The outgoing commander at Pohakuloa Training Area called the 133,000-acre facility “an amazing place to work.”
Lt. Col. Eric Shwedo made the comment as he relinquished command to Lt. Col. Jacob Peterson in a ceremony Friday morning at the Army installation’s theater.
Shwedo, his wife Suzanne, and sons T.J. and Cale are leaving Sunday for his next duty assignment as special assistant for special operations at the Office of Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs at the Pentagon.
“This has just been amazing. My kids don’t want to leave. My wife doesn’t want to leave. It’s gonna be hard leaving here,” Shwedo told the Tribune-Herald about his two years as PTA commander.
About his new duty assignment, Shwedo said, “I’m not sure how to feel about it but I know it’s not going to be as good as this one.”
Surveying the 100 or so in attendance, Shwedo said the turnout could mean “one of two things.”
“Either I’m excessively blessed or you’re trying to get rid of me,” he quipped. Once the laughter died down, he intoned, “I’m going to go with blessed.”
He said one of the blessings he’s enjoyed is the base’s staff.
“The bottom line, people who work here save lives,” he said, and added Pohakuloa employees “do more with less than anybody across the Army.”
“Every one of you has surpassed my expectations and have made my job exceptionally easy,” he said.
Peterson, a Colorado native who has been a soldier since 1991, has deployed twice to Iraq. He’s been awarded the Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Ranger Tab, Parachutists and Air Assault badges. He comes to PTA from the Mission Command Training Program at Fort Leavenworth, Kans.
This is his second tour of duty in Hawaii, having served at the U.S. Army Pacific Command on Oahu. In his brief remarks, he told the audience he and wife Shelley are “extremely happy to be back in Hawaii.”
“We love the land, the weather, the ocean — but what we truly love are the people,” he said. “You can’t find any place where more sincere, more nice people reside. And once we got to the Island of Hawaii, it’s the same as when we were on Oahu. So we’re looking forward to making new friends on this island, as well.”
Debra Zedalis, director of Installation Management Command Pacific Region, praised Shwedo and the innovations he and PTA personnel instituted, including a base recycling program she said helped demonstrate “the Army’s commitment to the environment and environmental responsibility.”
Zedalis also noted Shwedo’s effectiveness as both a commander and community leader.
“He developed an extensive community outreach program that built solid working relationships with the Royal Order of Kamehameha, Hawaiian Home Lands Commission, the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Waikii Ranch and the Chamber of Commerce,” she said.
Asked to point to his proudest accomplishment as PTA commander, Shwedo again deflected credit to the rank-and-file.
“I think the guys that work here have done more to make things better recently than I thought imaginable,” he said. “It’s a combined effort of everybody who works here — everything we’ve got from the recycle center going in to supporting 23,000-plus soldiers, sailors, Marines and National Guardsmen coming through here to make it alive through combat. And these are the guys who make it happen every day, and they do it year after year after year.”
The outgoing commander had just one piece of advice for his successor.
“When you want to do something and you know it’s the right thing to do, drive it like you stole it,” Shwedo said. “Don’t let anyone tell you no.”
For his part, Peterson said he’s “sincerely honored to serve as the commander for the military’s premier training facility in the Pacific.”
“I’d like to thank the Shwedos for welcoming us with open arms. I really appreciate that,” he said. “And I’m excited to see what you guys have done improving the services to our war fighters who receive the top-notch training they deserve before going into harm’s way. … I’m looking forward to making this training facility even better in the future.”
Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune- herald.com.