By The Maui News
A new temporary commander has been appointed for the Hawaii Wing of the Civil Air Patrol, following controversy over the disbanding of a longtime Kahului squadron and the nearly yearlong absence of a mission airplane that had been stationed at Kahului Airport.
In a news release Tuesday, the organization announced that Col John Henry Felix was appointed interim Hawaii wing commander.
He replaces Col Jeff Wong, who was transferred to the organization’s Pacific Region headquarters after having headed the Hawaii Wing for the past two years.
During Wong’s tenure, the Cessna 182 airplane that had been used to provide tsunami and hurricane warnings for Maui County was removed from Kahului Airport and flown to Oahu for maintenance in March 2014. Officials said the plane, which had its cracked engine repaired, was back on Maui for about 12 days in January before being flown to Honolulu for additional maintenance. The plane was back on Maui in mid-March.
After transferring members out of the unit, Wong disbanded Maui Composite Squadron HI-057 on the day Hurricane Iselle hit the islands in early August. Wong said the squadron, chartered in 1974, was “realigned” with the newer 76th Kihei squadron because of a decline in active participating members.
That was disputed by some longtime former 57th Kahului squadron members during a Civil Air Patrol town hall meeting on Maui in March. They said the fully functioning, mission-ready unit was dismantled in a retaliatory move after clashes with Maj. Eduardo Zayas, who started the Kihei squadron in 2009 and was made vice commander for the Hawaii wing under Wong.
At the meeting, Col Brian Bishop, commander of the Pacific Region of the Civil Air Patrol, said Zayas was no longer a member of the Civil Air Patrol.
Zayas, 62, of Kihei is awaiting sentencing next month after pleading no contest to a reduced charge of third-degree forgery of another pilot’s signature on a Civil Air Patrol document to indicate Zayas was qualified to fly cadets on orientation flights.
In the news release Tuesday, Bishop said that Wong’s tenure as Hawaii Wing Commander “was marked by change, necessitated by an Air Force compliance inspection report citing nearly 90 deficiencies, with over 30 related to safety.”
Wong was given eight months to correct the discrepancies found in the July 2013 inspection and bring the Wing into compliance with Civil Air Patrol regulations and standards, which he did, Bishop said.
“He leaves the wing in excellent shape, with 100 percent of the deficiencies resolved,” Bishop said.
He said that, with zero deficiencies, the new Hawaii Wing can move forward under Felix, who has been a member for more than 50 years and served as Hawaii Wing Commander from 1967 to 1968 and from 1980 to 1982.
“I am proud to have this opportunity to help write the next chapter in Hawaii wing’s long and illustrious record of service,” Felix said in the news release. “The Hawaii wing consists of dedicated patriots whose service to the citizens of Hawaii includes critically important tsunami warnings, as well as significant disaster relief and emergency service missions, cadet programs and aerospace education.”
Felix, a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars, is commander of the Maryknoll Cadet Squadron in Honolulu. He is executive chairman, chief operating officer and chief financial officer of the Hawaii Medical Assurance Association.
Felix spent 16 years on the Honolulu City Council and has been chairman of more than a dozen federal, state and county boards and commissions. During his career spanning five decades, he has headed the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Red Cross, Boy Scouts Aloha Council, March of Dimes, Consular Corps of Hawaii, Hawaii Public Radio, Young Presidents Organization, Junior Achievement and Academy of the Pacific.
Hawaii wing commander interviews will be held later this year, with a formal change of command set for 2016.