Maj. Gen. Harold W. Blot, the lanky former military test pilot who rode some of the same experimental, rocket-powered aircraft into space as legendary aviator Chuck Yeager, Friday became the 39th commanding general of El Toro's 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.
During an hourlong ceremony where generals were as plentiful as corporals, Blot, 52, officially received the wing's 16,000 Marines and $50 billion in fighter jets and helicopters from Maj. Gen. Royal N. Moore Jr., who was promoted and given a third star along with the prestigious distinguished service medal for his part in the Persian Gulf War.
Blot now becomes the highest ranking Marine aviator on the West Coast.
Moore will take over the 60,000-member Fleet Marine Force Pacific, headquartered at Camp H.M. Smith, near Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. It is the largest field command in the Marine Corps, encompassing nearly two-thirds of its total fighting force.
As the sun broke through the clouds and the humidity climbed, Brig. Gen. P. Drax Williams, 51, an assistant to the commandant who handled legislative and public affairs matters for the Marines in Washington, was officially given command of El Toro and the Marine Corps air stations at Tustin, Camp Pendleton and Yuma, Ariz.
"The keystone of trust is integrity, which can be very simply defined as doing the right thing when no one is looking," Williams told the hundreds of Marines on the parade deck. "I want each of you to know I trust you. I believe in you, I believe you are a professional, that you know your job and that you perform to the best of your ability."
More than 500 people attended the change-of-command ceremonies Friday at the grassy parade deck near base headquarters just inside the main gate at El Toro.
Williams takes over El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in the wake of a tumultuous year that included the Gulf War and a scandal that led to the suicide of a top officer on the base, the firing of the chief of staff, and the investigation and reassignment of his predecessor, Brig. Gen. Wayne T. Adams.
Williams told reporters that it was untrue--as some have speculated--that he was sent from Washington with his background in public affairs and public relations to fix things up at El Toro. He said his last assignment was the only time in his long military career that he was involved in public affairs.
"I left everything to do with public affairs and public relations to the real experts. . . . I made it a point to stay out of the newspapers as much as possible and I succeeded admirably, I might say."
When Adams was abruptly transferred to the Marine Combat Development Command in Quantico, Va., Blot, who was assistant wing commander under Moore, was asked to take over the base.
Blot told the assemblage Friday that the Persian Gulf War and the "little bit of trouble" at the station made the last year a hectic one for him. But once he took a look at El Toro, he said, he realized there "really wasn't a problem. The station was manned by professional Marines and civilians who were doing their jobs and doing them very well."
Blot, a veteran pilot, flew fighter jets in Vietnam and after the war became a test pilot for the Navy. He called his new assignment "a thrill of a lifetime."
In the late 1960s, while attending the Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California, he was for a short time matched up with a rocket-powered Starfighter, one of three specially built F-104s used for high-altitude, zero-G training. It was the same plane that Yeager flew 108,000 feet above Earth and then crashed in the desert in a scene that became famous in the movie, "The Right Stuff."
"It was the most exotic thing I have ever flown," Blot said. "It was the most exciting too."
Blot flew the rocket-assisted NF-104 to a height of 100,000 feet, an altitude where the pilot can see the curvature of the Earth, and the aircraft seems to be surrounded in darkness. The round trips in the needle-nosed fighter jet with the stubby, thin wings would take about 24 minutes.
"I would take off from Edwards and go out to the Colorado River and turn around and fly west to Mach 2 over the range and light the rocket and pull the stick back," Blot said. The rocket would burn out at 100,000 feet and the plane would return to Earth.
Later, he spent years testing and evaluating the AV-8 Harrier, a plane that has the capability of landing and taking off vertically but flying like a jet fighter. He was project manager for the V-22 Osprey, a fixed-wing airplane with rotating engines for vertical flight. The plane, capable of carrying 25 Marines, was designed to replace some of the Marine Corps' aging helicopters.
Already there is talk at headquarters that in one year, Blot will be promoted to a three-star general and sent to Washington to take over as deputy chief of staff in charge of all Marine aviation.
As for Moore, the new Marine Pacific Fleet commander was praised for the 18,000 missions his planes flew while in Saudi Arabia, 9,000 of them during the four-day ground war.
"The tireless efforts of your commanders, staffs and support organizations, together with the courage and audacity of your flying crews, established new annals of combat effectiveness in the proud record of Marine aviation," Marine Commandant Gen. Carl E. Mundy Jr. said in a note to Moore.
Gen. John R. Dailey, assistant commandant, was sent to El Toro to pin Moore's third star on his collar.
Change of Command
NEW AIR WING COMMANDER Maj. Gen. Harold W. Blot
Born: Manhattan, N.Y. Raised in New York and New Jersey.
Education: BS, Villanova University, 1962; MS, George Washington University, 1980. Basic training, Quantico, Va., 1963; flight training, Pensacola, Fla., and Corpus Christi, Tex., 1964.
Military Career Highlights: Served in Vietnam from 1964 to 1967. Was a project test pilot at the Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Md., where he flew the AV-8A Harrier, an aircraft that can take off and land vertically. Promoted to major in 1972 while assigned to the first Harrier Squadron at the 2d Marine Aircraft Wing, MCAS, Beaufort, S.C. Current Assignment: Assistant Wing Commander, 3d Marine Aircraft Wing, El Toro Marine Corps Air Station since January, 1990.
Decorations: Distinguished Service Medal; Legion of Merit; Meritorious Service Medal; Air Medal with gold Numeral 1 and bronze Numeral 3; Combat Action Ribbon; Presidential Unit Citation and one bronze star; Meritorious Unit Commendation; Vietnam Service Medal with bronze star; Sea Service Deployment Ribbon; Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation (Gallantry Cross Color); and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.
Family: Married to the former Marie Frasmer of Atlantic City, N.J. They have four children.
NEW BASES COMMANDERBrig. Gen. P. Drax Williams
Born: Geneva, N.Y. Raised in Bermuda.
Education: Graduated from Cornell University in 1963. Completed basic training and flight school in Quantico, Va. in 1965. Attended Armed Forces Staff College in 1979 and NATO Defense College in 1981.
Military Career Highlights: Served two tours of duty in Vietnam, where he flew over 300 combat missions. Was chief of plans of the Fleet Marine Force in London from 1982-1985. Served as commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 12 in Iwakuni, Japan, from 1985-1987. Deputy commander of the Naval Space Command in Dahlgren, Va., from 1987 to 1988, when he was promoted to brigadier general and assigned to his present position.
Current Assignment: Legislative assistant to the commandant of the Marine Corps and director of public affairs, Headquarters Marine Corps, Washington, since 1989.
Decorations: Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Meritorious Service Medal, 22 Strike/Flight Air medals, Navy Commendation Medal with Combat "V", Navy Achievement Medal with Combat "V", Combat Action Ribbon, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with silver star.
Family: Married to the former Mary Hardie of Rockville Centre, Long Island, N.Y. They have two daughters.
Compiled by JANICE L. JONES / Los Angeles Times