During a ceremony held at Naval Air Station North Island on Sept. 7, Vice Adm. Kenny Whitesell, Commander, Naval Air Forces turned over command and retired after 39 years of honorable service. The Navy’s ninth ‘Air Boss,’ Whitesell both took command and relinquished command under unusual circumstances. During the peak of the Covid pandemic, Whitesell took on the responsibilities of manning, training and equipping all Naval Aviation Forces. Three years later, Whitesell retired during a Change of Charge ceremony in which Read Admiral George Wikoff assumed the duties as ‘acting’ Air Boss until the Senate lifts the hold on military nominations and promotions. Despite the challenges, a beautiful ceremony was held honoring the many accomplishments of an inspiring leader.
Adm. William Lescher (USN Ret), provided remarks acknowledging the great work of Vice Adm. Whitesell saying, “How we prepare when the seas are calm and the storm clouds are approaching dictates completely how well we execute when things get hard and there is no margin for error…today we can say that U.S. Naval Aviation has never been a more ready or more lethal force.” Lescher continued saying, “The Naval Aviation story under Kenny’s leadership has been a remarkable arc of accelerated progress and learning. His accomplishments go well beyond the flight-line and his contributions and impact well beyond naval aviation.”
During his tenure, Whitesell saw many milestones achieved in Naval Aviation including the first deployment of the ‘Air Wing of the Future’ providing unprecedented capabilities with its addition of F-35C Lightning II, CMV-22B, and MQ-8C Firescout.
Whitesell spent the majority of his remarks acknowledging the great work of others, starting with those that went before him saying “We stand on the shoulders of giants, those who have gone before us have carried a torch that lit the way for us, now it is more important than ever that we carry the torch by getting ready and staying ready to meet all challenges that face Naval Aviation.” He then went on to thank all those that contributed to the successes he witnessed and was a part of throughout his career.
Whitesell’s love of the Navy and Naval Aviation was evident as he reminisced of flying, comparing the speed at which the aircraft fly to the speed at which a career goes by.
He closed his remarks by sharing his deep gratitude to his wife Melodye, for her support over the years and by expressing his pride in his children who endured separation from their Dad and 17 moves during his career.
Whitesell’s daughter, LT Hannah Whitesell, narrated the poem “The Watch,” a traditional part of Navy retirements. LT Whitesell gave an emotional rendition that culminated with her saying, “‘Today we are here to say, Shipmate… the watch stands relieved,
Relieved by those You have trained, Guided, and Led
Dad you stand relieved.. we have the watch…”
Rear Adm. George Wikoff kept his remarks short but poignant saying, “To my Navy teammates, Vice Adm. Whitesell’s priority remains your order moving forward. Naval Aviation will continue to sharpen our focus on capabilities, capacity, readiness, and training to sustain our warfighting advantage against our increasingly advanced adversaries. I will relentlessly focus on supporting you meet this imperative.”