SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni got a new commanding officer Friday as Col. Robert Boucher took over from retiring Col. James Stewart.

Boucher became the 33rd commanding Marine Corps colonel of the installation about 60 miles south of Hiroshima, according to a Marine Corps statement. He comes to Iwakuni after serving the last two years at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, where he was deputy director of Programs and Budget in the Finance and Resource Management division.

Stewart leaves Iwakuni after eight years total at the installation, serving at various points during his 29-year career, the statement said. Over the course of the past three years as commanding officer, he has overseen drastic changes as the base put the finishing touches on a civilian airport terminal and began to transform to accommodate a carrier air wing from Atsugi in 2017.

“The opportunity to have escaped a small town in Idaho, not just to serve in defense of the republic, but to have the opportunity to fly as a primary career; to have earned the title ‘Officer of Marines’ is phenomenal,” Stewart said in the statement. “Because I have spent a majority of my commissioned service coming to Iwakuni, I will miss Western Japan.”

Boucher was commissioned in 1989 after graduating from Eastern Washington University, according to his Marine Corps biography. A CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter pilot, flight instructor, and presidential pilot for Marine One, Boucher also participated in humanitarian and combat operations including Operation Determined Response in support of the USS Cole bombing aftermath and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

No stranger to Japan, he was stationed in Okinawa on two separate occasions, according to his biography. He has been awarded the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal with star, Air Medal with V, and Navy and Marine Commendation Medal with star.

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Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Okinawa for Stars and Stripes since 2014. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the newspaper. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times and other publications.

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