Lt. Col. Allan “AJ” Pitchford could have chosen anywhere for his military promotion ceremony. But he chose Mercer University.
Pitchford, who was promoted from major to lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army during a Feb. 10 ceremony in the Presidents Dining Room, spent some of the most formative years of his life at Mercer. Having the ceremony at the University helped recognize “where it all began,” he said.
Pitchford first came to the University 25 years ago as an eighth grader when his father, the late Sgt. 1st Class Jay Pitchford, began teaching in the ROTC program. He often visited campus with his dad, and by the time he graduated high school, he had a four-year Army ROTC scholarship to attend Mercer. At the University, he met his wife, Suzanne; earned a degree from the Stetson-Hatcher School of Business; and was commissioned as an Army aviator.
“It set me on a path to this, and I am so thankful for where I am and the family that I have,” he said.
Since graduating in 2006, the Army has taken Pitchford throughout the country to Alabama, Texas, New Mexico and Kentucky, and across the globe to Korea and Afghanistan. With this promotion, he’s now stationed at Fort Gordon near Augusta, where he works in the Cyber Center of Excellence as an operations research system analyst.
In this role, he is helping support the Army in finding new cyber and electronic warfare technologies and systems.
“What we try to do as analysts is ask the right questions and make sure we do rigorous analysis on these new technologies before we make large-scale purchases for the Army and give them to soldiers to use in combat operations,” Pitchford said. “It’s a lot of experimentation, designing of experiments, a lot of planning and studying the aspects.”
While stationed at other military bases, he’s helped tailor incentives to help recruit young people to the Army and worked to help find the next generation combat vehicle.
“What’s really fun for me is that I’m a data analyst, and data can take the form of a lot of different things,” he said. “I’m not a subject matter expert on recruiting or cyber or electronic warfare operations, but I can collaborate with those subject matter experts and help them improve their analysis to make the right decisions for the Army.
“Every new assignment is a different subject matter for guys like me, and so we spend a lot of time understanding the problem and finding the right way to attack it to the benefit of the people that the problem belongs to.”
Maj. Bobbi Box, assistant professor of military science at Mercer, said Pitchford is the perfect representation of the Army profession.
“This is a Mercer alumnus who chose to serve in the Army, and he has made a successful profession out of it,” she said. “What a great way for him to come back and demonstrate that achievement and celebrate with Mercer.”
During his promotion ceremony, Pitchford repeated the Oath of Office, which was administered by retired Col. Michael Junod, director of the University Center. It’s tradition for officers to recite the oath upon promotion, and every time it has carried a little more meaning, Pitchford said.
“Each time it carries more weight with the experiences and the commitment that go with it,” he said at the ceremony while sniffing back tears. “I’m thankful to be able to look back from then until now.”