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Changing Hands: NAS Whidbey commander passes reins to helicopter pilot
Capt. Mike “Nort” Nortier, a veteran helicopter pilot, took command of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station Friday.
He relieved Capt. Jay Johnston before a crowd of senior Navy officials, base personnel and Whidbey Island dignitaries in a formal, but light-hearted change of command ceremony on base.
Johnston, who was at the helm for two and a half years, is headed to Washington, D.C. to become the next operations director at Naval Installations Command headquarters.
Nortier is a longtime helicopter pilot who got his wings in 1991. Over the course of his career he’s racked up more than 4,300 hours of naval flight time, saw service in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Tomodachi, the nation’s relief effort after the tsunami devastated Japan in 2011 – and earned numerous personal military honors and awards.
Nortier has held a range of positions, from Chief of the Joint Readiness Reporting branch at Strategic Command’s J-3 Current Operations directorate in Omaha, Neb., to his most recent post with the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Operations Directorate. During his tenure as Pacific Fleet, Nortier deployed as an Individual Augmentee to the Office of Security Cooperation, where he served as the Director, Senior Advisors Group.
Nortier returned from Iraq in December. He called the past month and a half a “whirlwind” as he prepared to take command on Whidbey Island. His opening comments were largely dominated with recognition of his family and their long support.
“It’s been a team effort and I couldn’t do it without her,” Nortier said of his wife Dianne.
He said his two children, Mathew and Elissa, have also made many sacrifices, having moved no less than eight times over the course of his career. He made specific mention of Oak Harbor schools, saying he felt optimistic of their eduction.
Nortier said he never thought his career would take him to Whidbey Island. He said he has big shoes to fill and is both “excited” and “humbled” to be taking over for Johnston.
He said he expects the people under his command will teach him what the command is really about in the coming years, but noted that he is already well aware of the base’s “incalculable value” to the nation and Whidbey Island.
There are challenges ahead, such as sequestration, but he expressed confidence that Team Whidbey, a leadership model instituted and continued by his predecessors, would remain successful.
“It truly is about a team effort,” he said.
Johnston spent much of his time recognizing the achievements of the various units under his command. For example, he congratulated the base’s search-and-rescue team for saving 40 lives over the past few years. He called the members of the explosive ordinance disposal team “unsung” heroes for the dangerous work they do in cities and towns around Puget Sound.
“That’s the Navy in our community,” Johnston said.
He addressed the many challenges of his tenure at the base, including encroachment issues at the Boardman Bombing Range in Oregon and the securement of plans to bring four squadrons of P-8A Poseidon aircraft to Whidbey Island.
“The future of Whidbey Island is bright and I’m excited. My only regret is a I won’t be here to see it,” Johnston said.
“You’ve got a great base and a great community,” he added.