FORT WORTH — Navy Capt. Robert Bennett is moving on after two years as commander of Naval Air Station Fort Worth, but he told a crowd of dignitaries that he may not be gone for good.Bennett was succeeded by Navy Capt. Gil Miller during a change of command ceremony Friday morning inside a large hangar at the base. Bennett, who is being transferred to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Reserve Affairs in Arlington, Va., said he wouldn’t rule out a return to the area since his parents already live in North Texas.The ceremony, conducted on a stage with a large U.S. flag as a backdrop, included a color guard and the commanders being “piped aboard” at the start of the event.Bennett emphasized the importance of NAS Fort Worth to the community and its $2.3 billion economic impact during his remarks.Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, who was a guest speaker at the event, said Bennett helped underscore the importance of the base to the surrounding cities during his two-year command, while at the same time staying on top of potential developments around the airfield.“Rob has helped us with the overlay, he has helped us with encroachment issues but more than that, Rob has helped raise the profile of the base in the community,” Price said. “He has been very open about talking to groups and telling them what they do. That’s been an incredible asset for us.”Bennett has worked with the advisory-only Regional Coordination Committee, made up of officials from seven cities and Tarrant County, which meets five times a year to help self-police development around NAS Fort Worth.Keeping the lines of communication open is vital to the base’s survival, said Paul Paine, a former NAS Fort Worth commander and president of Fort Worth South. Bennett’s relationship with the surrounding cities was crucial, especially since encroachment issues can always be viewed as a negative during the Base Realignment and Closure process.If there are encroachment issues around the base that aren’t addressed, “you become more susceptible to losing this asset and having it close,” Paine said.Fort Worth City Councilman Dennis Shingleton also praised Bennett for communicating with cities about the need to keep the crash zones intact. He credited Bennett with helping city leaders understand the issue.“They got it and that was partly due to his efforts,” Shingleton said.But Shingleton said the challenge of convincing land owners that they can’t build whatever they want around the base isn’t always easy.“Sometimes they didn’t like it when you told them they can’t build a multi-story hotel on that property,” Shingleton said.The ceremony also drew unit commanders from the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Texas National Guard, which also have contingents at the joint reserve base.Miller becomes the Naval Air Station’s 10th Commander since it was created in 1994. Before coming to Fort Worth, he worked at the Pentagon as the reserve components briefer for the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. He has accumulated 4,700 military flight hours, and is a designated naval parachutist. He received a diploma from the U.S. Naval War College Command and Staff Program in 2006 and a master’s degree in Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., in 2008. Miller was previously stationed at NAS Fort Worth from 2002 to 2004 as the C-130T program manager with the Fleet Logistics Support Wing.
Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698 Twitter: @fwhanna