- The Washington Times
Monday, February 2, 2015

About 400 employees of the Naval Sea Systems Command returned to work Monday at the Washington Naval Yard for the first since a dozen of their co-workers were killed there in a 2013 shooting rampage.

The Humphreys Building, formerly known as Building 197, reopened early Monday after 15 months of extensive renovations that included repairs to damage caused during the shooting at the military complex in Southeast Washington.

In a christening ceremony outside the building, Vice Adm. William Hilarides, commander of Naval Sea Systems Command, officially reopened the doors and greeted workers, who had been displaced during the renovation. The refurbishings included a new interior layout and new exterior appearance.

“Seventeen months ago we got knocked down. But, we didn’t stay down. We returned to work, kept NAVSEA going, supported the fleet, the Navy and each other,” Adm. Hilarides said during the ceremony. “We did so thanks to numerous people both at the Navy Yard and in the neighborhood. Though today is about looking forward and getting back to where we belong, we’ll never forget those we lost that terrible day. They will always remain a part of us, the Navy, and NAVSEA.”

Twelve workers were killed and four others wounded in September 2013, when civilian contractor Aaron Alexis opened fire with a small assortment of firearms.

Alexis, a former Navy reservist with a history of mental and behavioral problems, was later killed by police officers. A monthlong investigation followed the massacre.

PHOTOS: Navy christens site of shooting rampage as command center

About 2,800 NAVSEA employees were displaced from their offices after the shooting, and had to find or borrow workplaces in various spaces around Washington.

When NAVSEA officials learned that the Coast Guard was vacating its headquarters at Buzzard Point in Southwest, they worked with the General Services Administration to temporarily move into the 850,000-square-foot facility.

“The building really fell into our laps and it could not have come at a better time,” Adm. Hilarides said.

Putting all of NAVSEA’s workers under one roof fostered a sense of togetherness and renewed purpose, officials said.

“We’ve been here for a little more than a year now and we’ve obviously had our challenges, coming and going, but it’s been a good year, a year to prepare ourselves, both spiritually or emotionally to go back,” said Capt. Karin Vernazza, director of NAVSEA Total Force Management. “I believe we’re stronger and better prepared to handle the challenges ahead.

“Over the past year, we have grown closer as a result of the incident and we are committed to our mission to get the job done. That’s what we’re all about, supporting the fleet, so now it is about going to go back to where we belong — in the Navy Yard,” said Capt. Vernazza, who returns this week to the Humphreys Building.

Officials said the rest of NAVSEA’s staff will return to the Navy Yard over the next few weeks, with the last set of workers scheduled to come back by the end of March.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Carleton Bryant can be reached at cbryant@washingtontimes.com.

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