Cmdr. Juan Lopez, USCG, handed over command of Training Squadron TWO to Cmdr. Thaddeus Withers, USN, Friday, Sept. 12 at Naval Air Station Whiting Field in a ceremony that incorporates and celebrates naval aviation traditions.
Integrating their aviation backgrounds into the event, the two officers will formally change command in the air while flying T-6B “Texan II’s”, but will land and taxi to the North Field hangar where the honors, ceremonies, and speech making will occur.
Naval change of command ceremonies enable the assembled crew, staff, friends and guests to recognize the accomplishments of the outgoing commander while providing an opportunity to welcome the new commander into the fold.
Under Lopez, the “Doerbirds” flew more than 37,000 Class A and B mishap-free flight hours and completed more than 24,000 sorties at an impressive average 1.5 hours per sortie. VT-2 graduated a total of 462 Primary students under his tenure, to include 210 students in 2013, the highest number of completers across all CNATRA Fixed-Wing Primary training squadrons. Lopez has surpassed the 5,000 career flight hour milestone during this tour as CO while flying over 700 mishap-free hours in the T-6B and completing over 420 syllabus events in support of the squadron’s mission. Commander Lopez’s dedication to the overall production mission was exemplified in his “out of the box” approach by guiding VT-2 in summer surge operations and spearheading a three week detachment to Roswell, NM resulting in a 58% increase in flight hours and 75 percent increase in sorties over normal home field operations.
A native of Yauco, Puerto Rico, Lopez enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in October 1987 and served as an Aerospace Ground Equipment Mechanic at Norton Air Force Base, Calif. After earning a Bachelor of Science and an MBA in Management during his off duty time, he attended Coast Guard Officer Candidate School in Yorktown, Va. Following graduation from OCS in September 1992, he was assigned to Coast Guard Headquarters as a Financial Policy Analyst. Lopez reported for flight training at Naval Air Station Pensacola in 1994 and received his wings of gold in July 1996. His first duty station was Coast Guard Air Station Houston, Texas, where he flew the HH-65A Dolphin. He then served with an assortment of duty stations from Coast Guard Air Station Miami, Fla., Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen, PR, and in November 2007, Lopez led as Officer in Charge of rescue and relief operations in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Noel in the Dominican Republic. His final stop before transferring to VT-2 was as the chief pilot and operations officer of Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron (HITRON) in Jacksonville, Fla. Lopez has participated in over 300 Search and Rescue missions and 23 deployments in support of law enforcement operations.
Withers assumes the top spot after serving as the executive officer for about 15 months.
A native of Kansas City, Mo., Commander Withers graduated cum laude from Occidental College in 1992. After earning a Master’s Degree from Georgetown University, where he was a Fulbright scholar, he attended Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Fla. A Distinguished Graduate of OCS, Commander Withers was commissioned in 1997 and designated a Naval Aviator in 1999. He subsequently reported to Patrol Squadron 4 (VP-4) in Kaneohe, Hawaii. In September 2003, he reported to Training Squadron 10 where he was an Instructor Pilot flying the T-6A “Texan”. Commander Withers was selected as an Olmsted Scholar in 2005. After attending Spanish language training at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, he completed two years of graduate study in public policy at the University of Torcuato di Tella in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He then served with an assortment of duty stations from VP-4 once again to Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Kaneohe Bay.
The incoming executive officer will be Cmdr. Joseph McGilley, USCG.
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