In a minimally attended ceremony due to COVID-19 mitigation measures, the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) held a change of command ceremony aboard the ship while in port Naval Station Norfolk, Feb. 12.
Capt. Paul Lanzilotta relieved Capt. J.J. Cummings and assumed duties as the commanding officer of USS Gerald R. Ford in a ceremony attended by limited family, friends, and crew.
Cummings, a native of Sharon, Massachusetts and a 1990 graduate of Bates College, assumed command in August 2018 and led USS Gerald R. Ford through many of the ship’s “firsts.” During his nearly two-and-a-half year tour, Cummings led the Navy’s newest and most advanced aircraft carrier through post-shakedown availability (PSA), and returned the ship to sea to earn her first-ever flight deck and carrier air traffic control center certifications, bringing Ford three quarters of the way through her post-delivery test and trials (PDT&T) phase of operations.
During the ceremony, Cummings credited the ship’s warfighting spirit and success to the crew’s “We must, we will, we are” vision he established in 2018. The mantra “we must prepare to deploy with our carrier strike group and savage the enemy, we will be well trained and ready to fight, we are Warship 78” led the crew through many PSA and PDT&T milestones to include more than 7,100 catapult launches and arrested landings with the ship’s state-of-the-art Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG), carrier qualifications for over 400 pilots and student naval aviators, Ford’s first-ever fully integrated carrier strike group operations, and a number of other certifications.
“The mission was simple” transition [Ford’s] new technologies into proven, reliable operational capabilities… and with 12 at sea periods and 200 at sea days over the last 16 months, we got exactly what we needed,” said Cummings. “We proved that after 200 days of embarking, steaming, flying and radiating – AAG, EMALS, Plasma Arc Waste Destruction System, Dual Band Radar, Advanced Weapons Elevators and the unique systems on GRF work.”
Rear Adm. John Meier, commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic, and the first Commanding Officer of Gerald R. Ford, served as the event’s guest speaker, and remarked on how Cummings’ leadership enabled tremendous progress on Ford over the past 2.5 years.
“I can’t tell you how impressed I am with what you’ve done with the crew and your ability to value this crew and the quality of their work,” Meier said. “If it weren’t for your leadership, your preparation, and qualifying the youth, the future of naval aviation, we wouldn’t be here, where we are today.”
After reading his orders, Cummings thanked his wife and kids for their support and announced that he will head to U.S. Second Fleet to serve as Chief of Staff.
Lanzilotta, a native of Long Island, New York and a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, became USS Gerald R. Ford’s fourth Commanding Officer following a decorated career of previous leadership assignments to include Executive Officer of USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), Commanding Officer of Carrier Airborne Command and Control Squadron (VAW) 120, the Fleet Replacement Squadron for E-2C/D and C-2A aircraft, and most recently as Commanding Officer of USS Arlington (LPD 24).
“I’m motivated by the warfighting spirit that pumps through the veins of this ship and her crew,” said Lanzilotta. “As for my thoughts on what is next – it is really very simple. We are and we will remain WARSHIP 78. We are going to make history together. Whether it is certifying the combat systems, or taking the ship through a live fire test event that hasn’t been done on an aircraft carrier in almost 35 years, we will make some noise – that’s for sure.”
USS Gerald R. Ford is a first-in-class aircraft carrier, and the first new aircraft carrier designed in over 40 years. The ship is in port Naval Station Norfolk for a scheduled window of opportunity for maintenance as part of her PDT&T phase of operations.
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