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Navy Northwest Region leader has Whidbey roots

A former A-6 pilot at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station has taken over leadership of Navy Region Northwest.

On Wednesday, July 11, Rear Adm. William French handed over region commander reins to Rear Adm. James Symonds.

Hundreds of attendees gathered in Jackson Plaza at Naval Station Everett to bid farewell to French and welcome Symonds and his wife to the region or, in this case, back to the region.

“My wife, Anne and I are very excited to come back to the Great Northwest,” Symonds said. “We spent 14 of our first 18 years in the Navy on Whidbey Island. We know the area well, and enjoyed our time here immensely. We feel very fortunate to be returning to an area we love.”

Symonds reports to Navy Region Northwest from his previous assignment as director, Chief of Naval Operations Environmental Readiness Division.

French actually reported to his new command in April as commander of U.S. Naval Forces Marianas in Guam. Since then he has been serving a dual role while continuing to keep a watchful eye on this region from afar.

“Today isn’t about Bill French,” he remarked during his speech, “It’s about the sailors and civilians of Navy Region Northwest who execute the mission.”

French also spoke about Puget Sound area communities, saying that “without the great support of the communities our bases are in, doing the job would be hard and our quality of life wouldn’t be nearly as good.”

He added that support from organizations such as the Navy League and USO are also critical to the mission accomplishment.

“It’s all about relationships,” French said.

French thinks that the one accomplishment during his watch he is most proud of is the establishment of the Joint Harbor Operations Center and Maritime Homeland Security Operational Planning System for Puget Sound in which he was a driving force.

He also cites the Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt Five Star accreditation rating received in 2006 for all of the region’s visitor and bachelor quarters, and the Commander in Chief’s Installation Excellence awards received in 2005 (Naval Base Kitsap), and 2006 (Naval Air Station Whidbey Island) as treasured marks.

During his career, Symonds has served on board numerous naval aircraft carriers as a pilot, and as commanding and executive officer. His last sea tour was as the second skipper of USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), from 2003 to 2005. Throughout his flying career, he has accumulated 4,000 flight hours and 1,000 carrier landings.

Symonds said that the command is an opportunity to lead and help sailors. “That’s how I’ve viewed the other commands I’ve been fortunate to have, and that’s how I view this one,” he said.

“Our installation commanding officers and staffs are people who work very hard — sometimes with limited resources — to ensure our sailors and their families are satisfied and comfortable with their Navy lives so sailors can focus on their missions,” Symonds added. “I’m looking forward to helping advance that cause the best I can.”

Symonds sees his vision beginning with clean, good looking bases and facilities, which provide services that completely satisfy the needs of the customers.

“It also includes a reputation in our community as good neighbors who respect others and do our part to preserve our environment,” he said. “Just as importantly, I am committed to safe operations and travel throughout this region.

“My experiences as a Whidbey-based A-6 pilot and a squadron and ship commanding officer have prepared me very well to understand the challenges of commanding Navy Region Northwest,” added the Sodus, N.Y. native. “I am ready and excited to get started.”

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