Letter: Training at OLF Coupeville a matter of life and death

Editor,

It’s been over two years since I retired as the deputy public affairs officer (PAO) at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, having worked there since 1985 initially as the assistant Crosswind base newspaper editor and as assistant PAO since 2000.

I’ve heard countless jet noise complaints over many years stemming from the old A-6 Intruder bombers to the EA-6B Prowlers and its replacement jet, the current and ever-controversial EA-18G Growler.

About five years ago, I recall a prominent member of the Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve (COER) calling our Public Affairs Office one day so irate about the jet noise at Outlying Field Coupeville. Answering that phone call was a young Navy lieutenant aviator who was temporarily assigned to our staff. The look on this naval aviator’s face is one I’ll never forget as the COER complainer voiced, “I wished that a Growler jet would crash at OLF.”

The aviator and our staff were shocked and taken aback at such a mean-spirited verbal attack. Within an hour the COER member called back to apologize realizing the severity of his words.

These never-ending complaints make me shake my head when I think of such Prowler fliers like Lt. Charles “Chuck” Woodard, who along with two other Prowler aviators were killed while trying to trap aboard the USS Enterprise in early November 1998. He was a collateral duty public affairs officer who wrote news stories about his squadron for the Crosswind.

I’ve lost count of the number of family members and friends of EA-6B Prowler fliers killed, that I escorted on base so they could see the EA-6B Prowler Memorial. I watched with a lump in my throat as they outline with their fingers the names of their loved one etched in stone.

These are real human people doing a dangerous job every time they step into that aircraft. It’s so important they receive and get the most realistic carrier landing training possible and OLF Coupeville has been filling the mission since the 60s.

We must never forget these naval aviators are doing our nation’s calling. They’re doing a job our president calls for, not to irk a few hundred noise complainers but for the betterment of our country as a whole.

I can still see Chuck Woodard waving goodbye to me and our Crosswind co-workers, smiling as he waved saying, “See ya when I get back.” That day never came for Chuck, a young 26-year-old man, who like many of our young fliers had a whole future ahead of them. Thank God there hasn’t been a Growler accident – this comes from hard work and training at OLF Coupeville. Support them.

Tony Popp

Oak Harbor

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