Subscribe
Capt. Justin D. Cooper, left, assumes command of U.S. Naval Air Facility Atsugi from Capt. Reed A. Eckstrom. More than 700 guests and sailors from Atsugi, tenant commands and the local community gathered Thursday for the change-of-command ceremony.

Capt. Justin D. Cooper, left, assumes command of U.S. Naval Air Facility Atsugi from Capt. Reed A. Eckstrom. More than 700 guests and sailors from Atsugi, tenant commands and the local community gathered Thursday for the change-of-command ceremony. (Jerret Gardner / U.S. Navy)

NAVAL AIR FACILITY ATSUGI, Japan — Before a vividly clear backdrop of Mount Fuji, Capt. Reed A. Eckstrom bid farewell Thursday to the base he commanded for three years and welcomed Capt. Justin D. Cooper II as his successor.

Guest speaker Rear Adm. James D. Kelly, Commander of Naval Forces Japan, praised Eckstrom’s accomplishments, which include awards for the galleys, lodging and environmental quality — all while facing serious budget cuts.

“The command won almost every award possible,” Kelly said at the change-of-command ceremony.

Kelly commended Eckstrom’s leadership, including supporting Carrier Air Wing 5 and maintaining ties with local cities exasperated by the noise created by the base’s fighter jets.

“Living with a noisy neighbor is not always easy,” he said.

In addition to earning a Legion of Merit, Eckstrom was recognized Thursday with an award from local businesses with the Japan-U.S. Goodwill Society.

Local mayors, other Japanese politicians and military leaders attended Thursday’s ceremony, as did nearly every U.S. Navy commander in the region.

Eckstrom deflected the praise, giving credit instead to those around him.

“For the last three years, I’ve served as the commanding officer … but I’ve never looked at anyone as working for me,” he said. “Rather, each and every one of you worked with me. We made a great team.”

Eckstrom leaves this week for a staff position with Commander, Naval Installations in Washington.

In welcoming Cooper, Kelly said, “we clearly drew the lucky straw ... We’ve got a guy with a great big brain and a global perspective to boot.”

Cooper, also a naval aviator, comes to Atsugi after a yearlong National Security Fellowship at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

After taking command Thursday, Cooper promised to continue Eckstrom’s duties: helping the air wing and other commands maintain readiness, upholding the quality of life for sailors and families and maintaining links to local communities.

Cooper faces a base in transition. Under a proposed U.S.-Japan forces realignment, several air components at Atsugi may be relocated to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in coming years.

As the equivalent of a small-town mayor, Eckstrom had his share of difficulties and achievements over his three-year tenure.

Along with a near-constant flow of letters and petitions from neighboring communities protesting jet noise and night landings, Eckstrom faced other bilateral challenges.

In July 2004, a helicopter flying from Atsugi to Yokosuka Naval Base dropped a box of bullets over Yokohama. In December 2004, part of an F/A-18 Hornet jet fell off and lodged in the roof of a building in Fujisawa. The following August, a Sea King helicopter made a precautionary landing at a beach in the same city.

But there were good times, too: A sailor saved a Japanese man off base after a fiery crash in May, Atsugi community members participated in myriad local festivals off base and Japanese turned out in huge numbers to open-base events.

To Eckstrom, his role as commander was seldom dull.

“I loved every moment of this job,” Eckstrom said.


Stripes in 7



around the web


Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up