Navy Bids Farewell to Penniman
SAN DIEGO - Rear Adm. Russell “Feet” Penniman retired after 35 years in the Navy during a ceremony at Naval Air Station North Island, Sept. 20.
Penniman, who last served as U.S. Pacific Fleet's Reserve deputy commander, is a 1979 graduate of the Naval Academy and a naval aviator with more than 3,000 flight hours.
Following his initial years of active duty service, which included fighter squadron tours serving aboard USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) and USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), and a role in the establishment of Figher Wing Pacific, Penniman transitioned to the Navy Reserve in 1994.
Since then he held multiple staff assignments with Reserve units supporting Commander, Naval Air Force and Commander, U.S. Third Fleet, in addition to Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet.
In Penniman’s opening remarks, he thanked friends and family in attendance and pointed out his family’s strong naval heritage. “My father, also a naval aviator, held his last change of command in this courtyard 30 years ago,” he said.
For much of his active duty time, Penniman followed in his father’s footsteps and spent many hours in the cockpit of aircraft such as the F-14 Tomcat. Penniman said he couldn’t believe he was getting paid to do it.
“They even gave me additional flight pay, but it didn’t take too many night traps to learn you earned your flight pay behind the ship on moonless nights, when there was a low overcast, and the flight deck was pitching.”
After 15 years of active duty, Penniman transitioned into the Reserves to spend more time with his family. While in command of Carrier Group One’s Reserve unit, he was mobilized and assigned to U.S. Central Command's Joint Forces Air Component Commander (JFACC) staff to support major combat operations in Operation Iraqi Freedom. It was a combined effort between Reservists and active duty Sailors from the Navy Strike and Air Warfare Center. “The resultant fully integrated and synchronized joint air campaign was one of the most successful in the history of air warfare,” said Penniman, who later commanded Third Fleet's JFACC unit.
Adm. Harry B. Harris, Jr., commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, was the presiding officer for the ceremony, and having worked directly with Penniman, had much praise for him.
“Today we bid fair winds and following seas to a great leader, as we celebrate the distinguished career of Rear Adm. Russ Penniman, call sign ‘Feet’.”
Harris specifically mentioned Penniman’s decisive leadership during crisis response efforts throughout Operation Tomodachi.
“Adm. Walsh, the Pacific Fleet commander at the time, called on ‘Feet’ to fill in, not just as deputy commander, but for a time as acting commander of the entire U.S. Pacific Fleet,” Harris said. “‘Feet’ worked with the people of Japan as they struggled to recover from a devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.”
Harris recognized Penniman’s commitment to the Navy Reserve.
“It takes a special kind of person who would do this kind of work, who would drop everything, leave his family, leave a thriving business, to don the cloth of our nation, to serve and to lead in our Navy.”
Harris called the Reserve the Navy’s bench strength, noting that over the last 12 years of surge in Iraq and Afghanistan, over half of all individual augmentee mobilizations were Reservists.
Harris attributed much of Penniman’s success to his strong family support, especially from his wife, Carol, and presented her with a letter from the Chief of Naval Operations thanking her for her support and devotion.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Penniman was awarded his end of tour award as well as the Legion of Merit, and presented with his retirement flag, which was flown above the USS Constitution and the USS Arizona Memorial.
In Penniman’s closing comments, he summed up his naval career.
“Thirty-five years ago I joined the Navy to fly fighters off aircraft carriers, but in the end, after my flying days were long over, it was my support of the mission, the defense of this great nation, and serving with our wonderful Sailors, that provided the greatest sense of personal satisfaction and accomplishment.”