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Whidbey’s bright future arrives

Capt. Syd Abernethy admired the Rangers’ familiar red and gold insignia on the cap the squadron presented to him on its arrival from Spain.

Abernethy, commander of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, was happy to officially welcome a squadron he had led in the past to its new home in Oak Harbor.

“We have a wonderful community here that will wrap its arms around you,” he told squadron members and local officials assembled Friday in the Nor’West Club at the base.

“There’s no community in the nation that’s more supportive,” he said.

The city of Oak Harbor inked local sentiments into a proclamation. Danny Paggao, Mayor Pro Tem, read aloud the document declaring Friday VQ-2 Rangers’ Day.

Cmdr. Clayton Grindle, Rangers commander, praised the efforts made by the Navy and the local community to ease the transition of Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron Two (VQ-2) from NAS Rota, Spain.

So far, about 300 squadron members and their families have arrived, he said.

The full squadron is about 500 people strong, but they are never all in one place at the same time. The squadron’s mission is reconnaissance and there are always members on duty around the clock “fighting a global war on terror,” Grindle said.

“Spain was our home for 45 years and we’ll always be a part of that community, but we have never experienced a welcome like this,” Grindle said.

Grindle referred to the posters and signs plastered around town, also the community-wide picnic last month to welcome the Navy families to Oak Harbor.

Adm. H.G. Ulrich III, Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe, noted the Ranger’s successful record and prospects for an equally successful future. In his written statement, Ulrich said the Navy was moving the squadron from Europe to reduce costs and eliminate redundancies its worldwide forces.

Grindle said the squadron also will be able to operate more efficiently because of the availability of aircraft parts that formerly had to be shipped to Spain.

The squadron operates six Aries II and two P-3 Orion aircraft, Grindle said.

Grindle said Rangers and their families are astounded by local efforts to help with relocation. A contingent from Oak Harbor traveled to Spain to head off any problems with affordable housing, daycare, schools and jobs for spouses.

Peggy Ellis, principal of the Oak Harbor Middle School, and Laura Aesoph, principal of Hillcrest Elementary, traveled to Spain in early summer to get paperwork handled in advance. About 200 children were expected, with classroom space available due to declining enrollment in Oak Harbor schools in recent years.

Grindle said moving families was arranged on a priority basis to allow children to start school after Labor Day.

Concerns about finding homes in a hot sales market evaporated as housing was found on Whidbey and in neighboring Skagit and Snohomish counties.

“Most sailors walked off a plane and right into a house,” Grindle said.

Shipping 236 pets, including one iguana, during summer heat turned out to be the biggest challenge. Some aircraft aren’t equipped with temperature controlled baggage holds, so several commercial airliners made special arrangements to help Navy families transfer their pets.

An Oak Harbor kennel owner kept late hours to ensure all the animals were taken care of when they arrived, Grindle said.

Capt. John Dziminowicz, commander of VQ-1,”World Watchers,” welcomed the Rangers.

“Terrorists around the world should watch themselves because we now have a united front of both squadrons,” Dziminowicz said.

Grindle said the squadron leaves behind numerous friends after 45 years in Spain.

The squadron has a distinctive Spanish flavor, Grindle said in an interview. The base is placed between two large cities in southern Spain. A number of squadron members married locals and Spanish nationals also joined the Navy and became American citizens, he said.

Linda Grindle said they have visited Oak Harbor many times as her husband used to be assigned to VQ-1.

“I knew we’d be here eventually,” she said.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, has been a staunch supporter of moving the squadron to Whidbey. He issued a written statement Friday.

“VQ-2’s arrival is great news for the Oak Harbor community and its economy,” he said.

Almost 1,000 military and their dependents will be based on Whidbey when the transition is completed. The move is expected to generate an annual payroll of $33.8 million, the figure based on an officer’s average salary of $115,582 and average enlisted person’s salary of $57,279, according to Larsen’s office.

Larsen said “The future is bright on Whidbey Island. With VQ-2’s arrival, it just got brighter.”

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