ABOARD USS NIMITZ, At Sea (NNS) -- The executive officer of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 41 "Black Aces" assumed command of the squadron Aug. 10 in a change-of-command ceremony held in USS Nimitz' (CVN 68) fo'c'sle.
Cmdr. Kenneth R. Whitesell relieved Cmdr. Patrick R. Cleary, commanding officer (CO) of VFA-41 since June 2002, who will assume the duties and responsibilities of command placement detailer at the Bureau of Naval Personnel, Millington, Tenn.
"The last month has been tough for me, because I don't want to leave here at all," said Cleary, "but change is good, and Kenny (Whitesell) is ready to go and lead the Black Aces to bigger and better accomplishments."
Whitesell assumed the duties of executive officer (XO) of VFA-41 in June 2002.
He has accumulated more than 2,800 flight hours in the F-14 Tomcat and more than 650 arrested landings.
"This is a day of highs and lows for me," said Whitesell. "Stubby (Cleary) and I have been together for a long time. We were led and shown leadership before the term mentorship was coined. We worked hard and played hard; we were held accountable, received praise when we earned it, and were crushed to keep our egos in check. What a career so far!
"This has been a great command tour, because two great friends got together to enjoy the pinnacle tour of aviation, a gun squadron, and we did it together," said Whitesell.
Cleary reported to VFA-41 (fighter squadron) as XO in March 2001, deploying aboard USS Enterprise (CVN 65).
Following deployment, the "Black Aces" conducted a homeport change to Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif., were re-designated as VFA-41 and transitioned to the Super Hornet as the first F/A-18F squadron in the fleet. In June 2002, Cleary assumed command of the squadron as it prepared for its first deployment with F/A-18F Super Hornets.
Cleary has accumulated more than 3,500 flight hours, more than 2,800 of those in the F-14 Tomcat, and more than 1,000 arrested landings.
Cleary had words of wisdom to pass on to Whitesell based on his experiences as the CO of VFA-41.
"Make sure each and every person in your command is treated fairly," said Cleary. "Make sure they have what they need to do this job and are empowered to make a difference, and let them do it. As a result, you will see what the Black Aces have done. That is the greatest lesson I have learned as commanding officer."
Cmdr. David M. Fravor assumed the position of XO, VFA-41.
Fravor has reported to VFA-41 from the VFA-122 "Flying Eagles," Lemoore, Calif. While attached to the Flying Eagles, he served as fleet introduction team assistant officer in charge, operations officer, and training officer, where he oversaw the training of the Navy's newest strike fighter pilots in the newest strike fighter jet.
CVW-11 and the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group are currently conducting operations in the Arabian Gulf.
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