Base welcomes new leader

Capt. G. Jay Johnston and his wife, Cheryl, speak with Cecil Calavan, a Pearl Harbor survivor following Friday’s ceremony. - Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times
Capt. G. Jay Johnston and his wife, Cheryl, speak with Cecil Calavan, a Pearl Harbor survivor following Friday’s ceremony.
— image credit: Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times

Capt. G. Jay Johnston became Whidbey Island Naval Air Station’s new commanding officer in a formal ceremony at Haviland Hangar Friday, Aug. 13.

Hundreds of dignitaries and Navy personnel turned out to witness Johnston relieve Capt. Gerral David, who has been at the base’s helm since July of 2007 and is leaving for a new job as commanding officer of Naval Support Activity in Monterey, Calif.

The change of command ceremony, which David said was started years ago to ensure that no one mistook the replacement of one officer with another as a mutiny, included remarks by both men and the official reading of their orders.

David told the crowd that Johnston was more than qualified to pick up where he left off, as he has flown 236 combat missions and received at least 22 medals and awards for his service to his country.

“Capt. Johnston, call sign ‘Tank,’ is imminently qualified for command,” David said. “He’s done all the things the Navy could ask of an officer.”

Johnston hails from Durham, N.C. He is a 1983 graduate of North Carolina State University with a bachelor of science degree in computer science and received his commission through Aviation Officer Candidate School in 1985. He was designated a Naval Aviator in June 1986.

Subsequent tours were Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron Light 32, flying the SH-2F; transition to A-6E Intruder at Attack Squadron (VA) 42, NAS Oceana, Va.; VA-36 “Roadrunners;” Training Squadron 7, flying the TA-4J Skyhawk, Meridian, Miss.; and transition to EA-6B Prowler at Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 129 and VAQ-141 “Shadowhawks” at NAS Whidbey Island.

Johnston also spent time in Washington, D.C., working for the Office of Chief of Naval Operations and with the Joint Mortuary Operations Center.

Returning to Whidbey Island, Johnston went to VAQ-128 “Fighting Phoenix” as that squadron’s last executive officer before its untimely disestablishment in February 2004. He later served at VAQ-134 “Garudas” as executive and commanding officers; and USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), operations officer. Johnston’s most recent position was with the U.S. Joint Forces Command J7, Joint Warfighting Center as the Chief of the Training Development Group, Programs Division.

Johnston spent several minutes talking about his family, from his wife Cheryl, his daughter Mary, and sons Mark, Mike and Matthew. All of them feel like they have roots here and are happy to be returning.

“The theme here is this is our home and we’re glad to be back,” Johnston said.

He also passed on his thanks to his predecessor. He said he is being handed a base that is extremely well managed, along with an outstanding relationship with the community. Over the past week or two, Johnston said he’s heard almost too many good things about David.

“I was telling Cheryl the other night that if I have one more person tell me how great Gerral is, we’re just going to pack up and get out of here,” said Johnston, which resulted in a healthy round of chuckling from the crowd.

Over the past three years, David has not only proved himself a solid base commander but earned the respect of many in the community. Most recently, he helped secure locations for nonprofit organizations such as the Whidbey Animals’ Improvement Foundation and the PBY Memorial Foundation on the Seaplane Base.

Last year, he worked with the city of Oak Harbor to open Maylor Point Trail, as well as reopening the Crescent Harbor Marsh area to saltwater to help restore prime salmon habitat.

While David said seeing so many people show up was “humbling beyond words,” he pressed that he alone is not responsible for all that has been done over the past three years. It was what he referred to as “Team Whidbey.”

“I didn’t do any of these things” he said. “Team Whidbey did them.”

For his service, David was presented with two honors. Rear Adm. Douglass Biesel presented him with the Department of Defense’s Legion of Merit medal for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements, and the city of Oak Harbor and the Navy League jointly awarded him with the maritime service award for his exceptional dedication and vision.

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