Attending the MAWTS-1 Change of Command Ceremony, May 3, 2024


After returning to the United States from Australia on April 25, 2024, I buckled up again for a flight to Yuma, Arizona to have the privilege of witnessing the MAWTS-1 change of command ceremony.

In the process of finishing up our forthcoming book on MAWTS-1, this seemed a good way to close out our effort.

One of the architects of the MAWTS-1/WTI concept and the first MAWTS-1 Commanding Officer, LtCol Howard DeCastro, had written to me suggesting the idea, and the CO of MAWTS-1, Col Purcell kindly agreed to invite me.

This would give me the chance to meet with several of the earlier Commanding Officers of MAWTS-1, meet the three 3 Star USMC Generals attending the ceremony and meet the new CO of MAWTS-1 as well.

On the day before the ceremony, I had the chance to sit down and interview two of the first commanding officers, LtCol DeCastro and LtGen Barry Knutson. In the afternoon, I was able to interview the outgoing CO, Col Purcell, and the incoming CO Col Joshua Smith.

Col Smith on the left and Col Purcell on the right at the change of command ceremony, May 3, 2024. Credit Photo: Robbin Laird

What was amazing about the two sets of interviews is how connected in time they were.

The first and eighth CO of MAWTS focused on the approach they built towards combat innovation, namely, inserting technology into con-ops rather than having technology existing outside of the organizational changes needed to use relevant technologies.

It was the warfighters driving innovation in terms of real warfighting improvements, rather than some contractor or acquisition official pushing technology down their throats.

Then two hours later, I had the same conversation with Purcell and Smith.

It was about technology that did not exist at the time when DeCastro and Knutson were in charge, but it was the same mentality and same drive for combat excellence which we discussed.

And I would conclude with just one thought – don’t change the course.

The drive for warfighting excellence in the operating force is not nice to have, it is what we need if our country continues to field a warfighting force respected by the world, both allies and adversaries.

Well I am not a Marine, but it is hard to not listen to the USMC hymn at the ceremony and not say Semper Fidelis.

Featured photo: Purcell returns from his last flight as CO of MAWTS-1. Credit Photo: Robbin Laird