New missile range leader
wades into PR problems

By Anthony Sommer

BARKING SANDS, Kauai >> Capt. Don Wilson, new commander of the Pacific Missile Range, says he would not characterize his assignment as "damage control" because of a Navy investigation of the previous base commander.

The Navy found Capt. Brian Moss misspent hundreds of thousands of dollars refurbishing the commanding officer's quarters and building two elaborate beach houses. He was not relieved but given a letter of reprimand.

But Wilson added he was given three missions: Address community relations, address the morale of the troops and assure anti-terrorism measures were in place.

"I can't unring the bell," Wilson said yesterday.

"Whatever happened happened."

Civilian contractors at the base were openly and publicly critical of Moss after he brought in federal officials from Washington, D.C., to upgrade management practices. The investigation found that he had misspent much of that money.

The contractors said Moss was implying they weren't competent enough to handle the jobs.

"But if anyone believes they (the longtime civilian employees) couldn't do the job, the have the wrong impression," Wilson said.

Wilson, 56, comes with all the right credentials.

He's not a career Navy officer. He has spent much of his career as a civilian at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

He's a reservist who was activated in September following the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. His mandatory retirement date is in December and his job is to still the waters for the next regular Navy captain who takes command.

He has also been a Hawaii resident since the age of 15, and holds both a bachelor's degree in political science and a master's degree in international relations from the University of Hawaii.

Following the Sept. 11 attacks, the Navy closed Majors Beach at the missile range, a popular surfing and fishing spot, to the public. Following an angry meeting between surfers and the Navy while Moss was still in command (Moss did not attend), the Navy offered to allow shuttle buses to take the public to Majors Beach on weekends and federal holidays.

Both the surfers and the county, which would have had to pay for the buses, objected.

At another meeting Monday night, the Navy agreed to allow residents who are certified by the Kauai Police Department as not having felony records, to drive their own cars to the beach, still only on weekends and holidays.

Wilson, who attended the meeting, admitted it was only "half a loaf" but said he will work toward access seven days a week.

Moss retired on May 24 after holding a party the Navy termed a "retirement event" (rather than the traditional "retirement ceremony"). Not a single officer from Pearl Harbor attended.

The next day, completely unannounced, Wilson arrived to take command. There was no ceremony, no traditional handing of the unit flag from the old commander to the new.

Symbolically, he didn't move into the commander's quarters. Instead, he's living at the far more modest TQ -- transient quarters which, he said, "is just fine for a single guy."

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