New commander in charge

MANA — In grand style, the Pacific Missile Range Facility welcomed its new commander — and bid farewell to his predecessor — Thursday inside the facility’s base operations hangar.

“Captain Mongillo, I relieve you, sir,” Capt. Bruce Hay said shortly after 11 a.m., one hour into the traditional change of command ceremony.

“Captain Hay, I stand relieved,” replied Capt. Nicholas Mongillo, signaling the official switch and drawing a loud roar from the audience of about 400.

Mongillo, a native of Bridgeport, Conn., leaves PMRF after three years as its commander to retire from a 27-year career of distinguished Navy service.

Mongillo told the audience Thursday that the time has come for new leadership, new horizons and new opportunities at PMRF, now under Hay’s command.

When he and his wife came to Kauai three years ago, Mongillo said they had no idea what to expect. But they listened, learned and embraced the Hawaiian culture and traditions, he said.

If the size of the crowd was any indication, Kauai embraced Mongillo in return.

As PMRF commander, Mongillo said he worked hard to find a balance of allowing continued public access to the shoreline and ocean waters fronting the base, while also keeping the community safe during missile launches, and protecting the environment and native species.

“I think we found a happy medium,” he said, adding that he was confident Hay will do the same.

Of the 20 countries Mongillo has visited and the nine states he has lived in, nowhere embraced him with the warmth and aloha that Kauai has, he said.

“We’re not going away permanently, we’re just taking a little vacation.”

Hay, a native of Hyde Park, N.Y. and an EA-6B Naval flight officer, takes over as the 25th Naval officer to hold the PMRF post since 1961.

After reading his official orders, Hay took a moment to thank those in attendance — including Kauai State Reps. Derek Kawakami, Jimmy Tokioka and Dee Morikawa, Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. and members of the Kauai County Council — and snap a photo of the audience from behind the podium.

“I’ve never had one from this perspective,” he said, drawing laughs.

Hay said he was “heavily humbled” to join the PMRF and Kauai communities, and promised to be a champion and leader for both over the next few years.

“I am joining an extended ohana of people who care deeply about this special and sacred place,” he said.

Not only will PMRF continue to be a premier location for training and test operations, but also a steward of the natural habitat, he said.

“PMRF, we have our work cut out for us.”

The ceremony also included a hula performance by Halau Ka Lei Mokihani O Leinaala, a keynote address by retired Capt. David Rogers and speeches by Mayor Carvalho and Admiral Cecil Haney, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

Rogers spoke specifically about Mongillo and his wife, describing the couple as superb tacticians, ultimate organizers and people who work best under pressure.

“I’ll tell you some top secret stories about the Mongillos at the bar (afterward),” he said.

Haney expressed his confidence that Hay is the right man for the job, and able to handle the significant leadership responsibility that comes with it.

You have an opportunity to springboard off the successes and accomplishments of Mongillo, Haney told Hay.

• Chris D’Angelo, environment writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or cdangelo@thegardenisland.com.

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