New admiral returns to Jacksonville to Navy Region Southeast helm
By DAN SCANLAN | The Florida Times-Union | Published: April 29, 2021
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — Rear Adm. Wesley McCall has come back to Jacksonville after previously commanding Naval Station Mayport a few years ago.
But now with three decades in the U.S. Navy, he is the new head of the Navy Region Southeast's 16 installations in 12 states and Cuba, including Naval Air Station Jacksonville where he will be based.
Taking the reins from retiring Rear Adm. Gary Mayes as the 42nd region commander, McCall thanked his predecessor for his leadership at Thursday's ceremony at NAS Jacksonville. Saying Mayes "made a difference," McCall said he is proud to take over command and be able to do it in Jacksonville.
"All the stars aligned because this is where we wanted to be and we are very thankful," he said. "... It took a lot of leadership from my mentors to get me where I am today and push me in the right direction; some tough love in some cases, and a love of family of course, long before I knew where I was headed. And it took the work of thousands of sailors to support me along the way."
Mayes, who has commanded the region since February 2019, got emotional at the end as he officially rang down his 34-year Navy career in front of family, friends and VIPs like U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, R-Jacksonville.
Before the ceremony, he recalled how his command included the Miami Air International flight skidding off NAS Jacksonville's runway two years ago in a thunderstorm, which he called a "miracle on the St. Johns River" since everyone survived. Issues like dealing with COVID-19 at the 16 bases under his command also became prominent during his tenure.
In the end, he said it's always been about the military and civilian employees and "their resiliency, their support for one another."
"This has been my most challenging tour in my 34 years in the Navy," Mayes said. "It was tough, but we had a job to do and that is support the fleet to ensure it is ready, and they did a tremendous job. At the same time, we remained safe."
McCall assumes command after most recently serving as an executive assistant to the assistant secretary of the Navy in Washington, D.C. The ceremony comes only two weeks after Capt. Jeffrey Hill took over command of NAS, the third-largest Navy base in the country.
That ceremony was closed to the media. But Thursday's saw a spaced-out audience seated between a World War II-era Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bomber and a new MH-60R helicopter from the Navy's HSM-46 squadron, aka the Grandmasters.
Taking the stage, Mayes first joked about his love of the Dallas Cowboys.
"Let me slip into something a bit more comfortable," sliding on a Cowboys COVID-19 mask.
McCall and Mayes both blame Tom Cruise and the 1986 film "Top Gun" as an inspiration for joining the U.S. Navy. But the outgoing commander says a dose of the Navy's precision flying team after seeing "Top Gun" sealed the deal to join after graduating in 1987 from Purdue University.
"The very next day, some friends and I drove to San Diego to Miramar, and the Blue Angels were performing," Mayes said. "So I see the Blues and the next day went back and I met a pilot who told me about aviation officer candidate school, and on Monday, I am talking to a recruiter and telling him I want to fly."
McCall, a 1990 U.S. Naval Academy graduate nicknamed "Cowboy" when he became a naval aviator in 1992, has had assignments with the HS-4 Black Knights as well as helicopter operations officer in Bahrain. He was executive and commanding officer of the HS-6 Indians on the USS George Washington.
On shore he was protocol officer for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and working with the assistant secretary of the Navy. Assigned to Mayport in 2013, he oversaw construction of its new fitness center, wharf upgrades and the Littoral Combat Ship Squadron Two headquarters before becoming executive assistant to Vice Adm. Dixon Smith at Navy Installations Command in Virginia.
Now his work is to "help protect our fleet" from whatever comes his way as well as the pandemic.
"We have to get ourselves through this COVID stuff, as hard as that's been on our Navy and our nation," McCall said. "I am hopeful the next few weeks that we will have some more guidance coming down from our leadership that will help reduce the strain."
Mayes' past assignments included flying with, and commanding helicopter squadrons, plus a U.S. Senate liaison officer, vice presidential naval aid, Navy secretary administrative aide, Naval Base Coronado commander and Navy Region Northwest commander. In retirement, he said he, wife Stephanie and son Garrett will stay in Jacksonville.
"I've stayed from the East Coast to West Coast, and Jacksonville is the best city by far that I've been to," he said. "It's military-friendly, and there's so much to do here. I do plan to get involved in the community. We will see where it goes from there."
Mayes received a triangular-folded U.S. flag at the end of the 90-minute ceremony, then to the clanging of a bell walked out with wife and son to a standing ovation.
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