Capt. Shay takes command of EAW

Capt. Christopher Shay addresses the crowd at the change of command ceremony for Naval Air Station Whidbey Island's electronic attack wing. Justin Burnett/ Whidbey Crosswind

Whidbey Island Naval Air Station’s electronic attack wing welcomed a new leader last week.

In a change of command ceremony held on base March 24, Capt. Christopher Shay formally relieved Capt. Thomas Slais, Jr., as commander of Electronic Attack Wing, U.S. Pacific Fleet.

Encompassing 92 aircraft and 3,700 personnel, the wing oversees the operation of 13 active VAQ squadrons, one Fleet Replacement Squadron, the Electronic Attack Weapons School, the EA-18G Fleet Introduction Team, and the Northwest RegionalNaval Intelligence Center.

Following long-standing naval tradition, and before a sizable crowd, the proverbial reins were passed when both men read aloud their new orders.

Shay, who has served as wing deputy commodore since August of 2009, is to stay on as commodore while Slais has been reassigned as director of the Navy Inspector General’s Office in Washington D.C.

The ceremony’s guest speaker was Vice Adm. Allen Myers, commander of Naval Air Forces. In his introductory remarks, Myers commented that the weather on Whidbey Island was once again better than that of San Diego, Calif.

“Perhaps we need to relocate my headquarters up here,” he joked.

The jest resulted in a chuckle from the crowd and an energetic, yet silent applause from Congressman Rick Larsen, who was also in attendance. Larsen serves on the armed forces committee.

Myers singled him out for his ongoing efforts to support NAS Whidbey Island, arguing for its continued health and longevity. He extended similar thanks to Oak Harbor Mayor Jim Slowik, saying both men contribute greatly to the positive relations between the base and the community.

“I can tell you that’s greatly appreciated from afar,” he said.

In recognition of the Navy’s 100th year in aviation, a year-long celebration, Slais also honored several World War II vets in attendance. He called particular attention to Oak Harbor resident Harry Ferrier, who was one of just three men in his torpedo squadron to survive the 1942 Battle of Midway.

Recounting Ferrier’s harrowing and inspiring mission against the Japanese carrier task force, in which five of the six planes in his squadron were lost, Slais was overcome with emotion.

“Harry, thank you for your exemplary honor, courage and commitment in service to our great nation and for the strength your example gives to all who still wear the uniform today,” he said.

An officer presents flowers to the wife of Capt. Thomas Slais, Jr., Helene, at a change of command ceremony last week at NAS Whidbey Island. (Inset left: Capt. Christopher Shay.) JUSTIN BURNETT/WHIDBEY CROSSWIND

Finally, Slais thanked his parents, wife and children. If wasn’t for their continued support and love, he would not be where he is today.

Shay, who said few words, also thanked and expressed his love for his wife. After passing on praise to Slais, Shay went on to say that he was honored and humbled “by assuming command of this very unique community” and that he had high hopes for the future.

“Whidbey has a lot of experience with transitions and I believe in the end we’ll set the bar for success,” Shay said.