USS Makin Island (LHD 8) operates in the eastern Pacific in April. (U.S. Navy/MC3 Jacob D. Bergh)

SAN DIEGO - Capt. Tom Ulmer assumed command of USS Makin Island (LHD 8) from Capt. Chris “Woody” Westphal during a short ceremony aboard the amphibious assault ship, June 12.

Guests at the ceremony were limited to immediate family and senior leaders serving aboard the ship due to social distancing requirements related to COVID-19.

Westphal assumed command of Makin Island in March 2019 after serving as the ship’s executive officer since 2018, and will go on to serve at the Naval Special Warfare Command.

As Makin Island’s commanding officer, he directed Makin Island through a $140 million Chief of Naval Operations Phased Maintenance Availability including significant ship-wide modernization. He led Makin Island and its 1,000 crew members through the first-ever aviation certification, landing, embarkation, and operation of the F-35B Lightning II aircraft aboard the ship. Westphal also balanced competing demands and the COVID-19 global health crisis while successfully completing the ship’s basic phase certification.

“As one comes to the end of a tour, especially a tour as a CO, you reflect and wonder if you made a difference,” said Westphal. “Now we are standing on the flight deck of a ship that has conducted operations with the world’s premiere aircraft, the Joint Strike Fighter, we’ve passed all our certifications with flying colors, and executed a flawless mission to assist another ship and her Sailors in a time of need.”

Ulmer, who served as Makin Island’s executive officer since March 2019, was commissioned in 1996 through the Naval ROTC program at the Pennsylvania State University where he received a bachelor’s degree in Administration of Justice. He has previously served as commanding officer of USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43).

“The women and men of Makin Island have proven themselves as first rate Sailors and proud professionals,” said Ulmer. “I intend for us to continue that great tradition as we prepare for and then deploy.”

During Makin Island’s most recent at-sea period, the ship escorted USS Kidd (DDG 100) to San Diego after an outbreak of coronavirus was detected.

Makin Island, homeported in San Diego, is currently conducting routine operations and training. The Wasp-class ship is crewed by more than 1,000 Sailors and can embark more than 1,600 Marines. Makin Island’s mission is to transport and land ashore troops, materiel and supplies to support and sustain amphibious assault operations.

Two U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II aircraft land aboard USS Makin Island (LHD 8) in December. (U.S. Navy/MCSN Ethan Jaymes Morrow)

Capt. Wood Westphal, left, turns over command of USS Makin Island (LHD 8) to Capt. Tom Ulmer during a ceremony aboard the ship. (U.S. Navy/MC3 Ethan Jaymes Morrow)