10-May-2021 Source: US Marine Corps
Command of Fleet Readiness Center East returned to a Marine Corps officer as Col. Thomas A. Atkinson assumed leadership of the facility in a brief ceremony held May 7.
Capt. Mark E. Nieto, the first Navy officer to take the helm of the depot, formally transferred authority and responsibility for the depot to Atkinson in a short, in-office change of command ceremony led virtually by acting Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers Capt. Christopher Couch.
The ceremony also marked the conclusion of Nieto’s military career; the outgoing FRCE commanding officer will be retiring following 28 years of service. Retired Rear Adm. Paul Sohl, former commander of the Navy’s Operational Test and Evaluation Force and former commander of all Fleet Readiness Centers, retired Nieto in a small, separate ceremony with family and friends that addressed Nieto’s lasting impact on FRCE, naval aviation and the nation’s warfighters.
“Being the executive officer and then, subsequently, the commanding officer of FRCE has been the highlight of my professional career,” Nieto said. “When outside entities think about an aviation depot, they immediately think of a capability and a location. However, it’s our people that make it possible to do what we do. It has been an honor to lead the men and women of FRCE. They make a positive difference every day for the Department of Defense.
“This tour was also my first exposure to Eastern North Carolina,” he continued. “The command, the air station and the local communities have been wonderful to my wife and I, and we will have lifelong friends from this tour. I can think of no better place to end my naval career.”
Nieto assumed command of FRCE May 31, 2019, and led the organization with an emphasis on safety, quality, throughput and cost, while focusing on modernizing the facility in preparation for the depot’s future workload.
Under his leadership, FRCE posted a record financial performance in fiscal year 2020. The facility recorded 4 million direct labor hours, which equated to revenue of $1.1 billion, up from 3.7 million hours and $835.9 million in fiscal year 2019.
With Nieto in command, FRCE produced 141 aircraft, 169 engines and 35,823 components, while continuing to focus on workforce safety and health and weathering a global pandemic. During this time, FRCE made enormous gains in turnaround times for the T64 engine and V-22 Osprey, and has reduced accountable backorders by 76 percent and high-priority backorders by 77 percent.
During this time, the depot completed construction of a $6 million, purpose-built laser shock peening facility and inducted the first F-35B Lightning II aircraft to undergo the high-tech procedure, which strengthens the frame of the short takeoff-vertical landing (STOVL) variant and will help the aircraft reach its full life limit. FRCE also declared capabilities on its first set of 14 F-35 components, meaning FRCE is now a verified source of repair and testing for these items. Additional activations will eventually lead to a full slate of 105-plus F-35 components serviced at FRCE.
Nieto directed FRCE through the implementation of Naval Sustainment System initiatives – a series of measures designed to focus on people, parts and processes and a commitment to providing artisans with the tools need to get the job done – and through the facility’s transformation from a competency-aligned organization to a mission-aligned organization. This framework aligns resources and skills, delegates and empowers the depot’s diverse workforce, and promotes decision-making at the lowest level to support fleet readiness.
During Nieto’s tenure as commanding officer, FRCE maintained a superior standard of safety and earned recognition from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Voluntary Protection Program when Application Areas Charlie and Golf achieved VPP Star Site status. This achievement marked FRCE as the 14th Department of Defense facility worldwide to receive the designation. FRCE is now pursuing Star Site status for Application Areas Delta and Foxtrot.
Other notable accomplishments the facility has made during Nieto’s command include:
• Receipt of the 2019 Secretary of the Navy Environmental Award for Sustainability in the Individual/Team category;
• Receipt of the 2018 Chief of Naval Operations Shore Safety Award in the Large Industrial Activity category;
• Recognition by the State of North Carolina Department of Labor with the presentation of the Gold Award and two Million Hour Safety Awards;
• Launch of the local component of the Naval Air Systems Command National Apprenticeship Program;
• Completion of the final Planned Maintenance Interval One service on the AV-8B Harrier, the 121st Harrier to receive the maintenance procedure since the first was inducted in June 2003;
• Completion of a Navy Working Capital Fund Supply Management audit with 100 percent accountability;
• Return of the final T58-400B engine to the Marines of Marine Helicopter Squadron 1, marking the end of a chapter in FRCE’s Presidential Support Program; and
• Recognition by the Government Accountability Office for measures the command has taken during the COVID-19 pandemic while successfully maintaining Industrial and Fleet Support operations.
Atkinson said he has a long history with Fleet Readiness Center East and, as he steps into the role of commanding officer, is proud to build on the work begun under Nieto.
“I started my career as a young aircraft maintenance officer on Marine Corps Air Station New River and made many visits to [what was then called Naval Aviation Depot] Cherry Point,” he said. “My interactions with the talented and dedicated personnel were always positive and, in my mind, the in-service support center and depot were capable of solving any problem or challenge I might have.
“The opportunity to lead FRC East is an honor and I’m very fortunate to have alongside me a great leadership team – with great union presidents – who are aligned to serving the fleet,” he continued. “My goal is to expand upon the work that began during Captain Nieto’s tour and continue building solutions for warfighter readiness; creating value for program managers and industry partners; and contributing to the long-term growth and wellness of our teammates and surrounding community.”
Atkinson, who has served as executive officer at FRCE from July 1, 2019, until assuming command, is a native of Port Townsend, Washington, and a graduate of the University of Washington. He was commissioned in June 1996 and assigned as an aircraft maintenance officer following The Basic School. In 2009, he was selected for lateral assignment as an acquisition officer.
Prior to his arrival at FRCE, Atkinson held a variety of aircraft maintenance officer and acquisition assignments, including a tour with Marine Helicopter Squadron 1, which is attached to the White House Military Office; commanding officer of FRC Western Pacific on Atsugi, Japan, which provides depot maintenance on Navy and Marine Corps aircraft outside the United States; and program manager for the Family of Special Operations Vehicles, which provides total life cycle management for SOF-unique vehicles used by Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine special operations forces.
The incoming executive officer, Navy Capt. Jim Belmont, reports to FRCE from the staff of Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers in Patuxent River, Maryland.
FRCE is North Carolina’s largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, with more than 4,000 civilian, military and contract workers. Its annual revenue exceeds $1 billion. The depot generates combat air power for America’s Marines and naval forces while serving as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.