A change of command Thursday at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station marked one more step toward closure of a historic and focal point for Orange County, said the base's new commander.
With transport trucks leaving the base in the background, Major Gen. Robert Magnus relinquished command of the air station to Col. Stephen F. Mugg in an emotional ceremony before a crowd of about 200.
Magnus' departure marks the relocation to the Miramar base in San Diego of the Commander Marine Corps Air Base Western Area, which oversees the operations at each of the five Marine air bases on the West Coast.
"Fifty-five years ago, when it was nothing but bean fields, the base set an anchor point for the county and for the Marine Air Corps," Mugg said. "It's an emotional event when you know that eventually it's going to close." "Our primary focus now is to move the rest of the base's personnel to Miramar and [Camp] Pendleton so we can be ready to close operationally on the second day of July 1999."
Remaining at the base are three squadrons of CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters, known as "the heavy haulers." Estimates of Marines remaining at the base range from 3,000 to 7,000.
"That's a number we chase almost daily," Mugg said. "Summertime is a big moving period for our personnel and their families."