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The command of Carrier Air Wing 5 changed Friday in Pacific skies over the USS Kitty Hawk, with radio transmission of the ceremony provided on the carrier.

“An airborne change of command is truly where it’s at,” Rear Adm. James Kelly, commander of Carrier Group 5, said in a press release issued from the Kitty Hawk. Kelly officiated the ceremony from an EA-6B Prowler.

Joining Kelly in the air was the outgoing commander of the wing, Capt. Patrick “Blood” Driscoll, in an F/A-18C Hornet, and his second-in-command, Capt. Joseph “Joey” Aucoin, in an S-3B Viking, who is replacing him.

Although change of commands are routine, one that takes place in the air, rather than aboard a ship or on land, is unusual. “That’s pretty wild,” said Brian Naranjo, a spokesman at Atsugi Naval Air Facility, Japan, where the wing is based.

According to the Navy release, Driscoll said the event was “great,” after landing on the Kitty Hawk. “This will be my last real flight and my last day as [air wing commander], and I get one last trap, so it’s pretty exciting.”

Driscoll, who commanded the Navy’s only permanently forward-deployed air wing for the past 16 months, received the Legion of Merit for his conduct, performance and service.

The air wing flew more than 3,000 combat sorties during Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to the press release, supporting the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and the U.S. Army V Corps.

Aucoin becomes the wing’s 57th commander and said his goal is to “maintain the high state of readiness of this air wing,” according to the press release.

Why the decision was made to make the change of command in the air, as well as how much it cost, was unknown. The Kitty Hawk was at sea, and its officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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