MILTON — A Navy Reserve officer who had served as executive officer of Helicopter Training Squadron 8 at Naval Air Station Whiting Field became the squadron's commanding officer in Friday ceremonies, continuing to make history for the training unit.
Cmdr. Lena Kaman, who had been executive officer — the squadron's second in command — since April 2018, became the first member of the Navy Reserve's Full-Time Support program to command a squadron at Whiting Field. Naval Air Station Whiting Field is the site of all initial helicopter training for the Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps.
Kaman replaces Navy Cmdr. Jessica Parker, who had commanded the squadron since April 2018. Parker will be heading to the U.S.S. Bataan, a Norfolk, Virginia-based amphibious assault ship, where she will serve as "air boss."
Parker and Kaman had been the first female leadership team to command a Navy helicopter training squadron. According to a news release from NAS Whiting Field, HT-8 is the Navy’s oldest active helicopter training squadron and is responsible for flying more than 26,000 flight hours and graduating an estimated 168 naval aviators every year.
With Kaman's elevation to command of the training squadron, the unit's new executive officer is Cmdr. Patrick C. O'Neill.
"This has been the best tour of my naval career," Parker said during the change of command ceremony, thanking everyone in the squadron for their hard work and team effort.
Parker said that outside of its historic nature, she didn't see female squadron leadership as particularly special.
"We select the right person for the job, not the gender," she said.
Kaman, while recognizing the challenge of her new role, was also confident in her ability to meet that challenge.
"This is a huge responsibility," she said, adding, "I'm ready to train and build character and confidence in these aviators."
Like Parker, Kaman doesn't see gender as a particularly important leadership trait.
"I've been called a lot of things in my career," Parker said as she relinquished command of HT-8, "but the best names have been 'Skipper' and 'Mama.'"