NAS Whidbey: We're No. 1!

Right now, Whidbey Island Naval Air Station is the best Navy base in the world.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced Monday that NAS Whidbey was selected as the Navy recipient of the prestigious 2006 Commander in Chief’s Annual Award for Installation Excellence.

“We are deeply honored to receive this award,” Capt. Syd Abernethy, commanding officer of the base, said in a press release. “My personal thanks and appreciation go out to the dedicated military and civilian workforce who work every day to support our tenant commands and enhance the quality of life for our military men and women and their families.”

Oak Harbor and Island County officials were thrilled by the award, but not surprised. Oak Harbor Mayor Patty Cohen and Island County Commissioner Mac McDowell have long been Navy boosters and have worked to keep the base from being affected by the Base Realignment and Closure process.

“We’ve always regarded the leadership at Whidbey, the commitment to mission excellence and the service heart, as being second to none,” Cohen said.

NAS Whidbey is vital to the island’s economy. It pumps $400.9 million a year into the local community.

Commissioner Mac McDowell said the award is well deserved.

“It’s recognition that we have a fantastic neighbor,” he said, “that does a good job with their mission.”

That mission is serious business, especially in this scary day in age.

“That’s why we are here,” Abernethy said, motioning toward a P-3C Orion aircraft Tuesday morning. “We have aircrews and sailors who are involved in a global war on terror 24-7, 365.”Navy and community officials credit much of the air station’s success to an innovative “Team Whidbey” approach. Abernethy describes the strategy as a “holistic” and “cross-functional approach to address shortfalls and gaps.”

Abernethy said an example that illustrates the importance of an integrated, team approach was moving Prowler squadron VQ-2 from Rota, Spain to Whidbey. That meant relocating 1,000 members of the military and dependents.

“It was seamless,” he said. “It went without a glitch.”

NAS Whidbey is home to 8,880 members of the military and 12,000 of their family members. Also, the base employs about 1,200 civilians and 1,200 contractors.

Navy Public Affairs Officer Tony Popp said the base is home to the Electronic Attack Wing made up of 14 EA-6B Prowler squadrons; three P-3 Orion patrol squadrons; and two EP-3 Aries reconnaissance squadrons. Also, there’s Prowler squadron VAQ-136 forward deployed in Japan; reserve force squadron VP-69; and fleet logistics support squadron VR-61, which flies C-9 and DC-9 aircraft.

The P-3s gather long-range intelligence information. Prowlers provide an umbrella of protection for strike aircraft, ground troops and ships by jamming enemy radar, electronic data links and communications.

The base will be home to the Prowler’s follow-on aircraft, the EA-18G Growler.

NAS Whidbey last received the Installation Excellence Award in 1994. The presidential award recognizes the “outstanding and innovative efforts of the people who operate and maintain U.S. military installations,” according to the Department of Defense.

The other bases awarded for Installation Excellence are Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Air Field, Hinesville, Ga.; Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Yuma, Ariz.; Ramstein Air Base, Germany; and Defense Distribution Depot Susquehanna, Harrisburg, Penn.

The award ceremony will be held May 5 in Washington, D.C.

You can reach Jessie Stensland at or 675-6611.

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