POINT MUGU — Naval personnel rang bells, blew whistles and hoisted colorful flags in a tradition-steeped ceremony Wednesday to mark the merger of two bases into one.
At 10:30 a.m., a color guard lowered the Point Mugu Naval Air Station flag for the last time. In its place rose the blue-and-white flag of Naval Base Ventura County, a new command that officially consolidates the Naval Air Station with the nearby Naval Construction Battalion Center in Port Hueneme.
The two bases had been merging administrative services, such as safety and finance, since October 1998, moves expected to save taxpayers $6 million through 2001. Wednesday's ceremony, attended by 900 people, marked the transfer of Port Hueneme's command from Capt. Jim McConnell to Capt. James Rainwater, who will lead the new combined command. McConnell will remain at the Port Hueneme base as head of the 31st Naval Construction Regiment.
"Two outstanding commands that have called Ventura County home for so many years . . . are evolving into a totally new, full-service operation," said Rear Adm. Frederic R. Ruehe, commander of the Navy Region Southwest. "The savings will accrue as we become more efficient."
Hangar 34 at the Point Mugu base was decorated with bunting, photographic displays and the flags of the 50 states. Visitors were shown the combined base's new triangular logo, which features a lighthouse with two beams representing the two facilities.
As a quintet from the Channel Islands Air National Guard played military- and aviation-themed music, 200 sailors stood at attention in white uniforms that sported new, black-and-white "Naval Base Ventura County, CA" patches on their right shoulders.
Together, the bases employ 8,552 military personnel, 6,605 civilians and 1,329 contract workers and inject about $1 billion into the Ventura County economy each year. Point Mugu is a testing site for some of the Navy's most sophisticated weaponry and recently acquired Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 55, which delivers troops and material around the world on a moment's notice. Port Hueneme is home port for the Seabees, the naval corps called upon to build housing, airstrips and other support facilities for military activities at home and abroad.
"[We're] all going to see significant challenges in the months to come" as coordination of the combined command is completed, Rainwater said. "Not many bases can boast all the capabilities we have right here in Ventura County."
For some, the event was bittersweet.
"I can imagine right now how the father of the bride must feel as he approaches the altar," McConnell said. "I transfer to you a remarkable military and civilian work force."
In the past decade, that work force has undergone significant reductions and changes. Five years ago, Point Mugu was placed on a Pentagon list for possible closure.
Mary Santellan has worked at Point Mugu in civilian posts since 1985. During that time, she has seen numerous phases of downsizing, and even lost her job as a supply stock manager before she was hired to work as a secretary in a security division.
As the cuts kept coming, "you wonder how you're going to be affected," Santellan said.
To occasional applause, Rainwater repeatedly said that he has had "enough" of military downsizing. Budget reductions have made it more difficult to keep the base both militarily ready and "a quality place to work," Rainwater said.
"I will not accept budget cuts as a means of doing our job," said Rainwater, the 27th and final commander of the Naval Air Station. "Enough of doing more with less . . . . Someone needs to stand up and say 'You can't keep doing it.' "
The merger of the bases should provide more stability and a unified goal, said Renee Matson, a security specialist.
"We've watched people go from both sides," Matson said. "The consolidation is a way of pulling people together to make it work."