‘I relieve you, sir’

At Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, every person who works at the base is part of a team.

And Team Whidbey has a new head coach.

Wednesday, Oct. 13 — the U.S. Navy’s 229th birthday — Capt. Sydney Abernethy III replaced Capt. Stephen Black as commanding officer of NAS Whidbey Island.

During the change of command, Abernethy, Black and Rear Admiral Leendert Hering, commander of Navy Region Northwest, spoke of admiration, accomplishment and accolades.

They stressed how much the Navy has changed, how changes will continue and how everyone must accept and adapt.

Hering called Black a “critical leader.” Black’s commitment to reaching goals and setting new ones was essential in a time of change, Hering said. He cited changes in security and increased deployments and increased stresses on sailors and aircraft as well as moving programs to private-public ventures as challenges Black has tackled.

Hering praised the incoming commanding officer before relinquishing the podium.

“I’m certain Syd Abernethy will lead Team Whidbey to incredible achievement,” Hering said.

Black began his farewell speech with thanks to his wife Jean then thanked city and county leaders for what he called “uncompromising support.” Other thank yous went to the community, especially area residents who deal with noise from the base.

Black has spent more than 21 years at Whidbey and said moving on would be difficult.

“It’s (changing command) like watching your ex-wife drive off a cliff in your new Mercedes,” he quipped.

He said Abernethy was starting what would be his “greatest tour.”

The actual change in leadership happened quickly.

Black and Abernethy faced each other and saluted.

“I relieve you, sir,” Abernethy said.

“I stand relieved,” Black replied.

Abernethy then faced the audience as commanding officer of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

He began command by thanking his family and introducing his wife, Carrie, to the Navy and to Whidbey. The Abernethys were married Oct. 8.

“I’m proud, humbled and honored to be your commanding officer,” the U.S. Naval Academy graduate told Team Whidbey.

“Team Whidbey will face challenges in the next three years,” Abernethy said.

“Those challenges will be met with excellence in leadership.”

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