As it goes, military families are used to saying goodbye. This week, the crew of the USS John C. Stennis said goodbye to its main and very visible leader.
Commanding Officer Captain Ronald Reis told his staff two weeks ago that he planned to retire after 28 years of service. He and his family will be moving to Charleston, S.C. Taking his place will be Captain Michael Wettlaufer, someone Reis knows very well.
“He’s a personal friend,” said Reis. “There’s no one finer or better prepared to take command of the ship. It’s been an honor and privilege to command and serve aboard our nation’s finest capital warship in the City of Bremerton.”
Although he leaves behind a different kind of family, Reis said he is certainly looking forward to spending more time with his own. Reis recalled missing most of his children’s birthdays due to deployments and the work that comes along with his job.
He and his wife, Nancy, still plan to give back to the Navy community, he said.
“(It’s) time for me to give back to my family,” he said.
Today, following a Change of Command ceremony on the Stennis which is in dry dock, Reis and Wettlaufer visited with family and other military officials in an intimate reception held on base.
While the Navy band played, guests munched on hors d’oeuvres, sipped on blended cocktails and chatted with the two decorated captains. The warmth of the room was evident by the melting ice sculptures prominently displayed on various snack tables.
As for taking on the Stennis and its crew, Wettlaufer said he’s excited to start his work as the new captain. He said he expects to be captain of the ship for about 30 months, same as Reis.
“It’s an honor … I’m privileged to be back with the crew,” he said. “I know a lot of them. Being with the crew is what I’m so looking forward to.”
According to his Navy-released biography, Wettlaufer has a Master of Science in Aviation Systems from the University of Tennessee and a Master of Arts in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College.
Although sailors have mixed emotions on seeing the command change, it is a familiar and regular routine that is a part of the Navy life.
CS3 Jamika Minor said it is a bittersweet time for the Stennis sailors as Captain Reis saw the crew through two back-to-back deployments.
“He’s a great man,” she said. “He’s quiet, but you know he’s working. He encourages us all the time. This is a bittersweet moment. He’s a person just like us. He did a great thing going on both deployments. We completed these missions with great pride and dignity. There wasn’t a day I wasn’t motivated.”
As for the new captain, Minor is excited to see him get to work. She is especially thrilled to see what new fitness programs or ideas he brings to the table.
“He was here previously,” she said. “He’s a good motivator also. He’s a good fitness person. I’m looking forward to the same guidance as Captain Reis’ … I’m looking forward to the future with Captain Wettlaufer. I’m sure he’ll be just as great as Captain Reis.”
After 30 months of being the Commanding Officer of a ship large enough to be a city, Reis is proud of his sailors and ship. He always wants to be remembered as the captain who took care of his sailors.
“In the end, the legacy is going to be 10, 10, 100,” he said. “Ten fingers, 10 toes, and 100 percent of the sailors coming home. That will be my legacy.”