Capt. Matthew Arny, commander of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island since 2018, will retire July 9 after a 33-year career in the U.S. Navy. Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-Times

Capt. Matthew Arny, commander of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island since 2018, will retire July 9 after a 33-year career in the U.S. Navy. Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-Times

Base commander reflects on 33-year Navy career

Naval Air Station Whidbey Island Commander Capt. Matthew Arny will retire in July.

It’s the people that Capt. Matthew Arny will miss the most when he retires from the U.S. Navy this month.

Arny has been the commanding officer of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island since 2018, but big changes are in his future.

“It’s hard to pick between the beauty of the area and the wonderful people we get to work with,” Arny said from his office overlooking the flight line.

He joined the Navy when he was just 17 and has served for 33 years. After graduating from the United States Naval Academy in 1993, he became a naval flight officer and flew both the F-14B and F/A-18F aircraft, serving in VF-102 and VFA-103. He later became the commanding officer of the VFA-154 squadron.

During his career, he served several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, aided with disaster relief operations in Japan and logged over 3,000 flight hours.

He also served as a U.S. Naval attache to the Kingdom of Sweden and was the executive assistant to the Chief, U.S. Liaison Office at the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Although he is not exactly sure what will come next in his career, he and his family are looking forward to living in one place for as long as they want. Arny and his wife, Samar, and their two sons will be moving to the nearby city of Mill Creek, Washington.

He said his Navy career has prepared him for a range of possibilities in retirement and is considering what his next step will be, suggesting that he may work in a role geared towards supporting veterans.

He added that the move will be helpful to his wife’s career. Samar Arny has a background in sales, marketing and project management, and has actively supported programs to empower military spouses and families while living on Whidbey. He said she will continue supporting the cause.

As he ends his Navy career as its leader, Arny said the base is in a very strong position moving forward.

The transition from P-3 Orions to the new P-8 Poseidon aircraft is almost complete. The base’s population is currently between 8,000-8,700 and will swell to 9,000 in the next year before settling back down to about 8,800, he said.

He is particularly proud that all operational commands were able to deploy on time during the coronavirus pandemic, adding that 5,000 people spent time away from the base since the virus emerged.

Under Arny’s watch, the mission control building for the MQ-4C Triton unmanned aerial surveillance aircraft was completed, and work began for a support facility for the P-8s and a new hangar to house two Growler squadrons.

On base, he is particularly proud of the work the Navy has done in training with local law enforcement for emergency operations, and in child care and mental health programs.

“All of these teams do things every day that I’m proud of,” he said.

Child care, employment opportunities and affordable housing were a few top challenges facing Whidbey residents, Arny said. He highlighted the Navy’s partnerships with local service organizations like the Rotary clubs and the Oak Harbor Area Council of the Navy League, as well as the mayors of Oak Harbor and Coupeville, Island County commissioners, state representatives, and Oak Harbor Public Schools leadership as ways the Navy is working to address those issues.

“This is a great community to be a part of because of the partnerships,” he said.

He suggested the base could even be a good partner with groups who may be critical of its presence, notably the group Citizens for Ebey’s Reserve. The environmentalist group has sued the Navy multiple times for its impact on the environment and its operations at Outlying Field Coupeville.

“We go out and do our mission so we can have that free discourse,” he said of the controversy.

“There are people and organizations who don’t like Growler noise, but there are other things we align on,” he said, explaining that coastal restoration, the health of Southern Resident orcas and the understanding of marine species are important to both the Navy and environmentalist groups.

He added that there are still decades of environmental clean-up on base and surrounding areas to be done from past practices.

His advice to his successor, Capt. Eric Hanks, was to enjoy the people he will get to work with.

“But he’s got a lot of his own experience so he doesn’t need any advice,” he added.

After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1997, Hanks went on to serve with squadrons VP-16, VP-9, and VP-4 doing anti-submarine warfare, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and humanitarian response all over the world. Hanks, who grew up in Louisiana, has logged over 3,300 flight hours.

