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Black takes charge on fifth tour

Capt. Steve Black is temporarily settled at NAS Whidbey in a small, borrowed office down the hall from the office of the current commanding officer, Capt. Larry Salter.

But, on Jan. 11, 2002, he will take over the big office, one of the perks of running the place.

In a Change of Command ceremony, Black will become the commanding officer of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, a point he has been working toward since he was first commissioned as a U.S. Navy officer 20 years ago.

And, he’s excited about it.

“A major command, I think, is exciting for anyone. It’s got to be. If you’re going to stay in a career as a Naval officer, you aspire to command. That’s what it’s all about,” Black said on Thursday.

Arriving on Whidbey Island just before Thanksgiving, Black has spent the past several weeks working alongside Salter, to ensure a smooth transition between COs.

Getting to know everyone

Black has been going to the different departments, getting briefed on their activities and meeting people. He has also travelled the region, visiting the Navy bases at Bangor, Bremerton and Everett to meet the other COs.

Black has become acquainted with his new boss, the regional commander and his staff. His first priority has been working on communication and relationship-building throughout the region and on the base.

Black says his career up to this point has been rather similar to those who commanded the base before him, with one exception.

“What’s not typical is that I’ve got two educational tours and two masters degrees. Most other guys would probably go off at least once to get some other type of shore or staff position rather than two degrees. And there were reasons for that . . . your career takes a lot of twists and turns getting some situations at the particular time you’re getting orders,” Black said.

A Prowler pilot for the past 20 years, this is Black’s fifth tour on Whidbey Island.

“I enjoy flying. That’s what I’ve enjoyed most about the Navy,” he said.

Prior assignment in development

Black came most recently from Newport, R.I., where he was experiment director in the Maritime Battle Center at a new command called Navy Warfare Development.

“Very exciting stuff. I’ve flown Prowlers and known strike aviation all of my career but this was a job that really expanded my horizons, dealing with experimental concepts and technologies in every warfare area,” Black said.

In preparation for the next three years, Black has already begun to establish himself and build relationships with the civilian community. He’s completed his first public speaking engagement at Oak Harbor High School at the NJROTC pass and review, where he met the school board, the high school principal, and the district superintendent. Black also met Mayor Patty Cohen at the pass and review.

“I’m looking forward to continuing what I think is probably one of the best community-base relations that the Navy enjoys,” Black said.

Base’s future appears secure

While community relations are important, tending to the business on base is already foremost on Black’s mind. Working to keep Whidbey Island Naval Air Station off any Base Realignment and Closure list will be one of his top priorities. A big part of keeping any base off a closure list is to continue to demonstrate a need for that base.

And it sounds like Black already has a plan.

“We’re going to be deeply interested in what the follow-on to the EA-6B is, what the Navy intends to do with the joint strike fighter, what the replacement for the P3 is, and what the requirements for that platform, whatever they may be, what those requirements are going to be. All of those are going to factor into those decisions on the terms of the utility of NAS Whidbey Island, the long-term future.

Black said the next round of base closures is scheduled for 2005, so 2003 “is the time the process starts to really move. But Whidbey has a lot going for it in terms of the infrastructure that’s here, the airspace that is here, the training opportunities that are here on a day-to-day basis. We don’t have a lot of encroachment issues that are rampant in other bases. The community relationship (is strong)...and not just the local Oak Harbor community.”

Black took the assessment a step further and expressed near-confidence in the secure position of the naval air station.

“The base is obviously healthy. There’s been a lot of investment in the base in recent years. It’s going to remain a healthy place for the Navy,” Black said.

However, there’s one thing about which Black can be absolutely sure.

It’s going to be a very busy three years.

Welcome and Godspeed.

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