Command at Patuxent River Naval Air Station formally passes from Capt. Ben Shevchuk to Capt. Heidi Flemming. Photos by Mike Wilson.
Patuxent River Naval Air Station has its first female “mayor.” That’s how many people in the community describe the commanding officer of the base that has 22,000 workers and residents every day. On Thursday, September 18 Captain Heidi Fleming succeeded Captain Benjamin Shevchuk in a formal Navy Change of Command Ceremony at Hanger 101, the Navy Test Pilot School’s hanger.
Fleming has been Pax River’s executive officer during Capt. Shevchuk’s almost year-and-a-half tenure as CO. She is a U.S. Naval Academy Class of 1989 graduate, Her return to Pax River in 2013 was her second tour there; she was executive officer and then commanding officer of Scientific Development Squadron (VXS) from 2006 to 2008. Fleming’s family from Alabama and North Carolina attended the ceremony, along with some of her classmates from the Naval Academy.
Thirty-six male commanding officers preceded Captain Fleming since the base’s commissioning in 1943. About a half dozen of them were in attendance at the ceremony.
“I am very humbled to be standing before you today as commanding officer of Patuxent River Naval Air Station,” Fleming said after reading her orders. In her remarks she called a “national treasure” the base that “supports our warfighters with research, development, test and evaluation.”
Capt. Fleming also thanked some of the people she has worked at other places, including several assignments at the Pentagon.
Capt. Fleming called her predecessor Capt. Shevchuk “one of the most dedicated, intelligent, compassionate leaders I have ever known.” She also thanked Shevchuk’s wife Cheryl for her support. She said she was excited that Mr. and Mrs. Shevchuk and their two children will remain in the area. Shevchuk is transitioning to another job at Pax River: Naval Air System Command’s inspector general.
Before passing the command to Fleming, Shevchuk looked out into the audience and said, “The place looks amazing especially with all your smiling faces.”
Through his tenure as base commander, Shevchuk has never hesitated to imbue his strong religious beliefs into his talks. In his remarks he thanked the 800-person Pax Professionals support team and he added, “I thank God Almighty, my heavenly father.”
Shevchuk said he had experienced in his career “God’s goodness in the wonderful people who have been part of my Navy family.” The outgoing commanding officer also thanked the base’s first responders. “There is nothing more important to me than protecting people.” He also mentioned the member of Fleet Support and Navy Recreation, as some of those people who do for other people.
During the ceremony a Legion of Merit was bestowed on Capt. Shevchuk by Rear Admiral Markham Rich, commandant of Naval District Washington.
Guest speaker for the ceremony was Rear Admiral Donald Quinn (USN, ret.) who had been one of Capt. Shevchuk’s skippers during his career. Quinn said of Shevchuk leadership at Pax River: “He is the consummate operator. That’s his passion.”
Quinn used the occasion to enumerate the numerous awards and accomplishments garnered by Pax River during Shevchuk’s command, including millions of dollars in construction and more than $1 million in energy savings.
The Invocation and Benediction for the event were said by Ron Morris. Pamela Cox performed the National Anthem.
A dinner in Capt. Shevchuk’s honor was held earlier in the week and a reception followed the Change of Command ceremony.