Before relinquishing command of Naval Hospital Beaufort, Capt. Mark Bernier wanted to enjoy an annual Lowcountry tradition one last time.
"I'm just glad we were able to plan all of this so we'd be able to enjoy one last (Beaufort) Water Festival," Bernier said.
The base's commanding officer since March 2008, Bernier handed over the reins to Capt. Joan Queen during a change of command ceremony Friday at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. A female commanding officer isn't an oddity at the hospital; Bernier's predecessor was a woman, too.
Friday's ceremony also doubled as a celebration for Bernier, who is retiring to Pensacola, Fla., this month after 32 years in the Navy.
"The best thing about the Navy is the people you meet along the way," Bernier said. "There are at least two people here today from every command I've ever served at, and that blows me away. I can say, though, after 32 years, I'm glad today is finally here. We're moving to Pensacola to be closer to our three boys and closer to our Florida State (football) season tickets."
A native of Baltimore, Queen reports to Beaufort after a serving as executive assistant to the deputy surgeon general of the Navy since December 2007.
Queen said she is acclimating to the sweltering Lowcountry heat and looks forward to commanding the hospital's 1,000 military and civilian employees.
"I came down here in June for the first time for a visit, and the humidity was like a welcome to the Lowcountry," Queen said. "I'm most excited about being able to be in command again and lead this staff."
Rear Admiral Alton Stocks, commander of Navy Medicine East, said the base was swapping one competent, passionate leader in Bernier for another in Queen.
They "are both visionary leaders ... and impeccable Naval officers," Stocks said.
Queen said she hopes to improve access to health care for more than 31,000 eligible active-duty and retired service-members and their families living in the area. She also wants to help secure funding to upgrade facilities at the 61-year-old hospital.