Opinion

Prepared for war, committed to peace

By Gerral K. David

On Sept. 21, we celebrated the 66th birthday of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. I’ve had the honor of commanding the base for a little over a year now. If you will indulge me for a bit, I’d like to brag a little about your sailors and civilians and our relationship with this wonderful community.

Our top focus has been enabling the EA-18G Growler and P-8A Poseidon aircraft transition through an innovative and collaborative process. For the Growler, we are constructing $82 million in needed facility improvements including modern fire suppression, improved hangar space and flight-line electrical systems. This construction is being phased to minimize impact to our operational customers.

At a ceremony that included the Secretary of the Navy, Congressman Rick Larsen and Boeing, Oak Harbor joined with the Electronic Attack Wing to dedicate the arrival of the first EA-18G and officially begin the transition of electronic attack technology from Prowler to Growler. For the P-8A Poseidon transition, we supported the environmental impact study which concludes in December, and we planned key facilities including an integrated hangar and training facility. This proposed structure will save construction costs, minimize wetland impact and improve squadron efficiency.

Maintenance

Maintaining our infrastructure is very challenging for three reasons. Your base is aging — about 50 percent of our facilities were constructed in World War II as “temporary” structures. Your base is big — the total replacement cost of our buildings is over $2 billion. Finally, the Navy has historically underfunded facilities sustainment. With that said, we’ve made significant improvements over the past year.

We worked with the city of Oak Harbor on joint water and sewage projects since our systems are inter-connected and we’re exploring options for future projects. We significantly improved many quality of life facilities including Bachelor Housing, Single Sailor recreation, and Family Housing. We also moved the PBY Memorial Foundation aboard the Seaplane Base and modified the traffic flow on almost all our gates. Our Public Works Department, Tenant Facility Managers, and Contractor partners – including Chugach Industries – have done an outstanding job. For 2009, we have $80 million in programmed projects – an all-time high.

Environment

Environmental stewardship projects and accomplishments that reflect our dedication to energy conservation continue to be recognized at the Navy, state and national level. To save money on utilities and building maintenance, we recently demolished three World War II era buildings on Ault Field. Radiant heating systems in three hangars now use only 1 percent of the energy of the former steam systems. The air station’s recycling rate increased 8 percent last year. The base recycles an incredible 79 percent of solid waste each year realizing almost $2 million in cost avoidance and savings. This past year the Navy Recycle program at NAS Whidbey Island received no fewer than five national, state and business awards. We also received the highest Department of Defense award for energy conservation.

Operations

Search and Rescue crews continued to be the go-to resource to help people caught in dangerous locations. For the last two years, they have been recognized by their peers as the SAR unit of the year. Since this time last year, your SAR crews conducted 23 rescues and 11 MEDEVAC missions that provided relief for 122 people. Their efforts helping those stranded by rising flood waters in Lewis and Thurston counties were recognized by the Navy and Gov. Christine Gregoire. They were there on July 4 to rescue a 17-year-old hiker that the Coast Guard couldn’t reach and they were there to help rescue the kids caught in the ice cave on Snoqualmie Pass.

Your NAS Whidbey Island Air Traffic Control Facility manages 2,200 square miles of Northwestern Washington airspace and coordinated over 200,000 military and civilian flights. Your Air Operations department supported 90,000 military training flights including Field Carrier Landing Practice at Ault Field and Outlying Field Coupeville, moved 4,000 passengers through the air terminal and handled 5 million pounds of cargo without incident.

Quality of Life

Quality of life for your military personnel continues to be a top priority. The galley received its seventh consecutive five-star accreditation for Food Service Excellence, the school age care program achieved national accreditation and barracks were selected for the Navy’s Admiral Ney “Best of the Best” competition.

Thanks to the Navy’s partnership with Forest City, your military families continue to move into new homes on Maylor Point, in Saratoga Heights and out on Crescent Harbor with all the latest modern amenities any homeowner would appreciate. By the end of 2009, we will have constructed 360 modern homes under the Navy’s Public-Private Venture Program.

Crescent Harbor Adventures, our combination of marina and outdoor recreation center, re-opened just in time for crabbing season this year. Gamers Alley, with video games, computer stations and a pool table, opened recently at the Whidbey Entertainment Center and we just received funding to convert 12 of our bowling lanes into an indoor playground area for family use. Last week we opened The Grind Skate Park on Ault Field and next year Forest City will build a similar park in the Saratoga Heights housing area.

Community Outreach

We are proud to be your base and a part of your community. In an unprecedented show of community spirit, last September we joined together to dedicate the Gateway display of Intruder and Prowler aircraft on State Route 20 – a project that would never have come to fruition without Oak Harbor, Island County, Navy volunteers, the Intruder Association, and corporate and private donors. I was also honored to accompany Mayor Jim Slowik and a number of local elected officials on a March trip to Washington, D.C. so we could tell members of Congress and leaders in the Pentagon about our remarkable partnership.

This year we worked hard together to deal with island-wide power outages and voice concerns over ferry cancellations that dramatically pushed our emergency response and transportation system to the limits. Across the board, base personnel volunteered in Oak Harbor, Coupeville and Anacortes schools. For Oak Harbor schools alone, 450 volunteers gave 21,000 hours to be mentors, tutors, playground monitors, dance chaperones, science fair judges and camp counselors for our children.

During the past year, 3,000 personnel deployed and 2,700 returned home. Even as I write, over 1,500 men and women from NAS Whidbey commands continue to stand the watch around the world. Sadly, we also reflected together on the painful cost of war as we attended memorial services to remember our heroic service members who gave their lives supporting our nation’s War on Terror.

And we’ve had a lot of fun with our neighbors. Thanks to a lot of hard work by people and organizations too numerous to mention, we enjoyed parades, military appreciation picnics, football games, National Night Out, holiday concerts, beach and litter clean up events. We even opened up the Seaplane Base in July so the Race Week sailors could camp in “tent city” near the marina and invited the public to the Navy Appreciation Night barbecue and reggae party at Crescent Harbor Adventures. This was a great way to showcase your base and the camaraderie we enjoy in this community to out of town visitors.

A good neighbor

In January Navy Region Northwest recognized NAS Whidbey Island for the third year in a row as the region’s best installation. That honor is not given lightly. Over the past year, I have been impressed with the thoughtfulness that goes into project planning, attention to detail as plans are implemented and the cooperation and coordination both inside and outside the gate that embodies the “Team Whidbey” spirit.

Like everyone else on the base, I’m proud to be a part of this community and thrilled to have an integral role as base commander for one of the Navy’s most well respected and vital aviation enterprise installations. It’s been fun so far and I’m looking forward to what we can accomplish together in the future.

Gerral K. David is Commanding Officer at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

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