He most recently served as the executive assistant to the Office of Chief of Naval Operations Programming Division Director (N80) at the Pentagon.

Arny’s change of command ceremony is on July 9. He said he does not foresee his family moving away from Washington anytime soon.

“I’ve been all around the world and we love it in Washington and love the Pacific Northwest.”

Capt. Matthew “Flounder” Arny, right, with pilot Lt. John Sauls from VAQ-129. Arny is retiring after 33 years in the military. Photo provided

Capt. Matthew “Flounder” Arny, right, with pilot Lt. John Sauls from VAQ-129. Arny is retiring after 33 years in the military. Photo provided

More in Crosswind

Naval Air Station Whidbey Island Commander Capt. Matthew Arny overlooks the flight line at Ault Field. Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-Times
Base commander reflects on 33-year Navy career

Naval Air Station Whidbey Island Commander Capt. Matthew Arny will retire in July.

Melissa and Mark Stewart own One Willow Farm in Oak Harbor where they offer eggs, chicken and turkey. The couple went through a special program for military veterans wanting to become farmers before they opened their own farm. Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-Times
Navy vet gets back to roots at One Willow Farm

The husband and wife duo opened their poultry farm near Oak Harbor amid the pandemic last year.

Pacific Northwest Naval Air Museum President Wil Shellenberger is hoping to find more volunteer docents so the museum can show off the PBY-5A Catalina aircraft’s interior to the public. Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-Times.
Navy museum seeking docents to show off the PBY-5A Catalina

The museum plans to offer tours of the WWII-era plane on the weekends this summer and needs docents.

The new interpretive panels that explain the story of the former World War I era Army post have been installed in recent months at Fort Casey State Park near Coupeville. Photo by Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times
Fort Casey’s ‘Big Guns’ get a facelift

The two “Big Guns” at Fort Casey Historical State Park are undergoing… Continue reading

Oak Harbor High School seniors James Hart, left, and Lawrence Zapanta, right, with ret. U.S. Navy Cmdr. Vincent Quidachay, after they learned they had earned ROTC college scholarships. Photo by Oak Harbor Public Schools
Two Oak Harbor High School seniors earn ROTC scholarships

Two Oak Harbor High School seniors with the goals of a military… Continue reading

The men and women of the VAQ-132 Scorpions gather for a photo during a change of command ceremony April 5 at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. (photo provided)
Scorpions hold change of command at NAS Whidbey

Cmdr. Kerry “Beagle” Hicks was relieved by Cmdr. Marcus “Oompa” Kephart as… Continue reading

Joel Atienza’s uniform’s USAF/USSF patches prior to transfer. Photo provided
Oak Harbor 2010 grad selected for U.S. Space Force

Joel Atienza’s advice to Space Force hopefuls? “Remember, ‘The sky is not the limit.’”

Capt. Robert Miles, retired U.S. Navy, served in active duty for more than two decades before teaching Oak Harbor High School students leadership, confidence and practical skills through Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps. Here he is pictured throughout his career. Photo courtesy Jason Lamont
Oak Harbor NJROTC alums come together to honor mentor

Capt. Robert Miles had a lasting impact on his NJROTC students at Oak Harbor High School.

t
A Hero for All Time: Research reveals a decorated former Fort Casey soldier

Coupeville woman writes book about local WWI soldier who gained Col. George S. Patton’s admiration.

t
Curious about World War I memorial, woman researches the names set in stone

A WWI memorial in front of the Island County courthouse honors eight men who died in service.

w
Growler squadron, Whidbey business owner partner to light up hangar

The “Gauntlets” of VAQ-136 hung a large sign to mark the Growler squadron’s 50th anniversary.

t
World War II vet will be featured in Navy League’s virtual Veterans Day event

A World War II from Freeland reflects on memories from his time in service.