Capt. Mark Darrah relieves Capt. Jeff Connelly as commanding officer of the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands during a change of command ceremony today at 10 a.m.
Darrah becomes the 22nd Naval officer to hold the post. Previously he was the deputy program manager for the Navy’s new electronic jamming aircraft, the EA-18G.
Connelly became PMRF’s commanding officer in 2003. He is a 1976 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. He began his career flying P-3 Orions, then eventually moved into command positions.
In 2000, Connelly assumed command of the USS Bonhomme Richard, a multipurpose amphibious assault ship.
Connelly said such a ship has a crew of about 1,100 sailors, and up to about 1,800 U.S. Marines aboard.
It transports and conducts amphibious operations in support of a Marine expeditionary unit, said Connelly.
The ship also carries Harrier Jump Jets, air-cushioned vehicles, Humvees and tanks, said Connelly.
In 2001, he assumed command of Amphibious Squadron 3 and the Bonhomme Richard Ready Group while deployed during Operation Enduring Freedom.
The group consisted of the Bonhomme Richard, the USS Pearl Harbor, and the USS Ogden.
Connelly said that the ships were involved in the initial support for Marine combat strikes in Afghanistan in search of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.
As PMRF’s commander, Connelly started up a system for islanders to continue to have access to PMRF’s recreation area at Major’s Bay. That move was seen as a positive step in the community, in light of increased security measures after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
During Connelly’s watch, three missiles were successfully intercepted in space using the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System, according to the press release.
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the Aegis system is being developed to provide a ship-based defense system to protect against ballistic missile attacks on population centers, debarkation ports, coastal airports, and to protect troops.
Forward positioning of ships make possible a missile defense that will protect vast areas, often entire countries, according to the Defense Department.
Connelly said that the PMRF command was his third assignment in the state. Previously, he was at Barbers Point Naval Air Station on O’ahu, and was on the staff of the commander in chief of the U.S Pacific Fleet.
He will retire from the Navy after being relieved of his duties at PMRF, completing a 30-year Naval career.
Originally from New Jersey, Connelly plans to take some time off before searching for a new job.
“We love and cherish Kaua’i,” he said. “We’ve been welcomed into the community, my children attend local schools, and life on Kaua’i has been just fabulous,” he said.
- Cynthia Kaneshiro, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or email@example.com