Retired Lt. Gen. Gene Kirkland will join the University of Oklahoma as the inaugural executive director of the Oklahoma Aerospace and Defense Innovation Institute. The appointment is effective Dec. 1, pending OU Board of Regents’ approval.
Kirkland has 34 years of experience in the Air Force, including 19 years serving in executive leadership positions. Most recently he served as the commander of the Air Force Sustainment Center, Air Force Material Command, headquartered at Tinker Air Force Base.
“Lt. Gen. Kirkland is the ideal choice to lead the Oklahoma Aerospace and Defense Innovation Institute here at OU,” said OU President Joseph Harroz Jr. “He brings a wealth of expertise in aerospace sustainment, strategic insight into national defense trends and a strong record of senior executive experience. His leadership will be instrumental as our university accelerates our research initiatives to advance Oklahoma’s growing aerospace and defense industry.”
“As the executive director of OADII, Gene will provide the experience, vision and leadership necessary to unite a new and growing team of faculty, students and staff, and recruit partners and affiliates to the institute,” said Tomás Díaz de la Rubia, vice president for research and partnerships at OU.
Other responsibilities of the position include establishing connections with strategic partners and entities in the aerospace, defense and global security sectors such as military commands, research laboratories, intelligence organizations and industrial contractors.
OADII was launched at OU to support the aerospace, defense and global security research initiative, one of four strategic research verticals identified in the university’s strategic plan that applies convergent OU research to significant, real-world challenges. Kirkland is the latest hire in support of OADII, joining the institute’s Operations Manager Cliff Wojtalewicz.
“The mission, vision and strategy of OADII hold such promise for innovation in support of national defense,” Kirkland said. “What Dr. Díaz de la Rubia and the OU team have created with the aerospace, defense and global security vertical — these are noble goals and I’m excited to get in on the ground floor of this initiative.
“The desired outcomes of new knowledge, enterprise development, impacts on society, and developing a workforce and leaders really show the power of the university within the partnership of academia, industry, government and civil society,” he added.
Kirkland has lived in Oklahoma for six of the last nine years of his Air Force career.
“My wife and I feel at home in this community,” he said. “The vision is for OU to be one of the leading research institutions in the nation supporting national defense, and that is completely aligned with maturing and supporting Oklahoma’s thriving aerospace and defense industry. OADII promises to be win-win-win for OU, national security and the state.
“I am proud to join the OU team and specifically the VPRP,” he added. “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.”
As the Air Force Sustainment Center commander at Tinker Air Force Base, Kirkland 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, operating from a global network of 26 locations. He is a career aircraft and munitions maintenance officer and has served on the logistics staff at U.S. Central Command and the Joint Staff. He also served as executive officer to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, the commander of the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex and held the role of director of logistics at the headquarters of the U.S. Air Force. Kirkland entered the Air Force in 1988 through Officer Training School.
He holds master’s degrees in national resource strategy from National Defense University, in national security and strategic studies from the Naval War College and in administration from Central Michigan University. He holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Florida, Gainesville, among other certifications and academic distinctions.
Responses from the Oklahoma Delegation:
“The University of Oklahoma has always played a major role in research and development for our national security, and I applaud their selection of Lt. Gen. Kirkland to lead their new Oklahoma Aerospace and Defense Innovation Institute,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe. “The institute will be well served by Gen. Kirkland’s experience and leadership at Tinker Air Force Base and his entire Air Force Career. 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.”
“OU is truly fortunate to have my friend, Lt. Gen. Kirkland, in this role,” said Sen. James Lankford. “He brings his knowledge and relationships for our defense and aerospace communities on strengthening sustainment both now and in the future. Lt. Gen. Kirkland is a humble, bold servant leader and collaborator who will undoubtedly be an asset to OU in the same way he has been an asset at Tinker ASC. He has provided vital feedback to my office as we work to update and improve defense hiring and other processes for defense contractors and active-duty military. I look forward to the ways Lt. Gen. Kirkland will bring his expertise, character and perseverance to this important role at OU for current and future Sooners and the entire state of Oklahoma.”
“After working with Lt. Gen. Kirkland for several years, I can genuinely say the University of Oklahoma could not have picked a better executive director for the Oklahoma Aerospace and Defense Innovation Institute,” said Rep. Tom Cole. “Not only will his expertise serve students and this program well, but it is always encouraging when we keep the brain trust of our state’s military installations in our state as we continue to expand our defense footprint. Congratulations to my friend and the University of Oklahoma on this exciting new partnership.”
“The Aerospace and Defense Innovation Institute at OU will benefit greatly from the lifetime of experience offered by LTG Kirkland,” said Rep. Stephanie Bice. “The role will be vital in helping continue the university’s partnerships within the industry, and LTG Kirkland’s history and relationships can only help the institute grow to better serve the students at OU, and our state and nation.”