My father, a senior chief petty officer, received a dream set of Navy orders in the summer of 1972 to an A-6 squadron based at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. My parents looked forward to the clean environment, good schools and outdoor opportunities. They purchased a new station wagon and a travel trailer for the trip across country and the expected West Coast camping trips.
As soon as we arrived, my dad left to join his squadron on deployment aboard USS Midway off Vietnam. That deployment was extended to 11 months through Christmas. Back in Oak Harbor, families started hearing rumors that Midway and its squadrons would do a quick turn-around and leave in the summer of 1973 to include a homeport change to become the first aircraft carrier permanently forward deployed to Yokosuka, Japan.
We left Whidbey in August 1973. My parents had to sell their year-old car and trailer at a significant financial loss never to return to the Pacific Northwest.
And so it goes for sailors and their dependents. Personal desires and family priorities often must be sacrificed for the “needs of the Navy.” It is understood to come with the territory but is nevertheless often painful both emotionally and financially.
It is with this in mind that my blood boils every time I read the leadership of Citizens of Ebey Reserve, or COER, callously declare that the Navy should simply move Growler flight operations to El Centro or Lemoore.
This is the most arrogant, selfish and uniformed proposal I have ever heard.
It is very easy for people who have never experienced military-style personal or collective sacrifice to simply treat Navy aircraft as inanimate objects to support their argument without considering the human costs.
COER totally disregards the thousands of sailors, their families and civilian support personnel, many of whom are veterans who would have to move with the aircraft to central or southern California.
What is wrong with that, you might ask as California dreams of palm trees, beaches and cable cars dance through your mind? Naval Air Station Lemoore is in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley 45 miles south of Fresno and was recently declared the “worst duty station in the Navy” by Military.com.
Naval Air Facility El Centro is in the Mojave Desert just north of the U.S. southern border. Both have terrible air quality, brutally hot weather, lousy schools, high cost of living, very little spousal employment opportunity and high incidents of drug and human trafficking-related crime.
Apparently, none of these factors matter to COER or their financial supporters. The adverse impact of this move on sailors and their families is easily dismissed by people who own second homes in Maui or live most of their lives in high-rise condos in Seattle or Bellevue.
COER supporters do not like their brief summers on Whidbey interrupted by the sound of naval aviators preparing for six-month or more separation from their loved ones due to an aircraft carrier deployment to a combat zone.
All of the money that COER spends on expensive litigation or support to researchers to invent reasons to invoke the Endangered Species Act in order to drive naval aviation out of Puget Sound would be better spent sound-proofing the houses of less fortunate residents near OLF Coupeville or, better yet, as donations to the Navy Relief Society.