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Navy installs new ‘air boss’ at North Island

In a North Island ceremony that featured a flyover by the Navy’s Blue Angels aerial acrobats, a tarmac filled with the nation’s latest and most fearsome aircraft and an auditorium brimming with the most powerful champions of naval air power, the Navy installed a new “air boss” on Thursday.

Vice Adm. DeWolfe H. “Bullet” Miller III relieved his fellow three-star Michael “Shoe” Shoemaker as the commander of both the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s air wings and all Naval Air Forces worldwide.

Widely admired for his strong leadership during an era of slumping military budgets, an aging strike fighter fleet, a shortage of carriers and increased competition for Navy pilots by commercial airlines, Shoemaker retires to his Coronado home after 35 years of military service, the past three years as the Navy’s top pilot.

His former training squadron instructor, Miller, takes the helm of the twin North Island-based command just as $1.5 billion in extra Pentagon funding begins to flow into Navy coffers to hike readiness after nearly five years of tight budgets following 2013’s so-called sequestration deal between Capitol Hill and the White House.

After the ceremony, Miller, 58, said in an interview that his tenure as air boss will be marked by a new generation of high-tech weapons, from the $121 million F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter parked behind him to the Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier, P-8 Poseidon anti-submarine planes and the MQ-4C Triton surveillance drone and the MQ-25 Stingray robot refueler.

“Not that they fundamentally change the way we do business, but those platforms, we’re going to have to learn as we evolve the tactics, techniques and procedures that have made us so successful as we go into the future,” he said.

Only four LTV A-7 Corsair II pilots remain on active duty in the Navy, and three of them sat on the stage of the North Island hangar bay: Shoemaker, Miller and Adm. Scott H. “Notso” Swift, the Pacific Fleet commander who also has announced his upcoming retirement.

Although Swift pinned a Distinguished Service Medal on Shoemaker for his superior leadership, the man presiding over the ceremony was the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. William F. “Bill” Moran — the second most powerful Navy leader and by his own admission its most zealous advocate of maritime air power.

A career Lockheed P-3 Orion pilot, Moran in his address decried 11 straight years of continuing resolutions in Congress that have left military budgeters grasping for steady funding but he praised Shoemaker for guiding the Navy’s air forces through the fiscal turmoil.

He assured the gathered brass that Miller and Shoemaker were both unselfish military leaders who treat all sailors as their wingmen.

“They don’t find it useful or interesting to ask, ‘What’s in it for me?’ They always find it interesting and useful to ask, ‘What’s in it for us? What’s in it for the team?’ And I’d argue there’s no more important time for this kind of leadership than right now,” Moran said.

Before rising to become air boss in early 2015, Shoemaker, the son of an Army colonel, tallied more than 4,400 flight hours and 1,066 carrier landings in both the Corsair and the F/A-18C Hornet and commanded the Virginia-based “Gunslingers” of Strike Fighter Squadron 105 and the “Gladiators” of Strike Fighter Squadron 106, plus Carrier Air Wing 17 and Carrier Strike Groups 9 and 3.

Miller was promoted to vice admiral moments before the change of command ceremony. A member of the Naval Academy class of 1981, the Pennsylvania native actually graduated from Annapolis a year before Shoemaker.

He commanded the amphibious warship Nashville, the aircraft carrier George W. Bush and Carrier Strike Group 2, which supported combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. His three-year tour as air boss will be his first stint in San Diego. He recently directed the Navy’s Air Warfare section at the Pentagon.

“I’m honored that I was selected as air boss and I’ll certainly give it my all,” Miller said.

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