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Col. Todd Oneto, H&S Bn. commander passes on the colors to Col. John Atkinson as part of change of command ceremonies held at Lejuene Hall today.

Photo by Valerie O'Berry

H&S Battalion commander passes the colors to a new commander full of hope and promise

12 Jul 2017 | Valerie O'Berry/Editor Marine Corps Base Quantico

Marine Corps Base Quantico’s Headquarters & Service Battalion, the largest battalion in the Marine Corps, held its change of command ceremonies June 23 at Lejeune Field. Outgoing Commander Col. Todd Oneto passed on the battalion colors to the new Commander Col. John Atkinson, as is a time-honored tradition in the Marine Corps.

During his farewell speech Oneto said he was thankful for the chance to command for a second time and he thanked his wife for her encouragement and support. He cited a proverb which says, “While many women have done excellently, you surpassed them all.”

He also delighted the crowd with his comments about a Seinfeld episode, which featured the celebration of a fake holiday called “Festivus.”

Festivus is a made up holiday by Seinfeld character Frank Costanza to replace Christmas in the make believe Costanza family. The “holiday” centered around an aluminum pole that replaced the traditional Christmas tree. The pole was passed to each Costanza family member and while holding it they were allowed to air their grievances about people. Oneto quoted Costanza from the famous TV show in which he said, “I’ve got a lot of problems with some of you people and now you’re gonna hear about it.” At the change of command ceremonies, Oneto had his own H&S Bn aluminum Festivus pole for airing grievances in the command. However, his Festivus pole had a much more positive purpose, as he used it as a segue about the fantastic accomplishments of the battalion over the last two years.

H&S Bn is charged with ensuring that all annual administrative requirements for 3,000 Marines assigned to multiple tenant commands at Quantico. Over the two year period that Oneto was commander, the Marines worked hard to reduce the number of non-deployable Marines in the Corps.

“Over the past two years, through the incredible hard work of the company staff that you see here before you, we have increased the medical readiness of Marines by 36 percent and sustained it. Next is the SACO program, in which our substance abuse control officer Mr. Grant moved mountains. Under him, we doubled the amount of testing that we do in the urinalysis program while at the same time reducing the number of discrepancies in the program by 83 percent. That is a remarkable, remarkable achievement. The number of DUIs on this base in 2012 was 21. This year as of today we have only had one, a remarkable achievement,” Oneto said.

He continued by saying that one of the important roles of H&S Bn is dealing with deserters and AWOL Marines (absent without leave) including all Marines east of the Mississippi. Two years ago it took 115 days to process their separation from the Marine Corps. With the hard work of the battalion that number is now down to 20 days. Oneto said this has resulted in 10s of thousands of dollars in cost savings benefitting the command because lawyer and other fees are reduced, but most importantly it is saving tax payer’s dollars.

“John, there are always things that can be improved upon. I assure you that you are getting an organization that is well off and you will be surrounded with a tremendous group of competent and eager professionals that I will sincerely miss. Best of luck to you and congratulations,” Oneto said.

Atkinson also gave remarks to the attendees, mostly thanking everyone for their support.

“I am honored and humbled to lead and to serve you – our Marines and families. I take that responsibility incredibly seriously. I understand coming from CD&I the relationship of H&S battalion and the organizations, that we are all a part of H&S Battalion Marines. I promise you, I promise the Marines and I promise all your families I will give you my best every day,” Atkinson said.

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