NAS Whidbey Island skipper prepares for retirement

After three years serving as the top dog at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Capt. Michael Nortier is staying on Whidbey Island — but not as commanding officer.
The base skipper is stepping down in February. He plans to retire from the Navy and remain in Oak Harbor.
He said it’s the right decision for his family — he has a son in college and a daughter in high school who both endured multiple moves during his career. At age 47 he’s not going to sit at home.
His wife made it clear: “I will not be hanging around the house,” he said.
Nortier will probably find another professional outlet as well as volunteer in local civic groups, he said. And there’s woodworking in his future.
Nortier is quick to deflect attention but he has made an indelible mark as one of the most effective skippers in NAS Whidbey history.
Under his leadership, NAS Whidbey was named the No. 1 naval base in the world by the Navy last year, which recognizes the top bases in its annual Installation Excellence Awards.
“That’s not a reflection of me,” he said. “It’s a reflection of a team.”
He cited the expertise of many other leaders on base, “professionals who are very good at their jobs.” The award is confirmation of what the base has done well for many years, he said.
He talked about his career from his office overlooking the flight line, the near constant rumble of jets in the background.
Nortier, a native of Sodus, N.Y., earned his wings in 1991. He racked up more than 4,300 hours in naval helicopters. He served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Tomodachi, the nation’s relief effort after the tsunami devastated Japan in 2011.
He held a range of positions. Before reporting to Whidbey, he served at U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Operations Directorate, where he traveled to Iraq to serve as an individual augmentee as the director of the Senior Advisors Group.
As base commander, he still loves climbing into the cockpit of any aircraft when invited — he’s flown in more than helos. His typical uniform of the day is a flight suit.
“It’s a funny thing about these,” he said, pointing to his wings on his flight suit.
Serving as CO of the base is like no other job he’s held, he said. He likened it to running a small city.
NAS Whidbey is the home of all the Navy’s tactical electronic attack squadrons flying the EA-18G Growler. The base also is home to four P-3 Orion Maritime Patrol squadrons and two fleet reconnaissance squadrons flying the EP-3E Aries.
Navy plans to replace the nation’s fleet of P-3 turboprop maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft with the new Boeing P-8.
One of the greatest challenges he’s faced is preparing the base for the transition to P-8s. It’s not so much about the new aircraft, as readying the base for new personnel and facilities, he said. Hangar 6, which will accommodate the P-8 aircraft, is being expanded and modernized, even as current personnel use it.
He also cited a lawsuit filed a grassroots group unhappy with jet noise at the Outlying Field in Coupeville as a challenge — especially trying to address what he called half-truth and misconceptions spread by social media.
“If they are living around the Outlying Field Coupeville, they are exposed to noise all the time and it’s not welcome to them,” he said. “I don’t expect them to enjoy living next to an airport.”
He said officials have made an attempt to improve the situation as much as they can. For instance, they changed the way pilots approach NAS Whidbey over the San Juan Islands that reduced noise on the final approach.
Capt. Geoffrey Moore is set to take over as base commanding officer at a change of command ceremony Feb. 19 on base.
Moore, a native of Middletown, Conn., last served as commanding officer of a helicopter anti-submarine squadron based in San Diego.
“He’s been top-notch in my book,” said Oak Harbor Mayor Bob Severns. “He’s connected with the city really well.”
Severns, formerly a city councilman, noted that Nortier made an effort to work with city leaders, meeting with the former mayor regularly and connecting with the City Council.
“It’s wonderful for him to stay in the community,” he said. “He’ll be a citizen of our community. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Capt. Mike Nortier prepares for retirement.