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