Bonner’s family was taken care of. His son is now a healthy 5-year-old with all limbs intact.
“My unit did some amazing things for the mission in Colorado that I remain proud of, and I will strive to help our team perform similarly here,” Bonner said. “But my number one goal is to continue cultivating an environment in the Test Division where we care for one another, happily pick up the mission slack for each other when life’s challenges arise, and uplift each other as part of the Air Force family.”