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    Naval Ophthalmic Support and Training Activity (NOSTRA) Changes Command

    Naval Ophthalmic Support and Training Activity (NOSTRA) Changes Command

    Photo By Julius Evans | Capt. (sel) Steve Aboona, MSC, USN, Commander, Naval Medical Logistics Command,...... read more read more



    Story by Julius Evans 

    Naval Medical Logistics Command

    Before family, friends, former staff members and a packed-house of the NOSTRA workforce, Capt. Richard Zeber turned over the reins of leadership to the incoming commanding officer, Capt. Marc Herwitz, during the change of command ceremony held on the picturesque United States Coast Guard Training Center, Yorktown, Va., on Aug. 16.

    The capacity crowd, which filled the auditorium, came from near and far to share in a ceremony that highlighted the incredibly important role that NOSTRA plays in providing eyewear; not just to warfighters around the world, but in some cases to various indigenous populations. They do this through Innovative Readiness Training missions. More surprisingly, they also provide eyewear to some high school students from around the United States as they prepare to enter the boot camps of the U.S. Armed Services.

    Master of Ceremonies Cmdr. Brian Engesser, Medical Service Corps (MSC), and a United States Naval Academy graduate, became a surface warfare officer during the first part of his career. In 2008, he became an MSC officer after attending the Illinois College of Optometry and graduated with a Doctorate in Optometry. After successfully completing several ashore and at sea leadership assignments, he reported to NOSTRA as the executive officer in July 2018.

    Engesser described for the audience NOSTRA’s dynamic and diverse workforce comprised of Army and Navy active duty members, Department of Defense Civilians and contractor personnel. “Many of our staff are hearing impaired and communicate using sign language,” he said. “Mr. Darin Gillis, a member of our staff, will now perform ‘America the Beautiful,’ in American Sign Language.”

    Captivated by the grace and the majestic display of sign language being demonstrated to music, the audience was visibly in awe. The thunderous applause at its conclusion placed a stamp of approval on the performance.

    Providing continuity during the ceremony, Capt. Zeber headed to the podium to introduce NOSTRA’s Immediate Superior in Command, Commander, Naval Medical Logistics Command, Capt.(sel) Steve Aboona.

    Aboona deliberately described, at great length, Capt. Zeber’s accomplishments during his tenure at NOSTRA. He touted his successes and his many accolades. But what made Aboona’s speech stand out, what made his words so memorable, were the two stories he shared which clearly captured the attention of every single person in the audience.

    While he was the officer in charge of a Humanitarian Aid Mission in Zamboanga, Philippines, his detachment was charged with setting up a medical and dental clinic, for which, they secured a small school. To get to the school, his detachment had to travel through a region that was a hot bed of terrorism perpetuated by the group Abu Sayyaf. Abu Sayyaf had been responsible for countless horrible acts against its own countrymen.

    “We brought an optometrist, one hospital corpsman and a selection of prefabricated lenses and frames from NOSTRA,” Aboona said. “I could not imagine the positive impact this trip would have on me personally or psychologically.”

    In some parts of the world, many people spend their lives with some type of optical impairment. In this instance, people traveled for days; through jungles, some with nothing covering their bare feet, and with little to no food or water, to visit the American military who communicated via a translator.

    “When we brought our patients to optometry and fitted them with frames, they started crying and so did their parents,” Aboona explained. “You see, they never had the gift of sight. They were never able to see their parents in 20/20 or near 20/20 vision. When we fitted their parents, they too saw their children clearly for the first time.”

    Experiences like that change your perception of the world and its small miracles like these that NOSTRA executes routinely on a global scale.

    Rounding out the narrative, Aboona drove home the importance of NOSTRA’s mission through a comparison of third world nation ophthalmic needs and the needs of some here in the United States.

