WASHINGTON (NNS) -- The nation's only military squadron dedicated to scientific research, an integral part of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory's capabilities, received new leadership May 4.
Cmdr. Erik M. Thomas relieved Cmdr. David G. Neall of duty as commanding officer of the NRL's Scientific Development Squadron (VXS) 1 "Warlocks" during a change of command ceremony at Naval Air Station, Patuxent River, Maryland.
"As easy as it is to highlight my career, you made memories," said Neall to the squadron. "It has been my distinct honor and privilege to serve as your commanding officer."
The Warlocks are responsible for the planning, engineering, installation, coordination and execution of airborne science and technology projects, which is a unique capability. The squadron also maintains the training, qualifications and proficiency of all assigned military personnel, government civilians, contractors, and project specialists as well as the maintenance of research aircraft.
With more than 71,000 flight hours and 49 years of safe flying, VXS 1 is the premier Navy squadron dedicated to innovating airborne science.
The Chief of Naval Research, Rear Adm. David J. Hahn, presided and spoke at the change of command ceremony, emphasizing the importance of the mission and stellar work Neall did while in command to "make sure that [the Navy] has the necessary tools before our adversaries prove we need them."
"Neall has done an excellent job of ensuring the future of our Navy [through VXS 1]," said Hahn. "You couldn't ask for a better command tour, and we couldn't ask for a better guy to take on the job."
Thomas has almost 20 years of naval experience, including more than 2,600 flight hours in 28 models of jet, propeller, rotary-wing and glider aircraft. Throughout his career, he has received the Meritorious Service Medal, five times the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, and various campaign, service, and unit awards.
Thomas took command of VXS 1 after more than a year's experience as the squadron's executive officer, and brings the institutional knowledge and experience to carry the premier squadron's torch after Neall's departure.
"Your enthusiasm and energy will be missed, but I will do my best to carry on what you have shaped here," he said to Neall after taking the reins. "From day one, you have fostered a true team approach ... It is easy for me to say all policies, procedures, and instructions remain in effect because we have been in lock step from the very beginning. It has been an honor and privilege to serve under you."
A native of Pittsburgh, Thomas graduated in 2000 from the U.S. Naval Academy with a degree in systems engineering. He completed primary flight training with the "Warbucks" of Training Squadron (VT) 4 in Pensacola, Florida, and earned his naval flight officer wings from Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, in August 2001.
Thomas' military experience includes four deployments with the "War Eagles" of Patrol Squadron (VP) 16, time as an FRS instructor NFO with VP-30, and time as fleet Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization (NATOPS) evaluator and anti-surface warfare weapons officer in the weapons tactics unit. During his time with the P-8A Poseidon Integrated Test Team as lead mission systems project officer, he became the first NFO to fly the P-8A aircraft.
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