BARKING SANDS — Before Capt. Bruce Hay was relieved as Commanding Officer of the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Friday, much praise came his way.
He was described as a leader and a mentor.
Stories were shared of his many military accomplishments and how well he carried out his responsibilities during his 26-year career.
He was said to be a man with strong love for his family, his country and this community. He was called “fiercely dedicated” to protecting the creatures of land and sea. He was a man who understood the value of relationships and treating people with respect, it was said.
So, naturally, when it finally came time for Hay to stand before the crowd of about 300 people, he joked that he had been talked about too much and asked them to turn and look at the sailors and officers in the hangar.
“The people who made this place amazing and will continue to make it amazing are behind you,” he said. “They’re the true heroes here today and they deserve the applause.”
And they got it.
As did Hay during the hour-long Change of Command and Retirement Ceremony at the base.
Hay, who came on board three years ago, turned over command to Capt. Vincent Johnson Friday morning, ending his time at the base and in the military.
“If you’re supported even half as well as I was, you’re going to be the luckiest man in all of Hawaii,” Hay said.
He said Johnson and his family are the “perfect fit for Kauai.”
”Vinnie, I’m incredibly envious of all the things you’re going to accomplish leading this base,” he said.
Johnson said he was pleased to be here.
“What an honor,” he said.
It wasn’t a serious, somber affair. It marked by humor and laughs and hugs, a family style gathering that Hay encouraged in his time leading PMRF. He did his best to open the base to the community through sporting events, concerts, tours and educational gatherings for students.
He and his wife, Susie, and daughter Sheridan became part of the Kauai ohana, attending many celebrations and social functions.
Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr. high-fived a smiling Hay as he praised him for safeguarding the environment and strengthening the partnership between the base and surrounding communities.
Carvalho said he liked knowing he could pick up the phone and talk story with Hay.
“That’s the kind of relationship we need to know how important this military base is to Kauai and to the world,” Carvalho said.
Rear Adm. John Fuller shared Hay’s aviator call sign, and it drew some laughs.
“We affectionately call this powerful man, Flounder,” he said.
Fuller said that Hay liked to open meetings with bad jokes, loved to quote President Teddy Roosevelt and the movie, “Top Gun,” and that Hay claimed “his smooth, monotone, baritone voice causes whales to breach.”
But while enjoying levity, Hay was described as a serious leader who carried out his duties and more. He earned respect, gave it, was a brilliant strategist with a stellar military career and excelled while leading PMRF, which Fuller called “a crown jewel, a key military facility.”
“Don’t forget for one second the value this place adds to our fighting efficiency,” Fuller said. “We couldn’t test or prepare to do what we do without what we have here at PMRF.”
PMRF is the world’s largest instrumented, multi-dimensional testing and training missile range. It is the only range in the world where subsurface, surface, air and space vehicles can operate and be tracked simultaneously.
It is considered key to US security in the Pacific Ocean.
“What’s obvious to everybody is how much he loves this community, how much he loves this place,” Fuller said.
Hay said when he took command, he said, “Our relevancy would be tied to the demand for our services.”
“When I look back, I think we’ve accomplished that, and so much more,” he said.
“As the head cheerleader for PMRF, it was an easy job telling people how absolutely awesome we are and encourage them to train and test here and you did the rest. You did an unbelievable job.”
He said during his time there, PMRF supported two Pacific Ocean military exercises, worked with defense agencies, Hollywood, and “touched the outreaches of space” through launch operations.
“Through it all, we continued to respect the land, and the sea, and all the creatures that live on both,” he said.
“I honestly believe here’s not a single challenge this base did not meet,” he added.
Hay said the Change of Command was an awesome day because it marked the first day in the next chapter of the Hay ohana.
“I will walk off this stage today after 26 years of service, knowing I ran all the way through the tape with no regrets,” he said.
Hay, holding a handkerchief and wiping away tears, said whoever bet he would cry, won.
A colleague, he said, told him, “if you do something your entire life and you’re not choked up at the end, then you didn’t do it right.”
“I don’t think that will be an issue for me today,” he said.
Hay turned and looked at his wife, Susie, and daughter Sheridan, sitting in the front row.
“Susie, you’re the best thing that has ever happened to me. We’ve literally been around the world together and tested the bounds of our love with countless separations, long deployments and time away from home. You’re an amazing woman without equal. Thank you for loving me.”
He called Sheridan, their adopted daughter, an angel.
“Kauai will always be special because this is where you came to join the family,” he said. “I’m convinced the reason you entered our lives is because of our time here, and for that, I’ll be forever grateful.”