    “I had the honor of visiting the United States Recruit Training Command in North Chicago, Ill. I learned how incoming Sailors were recruited, trained and eventually take their place in the fleet,” Aboona said. “As you can imagine, one of the first stops for the recruits was optometry. There were young men and women, from all over the country, from cities small and large, from all walks of life and believe it or not, not all of them have had the optical support they needed prior to joining the Navy.”

    NOSTRA supported recruits in that basic but fundamental and critical aspect. They make the lenses and supplies the frames that allowed these young Sailors to have the gift of near perfect vision for the first time in their lives. Without this support, the United States Navy would have fewer Sailors and would lose the talent needed to sustain the nation’s defense.

    After that resoundingly poignant recount of his personal experience seeing the direct impact NOSTRA had on future warfighters, Aboona turned his attention to welcoming the new commanding officer.

    “NOSTRA will be gaining a truly phenomenal leader in Capt. Marc Herwitz. Having previously served as the executive officer at NOSTRA and having just completed a rigorous staff tour at the United States Bureau of Navy Medicine and Surgery headquarters, he is the perfect leader to take the reins of command at NOSTRA,” Aboona said.

    After he returned to his seat, Engesser, the Master of Ceremonies, invited Zeber to the podium to offer his departing comments to his workforce.

    Like a rock star in front of an adoring crowd, Zeber did not hesitate to shower his ‘fans’ with glowing praise that made even the most modest NOSTRA member blush with pride.

    “It is hard to believe that our time together has come to an end,” he started. “NOSTRA has been the leader in optical fabrication and has taken on many initiatives, leading by our own sense of urgency. Through that urgency, we have experienced a great many successes.”

    He described a list of accomplishments that filled two-single spaced pages and he readily acknowledged that he had spoken over the allotted amount of time that was agreed upon during the day’s prior rehearsals. But he stressed the importance of family to the audience. The workforce family and personal family relationships.

    “If you are upset with a loved one, make up with them. Do not linger in anguish in your personal relationships,” he said, before turning his focus back to the work NOSTRA does. “We manufactured and delivered more than 3 million optical devices, 1.6 million eyewear were produced in FY-18 alone, with NOSTRA Detachment making more than 600,000!”

    The praise continued which carried him into his introduction of the person to whom he was turning over the reins of leadership.

    “Capt Herwitz is the exact right person for the next two years. He has an impressive resume of expertise and leadership and strategic thinking. He will sustain all relationships we have and build new ones. He will lead the command and the optical fabrication enterprise to deliver high quality relevant and compatible products for military readiness in a timely manner, with a reasonable cost to our Service members worldwide,” Zeber said. “He will ensure our training activity graduates Army and Navy leaders who will be motivated to stay in the military and grow into the leaders running the Navy and the Army for the next 20 years.”

    At the conclusion of his comments and in accordance with Navy customs and traditions, both officers read their orders. Then, after inviting Herwitz to the podium to make his introductions in a short speech, the traditional change of command ceremony took place where both the outgoing and incoming officers saluted their senior and uttered the phrase, Sir, I have been properly relieved. Sir, I have assumed command. With that declaration and after the applause marking the official hands of leadership had changed, Mrs. Herwitz was invited to the stage to affix the pin of command onto Capt. Herwitz’s uniform.

    With that, the official party was given a chance to depart the stage to the ceremonial whistle of the Bos’n pipe and the bells of the bell chimer. “Dating back to the age of sails are the traditions of striking the ship’s bell and posting side boys to honor the high ranking officers present,” Engesser said.

    As they departed the stage, the auditorium was filled with the chime of bells that signified the conclusion of the pomp and circumstance which indicated that NOSTRA had a new leader who was welcomed aboard through the piped Navy tune Anchors Aweigh and the Marine Corps hymn.



    Date Taken: 08.16.2019
    Date Posted: 08.21.2019 13:45
    Story ID: 336790
    Location: FREDERICK, MD, US 
    Hometown: FREDERICK, MD, US

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