USS Nimitz change of command ceremony based on tradition, service and family

BREMERTON—The heart of the U.S. Navy can be can be summed up in three words: Tradition. Service. Family.

Perhaps, nowhere is this more in evidence that in a change of command ceremony.

One of those traditions is that if you’re not early, you’re already late. Which explains why on Jan. 12, thousands of the USS Nimitz crew and officers were already lined up in formation around the perimeter of the ship’s cavernous Hangar Bay 2 well over an hour before the change of ceremony was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. They were there to show their respect for their outgoing commander, Capt. John C. Ring, and meet their new leader, Capt. Kevin P. Lenox.

Off in one corner of the hangar, another tradition was warming up. The U.S. Navy Band Northwest performs at some 120 change of command and retirement ceremonies every year, according to their leader, Lt. Bruce Mansfield. But this one was special, and he was personally conducting.

As the guests began to arrive at 9:30 a.m., the color guard, which had been busily rehearsing its moves, made last-minute adjustments to each others’ uniforms and gear. The formation of crew members came to parade rest.

White-gloved officers with their medals and sabers, chiefs with their medals and cutlasses, local dignitaries, admirals, and family members took their places.

Captains and admirals, active and retired, and dignitaries were piped aboard.

And then it was time for Capt. John “Ringo” Ring to make his last entrance to the twitter of the bos’un pipes and the words, “USS Nimitz arriving.”

For the next hour, Navy leaders, beginning with Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, USN, Commander Naval Air Forces, and Rear Adm. William D. Byrne, would praise the accomplishments of Capt. Ring and his replacement, Capt. Lenox. Ring and Lenox in turn would speak. All would tell mildly embarrassing stories about one another.

But, ultimately, it was Capt. Ring’s day. Having achieved what is perhaps the surface Navy’s highest position, commander of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, after 30 months it was now time to give it up. It was obvious that he did so both with a great deal of pride in, and praise for, those with whom he served.

The Navy traditionally thinks of itself as family. As head of the Nimitz family —“at least for the next 30 minutes”— Capt. Ring praised his crew for its service, thanking many enlisted and officers by name. He thanked the men and women of PSNS, again many by name, whose service had helped the 45 year-old aircraft carrier get ready for sea in record time. He thanked local officials for their support. And most of all, he thanked his wife, Cat, for her role in nurturing the families of the crew.

But beneath all of the well-wishing was the knowledge that, while he had gotten the Nimitz and her crew ready to once more go to sea, when she sailed she would sail without him.

Then the ceremony was over, and and Capt. Ring left the podium. The bosun whistle twittered again, but this time the words were simply “U.S. Navy captain departing.”

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