Story by Julie Ziegenhorn on 06/07/2019Navy Reservist Takes Helm of Helicopter Training Squadron 8
By Julie Ziegenhorn, NAS Whiting Field Public Affairs Officer and Lt. Alek Hoffman, HT-8 Public Affairs Officer
MILTON, Fla. - Cmdr. Jessica Parker turned over command of Helicopter Training Squadron (HT) 8 to Cmdr. Lena Kaman during a change of command ceremony at Naval Air Station (NAS) Whiting Field in Milton June 7.
Parker and Kaman were the first female leadership team to command a Navy helicopter training squadron together.
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. Serving as the commanding officer of the squadron represents a pinnacle achievement for Kaman, following 19 years of distinguished service.
A Navy Reservist, Kaman is also the first full-time support (FTS) officer, to take command of a training squadron at Whiting.
"It is a unique opportunity to be the first FTS officer to command a helicopter training squadron," she said. "I have the opportunity to be a mentor and to pass along my knowledge and experience to all those affiliated with the Reserve in the entire air wing."
Kaman graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a Bachelor of Arts in French in May 2000. She earned her Wings of Gold onboard NAS Whiting Field in March 2002 and reported to Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (Light ) (HSL) 40, in Mayport, Florida, for advanced training in the SH-60B Seahawk helicopter.
Kaman's first operational assignment was with HSL-48 in Mayport, where she deployed aboard USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55) from February 2004 to August 2004 on a MED/MEF cruise. She was awarded the Air Medal for flying more than 100 combat hours in support of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.
Following her first fleet tour, Kaman reported to HT-18, NAS Whiting Field, in January 2006 as an instructor pilot in the TH-57 Sea Ranger helicopter. She transitioned to the Navy Reserve FTS community in February 2009. Kaman became a member of America's Squadron, HT-8, in August 2009. She served as the Reserve department head, safety department head, and operations officer. She was also named the Association of the United States Navy Full-Time Support Officer of the Year for all Chief of Naval Air Training squadrons for 2010. In 2011, she earned her Masters of Aeronautical Science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
Kaman reported for duty as executive officer of HT-8 in April 2018, under Parker's leadership, ultimately preparing her to take the helm. Kaman said she is honored by the responsibilities of command, but feels the weight as well.
"To me personally, to be selected for command is a huge responsibility to the student naval aviators, their families, and our nation, to ensure we provide them with the best and safest training possible," Kaman said. "I have a high level of respect for that responsibility. We're about training warfighting aviators, but we're also about developing leaders. The fleet relies on us to produce quality aviators and leaders."
Guest speaker for the event, retired Capt. Mark Murray and former Commodore of Training Air Wing Five, lauded Parker's influence and time as the commanding officer of HT-8.
"During her (Parker's) time as the commanding officer, her accomplishments are significant and very impressive," said Murray.
"When I think of someone like Commander Parker, I know she's been focused on the opportunity to have a positive influence during her entire career." He went on to say that her influence had an immeasurable effect on the success of the squadron and training of helicopter pilots.
"And that influence will last long after she walks off this dais," he commented.
Before reading her departing orders, Parker gave her final words to the squadron as the commander. "This has been the best tour of my career. Thank you to my squadron for being absolutely amazing. You keep me in awe each day, and I'm extremely proud of all the progress you've made."
Parker will continue her naval service as air boss aboard amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) based in Norfolk, Va.
Naval Air Station Whiting Field, home of Training Air Wing Five, is the backbone of naval aviation training, supporting approximately 60% of all primary fixed-wing flight training and 100% of all initial helicopter training for the Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps. NAS Whiting Field is the busiest aviation complex in the world with roughly 1 million flight operations flown at the installation annually. It is comprised of two main airfields and 12 Navy outlying landing fields across four counties in Southeast Alabama and Northwest Florida. Flying an estimated 43% of the Chief of Naval Air Training Command's total flight time and more than 15% of Navy and Marine Corps flight time worldwide, more than 1,200 personnel receive their essential flight training through Training Air Wing 5 annually.