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VA Clinic re-named after Middleburg’s Chief Kenneth Baker

Tuesday’s ceremony concluded difficult battle to honor Navy SEAL’s legacy

By Don Coble don@claytodayonline.com
Posted 1/18/23

MIDDLEBURG – Chief Petty Officer Andrew “Drew” Baker had to stop several times Tuesday when he talked about his father Andrew K. Baker. At one point, his emotions were so shaken, the …

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VA Clinic re-named after Middleburg’s Chief Kenneth Baker

Tuesday’s ceremony concluded difficult battle to honor Navy SEAL’s legacy


Posted

MIDDLEBURG – Chief Petty Officer Andrew “Drew” Baker had to stop several times Tuesday when he talked about his father Andrew K. Baker. At one point, his emotions were so shaken, the standing-room-only audience at the Veterans Affairs Clinic broke into applause.

His father died in a Navy SEAL training accident 25 years ago, but it did little to dull his feelings. He smiled when he talked about fishing and shrimping near their Middleburg home. He laughed when he said they got close in their boat for the son to pet a manatee.

Every time the son passes the VA, he will be reminded of him again. Persistent work, pressure and disappointment led the U.S. House of Representatives, Senate and President Joe Biden to officially rename the office the Andrew K. Baker VA Clinic.

The VA was asked to determine if Clay County needed a veterans clinic in 2012. After three failed attempts, one was approved in 2015. But the battle was just getting started.

“We had a lot of challenges, setbacks and success,” said U.S. Rep. Kat Cammack, who represented District 3 and Clay County when the project was approved. Holy buckets it was hard to get it considered, much less get it completed.”

Cammack also fought emotions, but she focused on Baker’s wife, Tina.

“This has been a long time coming,” Cammack said. “Tina, we got it done.”

The plan to put Baker’s name on the clinic started with Cammack’s predecessor, Rep. Ted Yoho. Cammack took over while she served as his chief of staff and she continued when she won her first term in 2020.

Antisubmarine Warfare Chief Baker died with his Trident 615 H-60 Seahawk crashed off the coast of North Carolina while trying to land on a frigate to refuel during a training event. All four on board were killed. Baker was attached to HS-3 homeported at NAS Jacksonville and he served on the USS Carl Vinson and USS Coral Sea as a Ship’s Serviceman.

His wife, Tina Baker, spent years trying to make sure her husband’s memory would be forever remembered.

Tina Baker originally presented a case to have an aircrew candidate school in Pensacola named after her husband, but he finished second in the voting, she said.

Supervisor of Elections Chris Chambless, also a veteran, conducted a special election of service people from Clay County who were nominated for the re-naming. Baker won decisively.

“He was a simple man doing his job,” Tina Baker said two years ago. “The things that come from simple things sometimes become life lessons. Now I can put this to bed. It’s done. I have great peace from this.”

The mix of rough seas, the pitch of a frigate, visual disorientation caused by night vision goggles and fatigue were likely factors in the accident. The Navy has since reviewed many of its training policies.

“It was a teachable moment,” Tina Baker.

The son, who is about to be deployed, shared his family’s joy in preserving his father’s legacy.

“I want to thank all of the people of Clay County and the people of Middleburg,” Drew Baker said. “Without you, it wouldn’t be possible.”