Naval Air Station on track with 25-year plan

Whidbey Island Naval Air Station is a base prepared for the future and an evolving military.

Capt. Gerral David, NAS Whidbey Commanding Officer, provided the annual State of the Station address last Thursday for the Greater Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce. The former P-3 Orion pilot took over as CO for Capt. Syd Abernethy in July and hit upon a number of topics during his address.

From year to year, the total workforce employed at NAS Whidbey is staggering, showing the symbiotic relationship between the base and the Oak Harbor community.

The death of six EODMU-11 members during the year brought reality of the Iraq conflict home to Oak Harbor. However, the Navy Search and Rescue team’s readiness provided a more positive story.

“We have two helicopters and they have been launched by me 45 times in the last year,” David said.

Of the 128 people assisted, only 11 were military. At considerable risk, the aircraft were the first on scene in Lewis County during the December flooding. The SAR team rescued 91 people stranded by the floodwaters, in addition to 12 dogs and four cats.

“We don’t know exactly how many cats because they were in a bag,” David said with a laugh, challenging the full house of chamber members to brainstorm a more effective method to remove a terrified feline from a roof.

“I do that inside my budget,” David said of the local SAR deployments that serve as valuable training for the Navy. “It doesn’t cost you a dollar.”

The global support that NAS Whidbey provides is widespread. Through the Individual Augmentee Deployment program, sailors from the base have been placed on the ground to help fight the war on terror.

“That war is keeping the terrorists over there,” the captain said.

The face of NAS Whidbey will change considerably when three of the six types of airplanes stationed at base are transitioned. The P-8A, for which an environmental impact study is underway, will replace the P-3A tentatively around 2012.

“They’re coming, we just don’t know how many yet,” David said.

The C-40A Clipper will replace the C-9 Skytrain further down the road. The most anticipated aircraft, the EA-18G Growler, will be ready to deploy next September. The first plane replacing the venerable EA-6B Prowler is scheduled to land at NAS Whidbey June 3. Approximately $82 million in projects are planned to accommodate the new aircraft.

Aside from new planes, NAS Whidbey will also do considerable updates to facilities identified in the base’s 2025 plan.

“We’re actively using the plan everyday,” David said.

Comparing the base’s relationship with the Oak Harbor community to other cities’ mere coexistence with naval stations, the captain said there is no comparison. The cooperative effort that resulted in the successful Gateway display project serves as a prime example.

“This is the best indication of community partnership that I’ve ever seen,” he said.

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