A return to Beaufort is like a return home for the newly appointed commanding officer of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
A former squadron commander of the MCAS Beaufort-based Checkerboards of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 312, Col. John R. Snider took over as commanding officer of the air station Wednesday morning during a change of command ceremony.
Having most recently served at the Pentagon, Snider said he and his family are happy to be back in the Lowcountry.
"It's like coming home," he said. "My family and I have lived in Beaufort, on and off, for the last 10 years, so we're very excited to be back here and be a part of this community."
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Having been deployed three times out of MCAS Beaufort, Snider said he hopes the sailors and Marines under his command know they have a qualified leader atthe helm.
"I have a lot of operational experience," he said. "The three times I've been called to service in combat operations, I've deployed out of this air base, so I know a lot about what they're going through and what they need for their facilities here at the base."
Snider replaces Col. Robert W. Lanham, who assumed command of the air station in August 2005, and now will report to II Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune, N.C., for his next deployment and likely a forward deployment to Iraq.
Lanham's three-year tenure in Beaufort has left an indelible mark on the air station, said Maj. Gen. Robert C. Dickerson, commanding general of Marine Corps Installations East.
"When he came aboard, there were some significant issues, and (Lanham) tackled them," he said. "His fingerprints are all over Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. He's also positioned Beaufort for the future by being the first Marine Corps air station to have an analysis done on the future employment of the Joint Strike Fighter. The future looks bright for MCAS Beaufort because of what the Lanhams have done."
Lanham also led the air station during a period of exponential residential growth throughout northern Beaufort County. During that time Lanham's staff worked with the county to finalize a set of guidelines for land use around the air station.
Dickerson said becoming a part of the community, as Lanham did during his tenure, will be critical for Snider as he leads the air station into the future.
"Get out and talk to the community, and this is a great community," he said. "Beaufort is very supportive of the military and they take care of all the Marines and sailors all too well."
The $337 billion Joint Strike Fighter program and the role Beaufort plays in how the plane is used by the Corps will be a continuing challenge for Snider and for all future commanding officers at the air station, Lanham said.
"There's a lot of unknowns right now as to the specific missions that we'll have," he said. "The F-18s that we have will be replaced by the JSF, the F-35. But what we don't know yet is how many are going to be here and whether or not we're going to have a training mission in addition to the deploying squadrons that we have here or what the layout is going to be."
With a deployment to Iraq likely in his future, Lanham said he's excited about what lies ahead, but will fondly remember the time his family spent in Beaufort.
"It's great to pass the banner onto someone else and let them have a turn ... but it's also been one of the best jobs I've ever had," he said. "I'm going to miss the people, but I'm looking forward to heading up to Camp Lejeune."