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UK Warrant Officer Reflects on Beloved Colleague, Unique Salo Experience

Retired Warrant Officer Tony Harrop held many assignments during his 37 years of service in the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force. One of his favorites was the three years he spent working as a security assistance liaison officer (SALO) with the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command (USASAC) in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania.

For Harrop, the program still holds fond memories for he and wife Margaret, who he affectionately calls Mags. They have been back to the U.S. twice since his tenure ended in 2011, sightseeing and visiting friends they made while living here.

But there was a deeper meaning for his third trip back in August 2023. Harrop returned to his former workplace to see the conference room that was dedicated in April to a dear friend, Canadian Army Capt. Michael Aucoin, who died suddenly while on duty as a SALO.

Harrop met Aucoin, who he described as ‘one of life’s characters,’ when he started as a SALO in 2008. Aucoin’s outgoing personality and a shared mischievous sense of humor meant an instant connection for the two.

“He was such an extrovert,” Harrop said. “He was just a person you could not dislike.”

The mischievous streak often surfaced in the form of office hijinks, like when Harrop would rearrange things in Aucoin’s office to perturb his neat and orderly tendencies.

“He noticed straight away and put everything back,” Harrop said with a chuckle.

Pam Rodgers, who was Harrop’s management assistant, described Aucoin as full of life and love. In a touching tribute that was read on her behalf by USASAC Commander Brig. Gen. Brad Nicholson during the conference room dedication ceremony, she said:

“You never knew what escapade he might get you involved with. He would accept any challenge and go broke on any offer. He was so full of vim and vigor. He was sincere, charming, kind and open to adventures of all sorts.”

By all accounts, Aucoin’s wife, Lisa, was just as charming, and the Harrops and Rodgerses spent much of their free time with the charismatic couple. As they grew closer, they saw each other as family more than just friends, which made Aucoin’s passing even more devastating. It was April 2011 when Lisa delivered the terrible news that her husband died from a blood clot that traveled to his heart.

“It was so sudden and unexpected — a freak accident, really,” Harrop said.

At just 36 years old, Aucoin’s life was cut much too short. But it’s clear from the tributes shared at the dedication ceremony he made a huge impact in that time. Harrop watched the ceremony online as words like thoughtful, kind, funny, energetic, generous, intelligent and driving force were used to describe his friend. Although he was grateful to be part of the ceremony virtually, he was still compelled to see it in person.

“It was a horrible time (when Aucoin died),” Harrop said. “But I just felt I needed to go back just for closure and to see what they’d done for him, which I think was fantastic.”

The door to the conference room is adorned with a simple gold plaque bearing Aucoin’s name. Inside hangs a photo of a uniformed Aucoin gazing stoically into the distance alongside a brief narrative of his life and accomplishments. Harrop was moved knowing his friend would not be forgotten.

“It’s just something nice that he’ll be remembered for many SALOs to come.”

Since Harrop’s time as a SALO, there have been many changes to the program, including the current building which houses the Aucoin conference room. The modern, renovated space was a great improvement over the older building he worked in. More than a half dozen new countries have joined the program since 2011, and Harrop enjoyed getting to speak to some of them during his visit. Rodgers also added that the current SALO program manager, Terra Good, played a significant role in improving the program and establishing a high level of professionalism within the group.

Harrop was glad to see the program’s progress because he knows the important role SALOs play in the foreign military sales (FMS) process.

“Basically, we’re the interface between the U.K. and the U.S. with purchasing spares through the program that the U.K. can’t get anywhere else,” Harrop said.

The SALOs’ impact can range from hastening deliveries during combat operations to ensuring sustainment and modernization for equipment that gives greater interoperability with U.S. Forces.

It’s highly technical work that Harrop said took about six months to get a full grasp on but is invaluable for the partner nations. For instance, Harrop developed a price comparison that showed his command the substantial cost savings of the FMS program. But the biggest benefit to him was the face-to-face interaction with the U.S. FMS team and access to the logistics systems, which helps the process run smoother and more quickly.

But beyond cost savings and expedited shipments, the SALO program offers something that can’t be measured on a spreadsheet. It creates lifelong relationships and cultural appreciation between service members from across the globe.

“It makes you realize there’s no need for the world, for countries, to be against each other,” Rodgers said. “Because when a small group of people that are from those countries get together, there’s joy, and friendship, and fellowship and just such a warm community. There’s nothing like it. I tell everybody it’s the best job I ever had.”

The opportunity to work alongside SALOs from 10 other countries, learn about their cultures and form friendships that still last today is what made this assignment so special for Harrop. And while he lost a dear friend, he also gained a family in the Rodgerses, including their children and grandchildren. When they get the chance to visit each other, it’s not just going on a trip to see friends. It’s going home to see family.

Source: Dvids