Cmdr. Kenneth M. Kerr, a North Wales, Penn., native, turned over command of Helicopter Training Squadron Eighteen (HT-18) to Lt. Col. John R. Beal, from Ripley, Miss., during a change of command ceremony onboard Naval Air Station (NAS) Whiting Field on Dec. 6.
HT-18 is an advanced helicopter training squadron. It is responsible for flying more than 20,000 flight hours and graduating an estimated 155 naval aviators every year. Serving as the commanding officer of the squadron represents a pinnacle achievement for Beal, following 19 years of distinguished service.
Beal spoke to and thanked his parents, close family friends and fellow Marines that supported him throughout his career. He also addressed the squadron and reiterated his gratitude for their hard work.
Beal graduated from Officer Candidates School in Aug. 2000 and received his commission upon earning a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration from the University of Mississippi in Dec. 2000. Following completion of The Basic School in Quantico, VA, he completed primary flight training at VT-6, and advanced rotary wing training at HT-18. He earned his Naval aviator wings in Dec. 2003, and then completed initial CH-53E “Super Stallion” Fleet Replacement Pilot Training aboard Marine Corps Air Station New River, NC, in June 2004.
Beal’s first operational assignment was with the “Flying Tigers” of HMH-361 aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, CA. He deployed twice to Iraq with the Flying Tigers in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and once with the “Sea Elk” of HMM-166 (Reinforced), assigned to the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) for deployment to the Western Pacific and Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility aboard the USS Tarawa (LHA 1).
Upon return from his third deployment in the summer of 2008, Beal reported to Expeditionary Warfare School in Quantico, VA, for the resident course. While enrolled, he was selected for follow-on assignment to the presidential helicopter support squadron, Marine Helicopter Squadron One (HMX-1) in Quantico. He was designated a White House aircraft commander, qualified in the CH-53E, CH-46E, VH-3D and VH-60N. He also served as a Presidential squadron command pilot.
After his tour at HMX-1, Beal reported to Marine Corps Command and Staff College in Quantico for the resident course. Upon graduation in June 2014, he was assigned to Marine Aircraft Group 16 (MAG-16) aboard MCAS Miramar. He served as the MAG-16 current operations officer until re-assignment to HMH-465 “Warhorse” as the executive officer in June 2015.
In April 2016, Beal served as the CH-53E Detachment officer in charge, and squadron operations officer for the “Ridgerunners” of VMM-163, assigned to the 11th MEU for deployment to the Western Pacific and CENTCOM AOR aboard the USS Makin Island (LHD 8). The MEU set sail in Oct. 2016, and upon return from the deployment in May 2017, Beal received orders to the 6th Marine Regiment aboard Camp Lejeune, NC, to serve as the Regimental Future Operations Officer.
Beal reported as HT-18 “Vigilant Eagles” executive officer in Oct. 2018.
Guest speaker for the event, Training Wing 5 Commodore Captain Douglas W. Rosa USN commented on the accomplishments and the tasks ahead for the departing and incoming Commanding Officers.
“During his tour, Skipper Kerr’s incredible vision was realized through the production of over 375 of the World’s Finest Helicopter Pilots, training them to the highest standards while maintaining an impeccable safety record.” Said CAPT Rosa.
“LtCol Beal, you have taken charge of a remarkable command with an exceptional reputation. I am absolutely confident that you have what it takes to lead the Vigilant Eagles to achieve goals that they never thought possible.”
Kerr turned over the command of HT-18, thanked his family for their support and said his farewells to the squadron’s student naval aviators, instructor pilots and civilian employees. He read his departing orders during the ceremony. Kerr will continue his naval service as head of the Air Department, or “Air Boss,” aboard amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) based in San Diego, Calif.
Naval Air Station Whiting Field, home of Training Air Wing Five, is the backbone of naval aviation training, supporting approximately 60% of all primary fixed-wing flight training and 100% of all initial helicopter training for the Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps. NAS Whiting Field is the busiest aviation complex in the world with roughly 1 million flight operations flown at the installation annually. It is comprised of two main airfields and 12 Navy outlying landing fields across four counties in Southeast Alabama and Northwest Florida. Flying an estimated 43% of the Chief of Naval Air Training Command’s total flight time and more than 15% of Navy and Marine Corps flight time worldwide, more than 1,200 personnel receive their essential flight training through Training Air Wing 5 annually.
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