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Pledging “absolute dedication” to his new charges, Capt. Thomas A. Parker relieved Capt. Robert D. Barbaree Jr. as commanding officer of the USS Kitty Hawk in a ceremony at sea Feb. 27.

Barbaree’s five-month command of the Yokosuka-based carrier began in September following the sudden ouster of Capt. Thomas Hejl.

Under Barbaree’s leadership, the carrier passed crucial qualification tests and headed for its new assignment in the Central Command area of responsibility, for possible future operations against Iraq.

As the ship’s 32nd commanding officer, Parker joined the crew en route to the Middle East.

“We’re in the fast lane out here,” Parker told the crew, according to a Navy news release, “and as you know, there are no exits in the fast lane. So let’s be prepared at all times.”

Parker recently completed a tour as Delta Crew Command director assigned to Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center and as vice director for plans at Headquarters, U.S. Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo.

He is no stranger to the Pacific. As skipper of the USS Belleau Wood, he oversaw the Sasebo-based ship’s completion of the Navy’s largest and most successful hull swap to date, with the USS Essex. He assumed command of the Essex in July 2000.

As an aviator, Parker has logged more than 3,500 hours and 650 arrested landings in the E-2C Hawkeye.

Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Baker, Amphibious Group ONE’s training and readiness officer, said Parker had a “positive effect” on his career. Baker was the USS Belleau Wood’s chief engineer when Parker was skipper.

“It was an honor to work for Captain Parker on Belleau Wood. During the time I worked and served with him, he always provided the greatest possible positive leadership,” Baker said from his Sasebo Naval Base office Monday. “Captain Parker had a positive effect on my career and the careers of other Belleau Wood officers. I feel he made them better officers.

“It is great to have Captain Parker and his family again in Japan and part of the Forward Deployed Naval Forces,” Baker said.

Parker said he and the crew have a vested interest in working together.

“Your business is my business and your success is my success,” he said, according to the news release. “I pledge the absolute dedication and effort of myself and I ask the same of you.”

In September, 7th Fleet commander Vice Adm. Robert Willard relieved Hejl of command of the forward-deployed aircraft carrier, citing a loss of confidence in his leadership abilities.

Barbaree, who was serving as 7th Fleet’s assistant chief of staff for operations, plans and engagement, hit the ground running, implementing longer work hours and firing 11 members of the crew, including the ship’s chief engineer. The result was a timely completion of extensive improvements to the Kitty Hawk’s engineering plant, according to 7th Fleet.

Most recently, Barbaree led the ship to the Central Command area of responsibility for possible future operations in the Middle East, including Iraq.

Under Barbaree, Kitty Hawk has totaled more than three months at sea in the Western Pacific Theater and Indian Ocean.

During the ceremony, Barbaree thanked his former crew, according to the news release. Barbaree said he “was blessed to serve with a crew that refuses to quit and I’m thankful for that.”

“I am humbled and honored to have spent the last several months commanding such respectable and honorable Americans. I leave Kitty Hawk knowing that she is ready to answer our nation’s call, when and if it comes,” he added, according to the news release.

Barbaree’s next assignment will be as chief of staff to Commander, Operational Test and Evaluation Force.

Greg Tyler contributed to this story.

Capt. Thomas Parker

Capt. Thomas Parker, a graduate of Virginia Military Institute, was commissioned an ensign in 1976 after completing aviation officer candidate school in Pensacola, Fla.

He has been assigned to several squadrons, including Carrier Airborne Early Warning Training Squadron 120 in Norfolk, Va., and Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 123; deployed aboard the USS Saratoga; and executive and later commanding officer of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 124, assigned to the USS Theodore Roosevelt, taking part in Operation Desert Storm.

As tactical action officer on the staff of Commander, Cruiser Destroyer Squadron 8 in Norfolk, Parker took part in the liberation of Grenada and the capture of the Achille Lauro hijackers.

He served as operations officer on board the USS America.

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