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Change of command

Capt. Larry G. Salter, outgoing commanding officer, Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.Came back to Whidbey in Oct. 1998 and took over as Commanding Officer in a Change of Command ceremony on Jan. 15, 1999. - Christine Smith
Capt. Larry G. Salter, outgoing commanding officer, Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.Came back to Whidbey in Oct. 1998 and took over as Commanding Officer in a Change of Command ceremony on Jan. 15, 1999.
— image credit: Christine Smith

January 11, 2002 will mark a beginning and an end for Capt. Larry Salter.

It not only marks the end of his tour as commanding officer of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, a position he has held for three years, but also the completion of a 28-year-long Navy career.

Salter will hand over the reins in a change of command ceremony to Capt. Steve Black, and he will embark on his new life as a civilian.

Salter took time on Thursday to reflect on his career and his tour as the base skipper, which for him has been a source of great personal satisfaction.

“First off, the job was absolutely great and I got up every day with a smile on my face, ready to go to work. I enjoyed working with all the professionals on the base, military and civilian. Team Whidbey is an awesome organization,” Salter said with obvious pride.

There have been many highlights during Salter’s three years commanding Whidbey Island NAS, and it is clear he approves of the “team’s” performance. Salter is quick to give credit to the huge staff of personnel that keeps the naval air station not only operating smoothly, but exceptionally.

“I think the way that Security is conducting themselves right now as you’re coming on to the gates, I mean, they’re standing gate guard duties in the middle of the night, in the rain and the cold, and 99 percent of the time you’re going to get a smile and a ‘How are you doing?’ and a very pleasant greeting as you come onto this base. I think that epitomizes the spirit of NAS Whidbey Island and Team Whidbey and how we try to do things.”

In fact, Salter pointed to working with “Team Whidbey” as one the most enjoyable aspects of his time as commanding officer.

Spirit, attitude make it special

“If I was going to say what I enjoyed the most it would be...the experience of working with the military and civilian professionals on this base that make it what it is. The COs come and go every three years, but there’s a lot of institutionalized ways of doing things here, and a spirit and attitude that transcends any CO that comes through here and hangs his hat for three years,” Salter said.

Whidbey Island Naval Air Station also enjoys a unique relationship with the civilian community, something that Salter says is rare.

“The relationship with the community was a highlight of the three years that I was here. Again, it wasn’t anything that I particularly did. It was just something that’s always been there...the partnerships we have. . . the association that I have with Oak Harbor, Coupeville and Anacortes is definitely the envy of other base commanding officers, because many do not have the relationship that this base has with the local community.”

While Salter willingly and eagerly gives credit to the military and civilian personnel that operate the various departments on a day-to-day basis, he has the final say and the final touch.

Knocking down the barriers

“I make the big decisions, and what . . . I contribute the most is what I’ve termed ‘knocking down the barriers,’ so that department heads can do their job and get things done.”

Salter makes the job of base CO sound downright easy, but no doubt that comes only after decades of a successful career leading up to the job. He said he has used “standard leadership and standard Management 101” to keep things running smoothly.

“Communication, communication, communication is the secret,” among departments, Salter said, “so everyone understands their piece of the puzzle.”

The last year was quite a way to wind up a Navy career. Due to some changes, Salter at first thought 2001 would actually be an easy year for him.

“I kind of thought, ‘Wow, I’ll be able to get to the golf course and work on my handicap,’” he said.

One day it

all changed

But then everything changed when a squadron on deployment from Whidbey Island NAS was forced into the middle of an international incident.

“Once the VQ-1 situation happened in April...that two week period and sometime after that surely took up a lot of my time,” Salter said about China’s holding of the crew of 24 and the EP-3E aircraft that was forced to make an emergency landing on Hainan Island.

“That was a huge highlight of the base’s history, I think, because, again, it epitomized what Team Whidbey could do,” Salter said. “It all came together...it was amazing.”

It also showed how the community feels about the base and the personnel stationed here, Salter said. Additionally, the event and the ensuing media coverage showcased the base, Oak Harbor and Northwest Washington “and it was all good news,” because it worked out well.

During the past year, the base has also undergone some major improvements.

The biggest boon for the base is in the Public Works Department, Salter said. Military construction projects and housing projects have poured millions into the civilian economy.

However, the final three months of Salter’s command have been the most unexpected and complicated.

Reacting to September 11

Salter has had his hands full since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11.

“I surely have. September eleventh would be on the other end of that scale of things that I would like to be doing that took up my time.”

Salter had to find ways to protect his base and his people, yet keep it running as smoothly as possible.

“Dealing with the force protection issues was my first priority, and way, way at the top. (But) I always try to consider personal convenience, what it takes to get people back to whatever our definition of normal is,” Salter said.

“I instituted some fairly draconian carpool measures,” Salter said with a laugh. But, “everybody pulled together” and they got the traffic tie-up and the wait at the gates down from five-and-a-half hours to about 20 or 30 minutes.

And that’s part of the new definition of “normal” at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

“What you experience today is probably normal. Open gates are a thing of the past.”

Approaching life as a civilian

Beginning his days as a civilian is going to take some adjustment, Salter said, but he is approaching it with a positive attitude.

“I’m looking forward to it, eyes wide open. Ready to start this new chapter,” Salter said.

After the change of command and his official retirement, Salter will move into his newly-purchased house in Silverdale, and begin a civilian job as the director of marketing of a small, private company called Envisioneering.

Envisioneering is a services company providing engineering and computer logistics support to a variety of government agencies, including the Navy and the Social Security Administration. Salter looks forward to “opportunity and upward mobility” with Envisioneering.

“Different skills required, different techniques needed, different way of thinking about things. And it will be a bit of a transition (from) generally getting your way to having to figure out new ways of getting your way,” Salter said with a laugh.

Some of the most basic aspects of civilian life might prove to be a challenge for Salter. After 28 years in uniform, it will seem odd at first to go to work in civilian clothes.

“It will surely be different, and I am awful at picking colors. So, I’m thinking that I will probably make my wife pick out the colors and set things out for me or color code them with letters . . . kind of one of those Garanimals approaches to getting dressed. My concept is blue is blue and brown is brown and they ought to match,” Salter joked.

Overall, commanding Whidbey Island Naval Air Station has been the high point of Salter’s successful Navy career. It has also been his favorite job in the Navy.

“Oh, no question,” Salter said. “This is what I want to remember.”

Farewell and Godspeed.

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