The commander of Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story is leaving after two years bookended by extremes.

Capt. Michael Witherspoon took over in June 2020, at the height of COVID. There were only 50 people in the room when he was installed. Thursday, he greeted every guest in a packed house at the chapel on base. He says his greatest accomplishment was keeping the base open during COVID, even when sailors couldn’t leave their rooms for meals. Some sailors still work from home part of the time.

“We started to do business a little bit differently and I can tell you we’re still holding on to some of those things we’ve learned because it’s a better way of doing business,” he said.

As Witherspoon was getting ready to step down, the base was hit with a tornado April 30, which touched down near his home on base.

“It was fast. It was furious," he said. "I physically saw it because I was home. And when it hit, it was devastating.”

The tornado tore part of the roof off of one of the barracks and a training area was damaged. The price tag has risen to $4.2 million. Witherspoon will take over the Auburn Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps at Auburn-Tuskegee Consortium in Auburn, Alabama.

At the change of command ceremony Thursday he was replaced by Capt. David Gray. Most recently, Gray was the commanding officer at the Navy Expeditionary Warfighting Development Center, which is located on base.

JEB Little Creek-Fort Story is the largest amphibious base in the world, with 131 resident commands, more than 900 civilians and military personnel, and an annual budget of $63 million.