USS NIMITZ, At Sea - The "Black Knights" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 154 conducted an airborne change of command ceremony in the skies above the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) on July 4 in the Arabian Gulf.
Cmdr. John "Cosmo" DePree from Mt. Shasta, Calif., relieved Cmdr. James "Cruiser" Christie from Vancouver, Wash., as commanding officer of the "Black Knights." Rear Adm. Michael White, commander of Carrier Strike Group (CSG) Eleven, and Capt. Kevin Mannix, commander of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) Eleven, presided over the transfer of command.
Christie, a native of Vancouver, Wash., led the "Black Knights" as they transitioned to their new home with CVW-11 aboard Nimitz. Under Christie's guidance, the squadron excelled tactically, earning the coveted "Boola Boola" award in January, awarded for proficiency in air-to-air missile employment. During his career, Christie has accumulated more than 700 arrested landings and 2,500 flight hours in the F/A-18A-F.
"The 'Black Knight' team is an amazing organization of talented individuals who have bonded through work-ups and deployment like no other squadron I've seen. It has been my most treasured privilege to command VFA-154 because I've been afforded the opportunity to work closely alongside these remarkable Sailors," said Christie, adding, "I have no doubt Commander DePree will lead the "Black Knights" to even greater achievements, and I look forward to reading about their continued success in the future."
DePree, a 1996 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, began his career with the Fighter Squadron (VF) 102 "Diamondbacks" and deployed immediately following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. During this tour in Afghanistan, DePree was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with Combat "V," the distinguishing device for actions against enemy forces. His other previous assignments include tours with the "Flying Eagles" of VFA-122, the Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor course (TOPGUN), the "Bounty Hunters" of VFA-2, and the "Black Aces" of VFA-41.
"I am extremely humbled and proud to have the opportunity to continue the tradition of excellence set forth by all current and previous 'Black Knights' in the service to our great country. It is a rare privilege and honor to lead our nation's finest men and women into harm's way," said DePree. "To departing Skipper Christie, a final farewell: You are a genuine American patriot, a champion of your people, and above all - a true friend. Farewell and following seas, Cruiser."
VFA-154 is currently embarked with CVW-11 on board Nimitz and deployed with the Nimitz Strike Group to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility promoting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions for Operation Enduring Freedom.