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    Navy gets new (acting) Air Boss

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    Naval Air Forces received a new commanding officer Thursday during a ceremony aboard Naval Air Station North Island, California, albeit a leader serving in an acting capacity.

    Rear Adm. George Wikoff relieved Vice Adm. Kenneth Whitesell as the commander of Navy aviation, but is only serving as the acting “Air Boss” because his promotion to vice admiral and nomination to be the next commander of U.S. 5th Fleet is held up along with hundreds of other military confirmations in the U.S. Senate.

    Rear Adm. Daniel Cheever was nominated to be the next Naval Air Forces commander and to get his third star in March, but his confirmation is also being held up by Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s blockade on military confirmations.

    Whitesell took command of the community in October 2020 and oversaw the initial deployment of a carrier air wing that featured the F-35C Lightning II jet, the CMV-22B Osprey and the MQ-8C Fire Scout drone, according to the Navy.

    “It has been my honor to serve among the men and women who give Naval Aviation its reputation of excellence, professionalism and quality,” Whitesell said at Thursday’s ceremony, according to a Navy release. “Our community’s legacy, and the legacy of our greater Navy, continues with you. I’m proud of all that we’ve done, and even more proud of what’s to come.”

    Whitesell is set to retire after 39 years in uniform.

    Wikoff comes to the job after serving as vice director of the Joint Staff, a job he began in May 2021.

    “To my Navy teammates, Vice Adm. Whitesell’s priority remains your order moving forward,” Wikoff said during the ceremony. “Naval Aviation will continue to sharpen our focus on capabilities, capacity, readiness and training to sustain our warfighting advantage against our increasingly advanced adversaries. I will relentlessly focus on supporting you to meet this imperative.”

    Tuberville has held up expedited approval of military commanders, typically a noncontroversial procedural move for the Senate, for six months over his objections to the Defense Department’s abortion access policies that went into effect in the fall of 2022.

    Under those rules, troops stationed in states where abortion services are limited or outlawed can receive unpaid leave and travel stipends to move across state lines for abortion counseling or procedures.

    Tuberville has labeled the policy an illegal circumvention of state and federal laws, while defense officials have called it a readiness and fairness issue.

    Senate Democratic leaders could approve the nominations individually through normal chamber parliamentary procedures, but lawmakers have said doing so would take months of floor work.

    Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at geoffz@militarytimes.com.



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