Cherry Point’s departing commander said the Marine air station plays a vital role, has room to grow and will be around for a long time.
Col. Philip J. Zimmerman, who has commanded the base since Nov. 15, 2010, will hand over command to Col. Chris Pappas III at a ceremony today at Cherry Point.
Zimmerman, 48, has spent five tours and 13 years based at Cherry Point.
"I think Cherry Point is in a very good position," Zimmerman said. "We’ve completed the master plan for the base that will take us out to 2050."
Zimmerman said the base has room for growth.
"We are in a position where if the Marine Corps wanted to put more forces, more squadrons here, we could accommodate them," he said. "Our water and electricity sustainment, everything is solid right now. It’s all good. We are well within our permits and well within our operational capacity of what we advertise the air station will be conducting operations flight-wise. We have room for more.
"With the FRC East here and the fact that we’re the aerial point of embarkation for the fleet on the East Coast, it serves a very vital mission, and I think it’s going to be around here for quite a long time."
Since his first Cherry Point tour in 1991, Zimmerman said the basic infrastructure of the base hasn’t changed a lot.
"What’s really changed is what’s inside the buildings, the computers, the cell phones and the technology," Zimmerman said.
Over the last three years, social media such as Facebook and Twitter have meant that the information flows a lot faster, he said.
"You have to be a lot more careful about the messaging that you’re putting out and informing people and trying to stay ahead of it. You don’t have the 24-hour news cycle anymore. It’s maybe 24 seconds now," Zimmerman said.
While Zimmerman has been in command, the base has replaced its headquarters building following a 2007 fire that destroyed the old one. The temporary office arrangement before the new headquarters opened meant that the base commander and the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing commander were in separate buildings, complicating communications.
"It’s much easier now," Zimmerman said. "I can walk across the hall and talk to the general and talk with him on issues and making sure we are supporting him correctly."
Zimmerman said keeping the two largest staffs on the base together means better interaction. The leaders can meet face-to-face rather than on the phone or through email.
Other facilities opened, too, such as the child development center and the bachelor enlisted quarters.
"I was just in there last week," he said of the BEQ. "If you make it nice, then they’re going to keep it nice and it’s almost as nice as when we opened it."
The commander said he was also proud of the work to replace aging base housing in the Nugent Cove subdivision.
"You know you concern yourself with running the base, but a big portion of that is making sure that the Marines are happy and that the families are happy," Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman said he was proud of the Facilities, Sustainment, Restoration and Modernization programs undertaken under his watch at Cherry Point.
"That’s where a CO really gets to dig into things and improve them," he said. "It helps us with our energy consumption. It makes the buildings nicer, up to date, safer."
He has also been pleased that North Carolina-based companies got $150 million worth of the contract work.
He said big military construction projects were nice, but he’s most proud of the people with whom he has worked.
"They’ve been under stress for the last year or two years with the hiring freezes and the sequestration, the continuing resolutions, but they’ve been able to keep going, act professional, get their jobs done and really care about what they do, and they do care about what they do," Zimmerman said. "Two of the things I’m particularly proud of are our response to Hurricane Irene and getting the airfield back up, and then the 2012 air show, which was done very safely and flawlessly. Everybody got home safe and it was a nice three-day weekend for Eastern North Carolina."
Zimmerman’s new assignment will be as officer in charge of Marine Corps Activities in Guam, where he will help coordinate movement of forces.
Zimmerman grew up in Colorado, but in his 26-year Marine Corps career, he has been to Japan, Italy, Iraq and Afghanistan. It will be his first time to Guam.
"I’ll also be taking advantage of my leave and getting out to see Australia, China, Hong Kong, Thailand, and all the countries around there," he said.
He’ll always remember Havelock, though.
"I’ve never seen more support in a community, and everything they have done for me and for the Marines and their welcoming and somewhat laidback attitude makes this a very special place," he said. "It makes it very easy for the air station commander to get things done."
Mutual cooperation between the base and the city in fighting encroachment and placing a six-mile city sewer treatment pipe across the base has paid off for both, he said.
"Havelock and the surrounding communities take care of our Marines and they do it in a very warm and receptive manner," Zimmerman said. "Any time that I’ve ever asked for anything from the surrounding counties or towns, nobody’s ever said no."