Naval Base Ventura County Holds Change of Command Ceremony

Last Updated : 2/27/2012 12:19:05 PM



By Andrea Howry
Lighthouse editor
In a ceremony described during the invocation as an “ancient and noble ritual,” Capt. Lawrence Vasquez relieved Capt. Jim McHugh as commanding officer of Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC) on Friday, Feb. 24.
About 400 people attended the hourlong change of command, which doubled as McHugh’s retirement ceremony. Near the end of the event, McHugh received the Legion of Merit and was declared an Honorary Seabee.
Admirals, congressional representatives, a state senator and dozens of local political, academic and business leaders, as well as friends and family of the two men being honored, were among those attending the ceremony.
The event was held in the cavernous Hangar 34 at NBVC Point Mugu. Outside, an E-2C Hawkeye aircraft and a new MH-60R Seahawk helicopter with only 400 hours in the air — “It smells like a new car,” Vasquez said — were on display. McHugh’s background is as an E-2C flight officer; Vasquez’ is as leader of the Wolfpack helicopter squadron.
The guest speaker for the ceremony, which began promptly at 10 a.m., was Vice Adm. William French, who became commander of Navy Installations Command in Washington, D.C., just a few weeks ago. Until then, he had been commander of Navy Southwest Region and McHugh’s supervisor.
“I’ve found it’s a great deal hotter in Washington, D.C., than here, and I’m not referring to the weather,” French quipped.
The admiral listed McHugh’s many achievements — among them the establishment of Wounded Warrior training camps at the base and improved facilities for Sailors, including renovated barracks — and his many awards for environmental stewardship.
He called McHugh the embodiment of the phrase, “Get the job done, no matter what the task.”
To the dozens of community leaders in attendance, he stressed the importance of NBVC to the Navy’s mission and thanked them for their support of the base.
Even in these times of military drawdowns — currently the Navy has 285 ships, half of what it once had —a “sluggish world economy” and the fact that the United States is still at war, French said he has complete faith in the Navy and the U.S. military as a whole.
“I’m not worried about our ability to achieve success,” he said.
McHugh spoke next, thanking the many people he had worked with through the years, especially during the last three years when he was commanding officer. He called those years the “most challenging, but most fulfilling” of his 26-year Navy career.
“It’s really been a great ride,” he said of his life in the Navy.
He gave special thanks to his family: his wife Karen, with whom he will soon be celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary, and his three daughters.
“You are the light of my life, and I love you,” he told the girls.
McHugh said he is following his late father’s advice to “bloom where you are planted.” He plans to stay in the area, where the girls are involved in academics and sports and where his wife has a career.
He closed with an Irish blessing — the same one he said his father, a two-star admiral, used to close his speeches.
Then, declaring, “I am ready to be relieved,” he turned the stage over to the new commanding officer.
With chilly temperatures in the breezy hangar, Vasquez kept his comments short, introducing his family and inviting the crowd to tour the aircraft outside.
Then, in rich Navy tradition, awards were given to McHugh’s family, and the flag that has flown over the duty stations and the ships where McHugh was deployed was formally presented to the outgoing commanding officer.
“My name is Old Glory,” Capt. David Sasek, chief staff officer of NBVC, read as Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” played in the background. “Long may I wave, dear God. Long may I wave.”
Then came the reading of “The Watch.” A bell rang after Sasek read each  line — “While some of us were in our bunks at night, This Sailor stood the watch,” “While some of us were in school learning our trade, This shipmate stood the watch.”
Then came the end: “Capt. McHugh, you stand relieved. We have the watch.”
Lt. Cmdr. Jeffery Han gave the benediction, McHugh requested permission to go ashore for a final time, then he walked off the stage and down the red carpet to the words, “Captain, United States Navy, retired, departed.”