Friday, March 27, 2009

USS Whidbey Island Change of Command

CDR Junge's remark from this morning's Change of Command ceremony in the Metro Machine Shipyard. I was invited but couldn't make it. I am as disappointed about not making it as I am happy for CDR Junge and his family on this day.

Commodore, thank you for your kind words. I’ve spent months thinking about writing, and giving, this speech. But, unlike the one I wrote and gave almost two years ago – which I wrote with relish and excitement – this one I postponed and postponed, only writing the first words three weeks ago. As a result, I fully expect this to be as disjointed, fragmented, and confused as my thoughts and emotions are today.

I remember standing on the flight deck 20 months ago with Captain Pete Fanta and my predecessor, Erik Ross, and making jokes about how when taking command this ceremony is just like getting married. As a groom all you do is show up, say the right words at the right time, do what you are told.

Well…relinquishing command, in turn, is akin to being the father of the bride and giving someone you love away to a complete and utter stranger, but having all the trust and confidence that he will do everything to take care of your girl.

Like all analogies, that one falls apart if you dig to far…but I can unreservedly say that I have loved this job…for all it’s faults, problems, challenges, and infuriating times I loved it. From my first day underway with a conning officer who was, I later learned, conning the ship for the very first time…to my last night sleeping on the barge instead of in my all too familiar cabin.

Despite, or perhaps because of, what Paulette and I came to call “The Drama” I have grown, and learned, and had some amazing epiphanies, and also made some incredible mistakes. I thanked the crew yesterday for their support in a challenging tour…but want to mention a few things along the way about the crew whose command I relinquish today.

In the 602 days since I took command, this ship was out of homeport for over 320 of them with 90% of those days underway, at sea.

The most underway ship in the Atlantic Fleet for most of that tour.

With a crew who had already deployed for six of the twelve months before I took command.
The days of “where are the carriers” has definitely been replaced with “where are the amphibs” and this amphib was there, and there, and there over and over again.

One spectacular underway replenishment of a merchant vessel.

Two beer days.

Three times reporting that we were out of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Four amazing summer port calls that many other ships and crews only dream of.

10 rounds in defense of the ship.

Operations with any special operations unit you can name. This crew did superb things, in difficult conditions and they deserve my thanks, my gratitude, and the gratitude of a Nation who will never fully understand what they did and how they fit into our continued freedom. And that’s OK…because if we are doing our jobs right, then no one ever remembers us.

This crew is an amazing collection of people and a study in contradictions. For all of our successes and challenges, the one thing I will always remember is that everyone who walked onboard this ship and spent more than 30 seconds with a member of this crew came away knowing that these Sailors are proud of what they do, proud of the United States Navy, and proud of USS Whidbey Island.

There are a few people I want to thank from outside the lifelines. First of all, Captain Pete Fanta, who was my first commodore and could not be here today. He let me command from the very first day. There are still squadron commodores out there who reach inside the lifelines and make decisions for those commanding officers. Captain Fanta was not one of them and he let me do my thing – even letting me make mistakes and sometimes taking the heat for me so that I could learn what to do, what not to do, and be a better Captain.

Commodore Lineberry – though only working for you for a short time thank you as well for letting us do our thing our way as we moved from the operational phase into what you see around us. You have a great staff that have been nothing but professional and helpful and I wish you the best as you deploy South on one of the most important missions our Navy does today.

Commodore Craig Kleint and Captain Michael Hill and the rest of the LSD LPD Class Squadron staff. They have done amazing work documenting the well intentioned mistakes Navy has made towards LSDs and helping provide solutions to correct those errors. It’s an almost thankless job – but valuable and slowly being recognized for how important it is.

I’d like to thank CDR George Bain, who also could not be here. In a dark time last November he lent his wit, his experience, and his support when I and the crew really needed it. His death in January was a tremendous blow to all of us and he leaves behind a world that was the better for us having known him.

Metro Machine – John Stremm, Rod Douglas, Bob Wallace and an amazing team working behind, above and around us on this massive ship who let us take a short pause for this ceremony.

Command Master Chief Kevin Morgan and his wife Anne – bedrock support and sage advice.

Master Chief – Even though BMC has done a great job and we transferred you to ACU2 for all the right reasons, I have missed talking to you every day since you left.

Chaplain Charles Luff. He carried peppermint lifesavers with him everywhere he went and was an inspiration to everyone on our deployment.

Our Scan Eagle detachment – four slimy contractors and four IA’d Sailors who helped us make history.

LCDR Dave Zielinski and LCDR Tony Duttera – the face of Amphibious Squadron TWO. Both class acts and officers I hope to serve with again.

When a blogger who has never served a day at sea questioned my ability to command a number acquaintances, but mostly strangers, rapidly defended me. Boston Maggie, Neptunus Lex, Galhran, Commander Salamander, Eagle1, Sailor Bob, Georgia Girl, MustangLT and a whole host of others – thank you all and I am grateful that a messy drama like that brought so many new and valuable friends into my life.

Christina Wray and Penney Soboski – two amazing women who balanced busy homelives with demanding jobs as Whidbey Island’s ombudsmen. Thank you for everything you did behind the scenes to take care of the families we left ashore when we were at sea. Without you, your dedication, and your care this job would have been far more challenging.

BMC Garrett – thanks for stepping in as Command Master Chief and I hope to see your name on the Senior Chief list.

XO, thanks for getting the difference between “at, near, and about”. I wish you, Julie, and your ever growing family the best as you finish this tour and move on to your future.

Mom – thanks for spending time with the girls while I was gone. It will take some getting used to with you visiting a little bit less now with me home and Saylor in Annapolis.

Finally, Paulette, Ella and Eva. I have missed you these past two years more than you will ever know. And I know you missed having me at home. As we discussed over and over again, we made the decision to geo-bach this tour for all the right reasons. It still sucked. While I am saddened to be leaving command, that sadness is eclipsed – completely and wholly - by the joy I have that I will once again be home with you three (and Lenny, Jane, and Goldie) each and every night – not just a few weekends each month.

Kirk – congratulations on coming to command. You are the absolutely right person for this job and I could not think of a better person to be turning command over to. I envy you being able to take Whidbey Island, put her together and take her back to sea again.

Eighteen years ago this month I reported to my first ship. Sixteen years ago this month I qualified surface warfare officer. Fifteen years ago – almost to the day – I left that first ship. At least one shipmate from that time is here today, as are a number of others who helped me along the way. It has been a winding, challenging, interesting road to get here and I am curious to see what comes next.

In closing…I want to leave you with the New Years greeting one of my favorite authors used this past year:
May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art -- write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.

I will now read my orders:
“From: Chief of Naval Personnel Millington, Tennessee;
To: Commanding Officer, USS WHIDBEY ISLAND
Subject: Bupers Order 0124-1025-0127
When directed by reporting senior, detach from duty as Commanding Officer USS WHIDBEY ISLAND, and report to for duty to the Office of the Secretary of Defense.”

CDR Weatherly, I am ready to be relieved.
BZ Commander!

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