Change of command at Pickel Meadows

The U.S. flag waved overhead against the backdrop of the eastern Sierra during the change of command ceremony Friday at the Mountain Warfare Training Center at Pickel Meadows.

Col. James M. Thomas will be taking over command of the Mountain Warfare Training Center from Col. Robert W. Strahan.

"Commanding officers have two years duty and every two years it's the passing of command signifying the passing of responsibility," said Capt. Zachary Schmidt, base adjutant.

More than 40 guests, including the Carson Navy League, which adopted the base in May, and all the base Marines gathered in the hot August weather for the ceremony.

Strahan will be moving on to be Chief of Staff at the Training and Education Command in Quantico, Va.

He assumed command of the Mountain Warfare Training Center in August 1999 and said the best part about being there is it's absolutely pure expedition training.

"Everything has to be done just like in an expedition theatre," Strahan said.

His personal awards are the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal.

Friday, Strahan was also awarded the Legion of Merit Medal from Col. Walter Gaskin of the Commanding General Training Command in Quantico, Va.

"I accept this on behalf of the hard working sailors and Marines in this organization," he said.

Thomas has been in the Marine Corps since 1976 and said he enjoys it because of the Marines, who make every day worth coming to work.

His wife, Janette, and three sons, Christopher, 15, Steffen, 7, and Benjamin, 6, joined Thomas from their last duty station in Virginia.

"I came here for the first time today," Janette said. "I was a little apprehensive, but it's so beautiful here I'm looking forward to it."

Thomas said he has no long-term plans for his command but to continue the excellence.

"The training in a harsh environment builds cohesion in a unit," Thomas said.

Col. Gaskin said Thomas was hand-picked for this job because of his immense infantry skills.

"He understands training and he understands Marines," Gaskin said.

Col. Thomas' medals and decorations include: the Meritorious Service Medal with two stars, Navy Commendation Medal with two stars, Meritorious Unit Commendation with one star, National Defense Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon with silver star, Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal and Southwest Asia Service Medal.

The Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center was established in 1951.

Base personnel will be celebrating the center's 50th birthday on Sept. 6.


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