WHIDBEY ISLAND, Wash. — Maintaining open lines of communication. This was the dominant theme during Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island’s bi-annual Community Leaders Forum (CLF), held May 15, 2013, at the air station’s officer club.
Capt. Mike Nortier, NAS Whidbey Island’s commanding officer, hosted the event attended by several base officials, more than 20 local, county, state and federal leaders, and special guest, Rear Adm. Mark Rich, Commander Navy Region Northwest. Rich also attended the air station’s last CLF held Dec. 12, 2012, and considers it an ideal event for advancing communication between the Navy and local communities.
“This is a model forum for what we do; security, stewardship and community,” Rich said. “Stimulating interactions and continuing these relationships is extremely valuable.”
Dr. Rick Schulte, Oak Harbor’s School Superintendent, shared Rich’s view. “Changes in the military population have a huge impact on the schools, especially if those changes occur at the beginning of the school year,” he said. (Continued below …)
Capt. Mike Nortier, NAS Whidbey Island’s commanding officer fields a question from Dr. Rick Schulte, Superintendent of the Oak Harbor School District during a Community Leadership Forum at the base’s officer’s club on May 15, 2013. (U.S. Navy photo.)
During the forum, Nortier provided a comprehensive briefing on several current and future issues affecting the base, including aircraft platform and unit transitions, projected growth in the local military population, operations and why Whidbey Island is so valuable to Naval Aviation.
“If you look at the air traffic density of commercial and military air traffic through the United States, Whidbey Island remains ideally located,” Nortier said. “The airspace in the Pacific Northwest continues to offer ideal access to airspace both overwater and overland for training.”
Operations was a key issue regarding field carrier landing practice (FCLP) training at NAS Whidbey Island’s outlying landing field (OLF) in Coupeville.
Nortier said OLF Coupeville remains a fundamental part of the NAS Whidbey Island mission, and that FCLP locations are an absolute necessity for pilots qualifying to operate off aircraft carriers.
“Maintaining qualifications to land on aircraft carriers is a very perishable skill,” Nortier said. “Once qualified, a pilot can lose nighttime currency in as few as seven days. Our FCLPs are an integral component of carrier qualifications and are conducted prior to at at-sea operations.”
Nortier also said that operations at both Ault Field and OLF Coupeville are necessary to support the FCLP training requirement. Rich agreed with Nortier’s assessment and expounded on the field’s criticality to air station’s mission.
“The OLF is a critical component to NAS Whidbey Island operations,” said Rich, a Naval Aviator himself who has accumulated more than 3,600 flight hours and 900 carrier-assisted landings. Among other assignments, Rich was also previously the commanding officer of Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia. “We don’t have the capacity without it. OLF Coupeville is probably one of the best OLF situations we have in the Navy today.”
Rich and Nortier both expressed consideration toward residents who find aircraft noise offensive. “We are empathetic toward community concerns,” Nortier said. “We are examining our operations and will smartly manage operations at OLF and Ault Field.”
One area Nortier confirmed that would change in the near future was the establishment of a new public call-in messaging system, in development at the base. “We are going to establish a new phone line and e-mail to improve our ability to receive feedback from the community, similar to what has already been employed at other airfields across the country,” he said. “This will be a cost-effective improvement that will give people an additional resource to provide feedback.”
The phone line and email system will be monitored closely. “This will still provide operators with information that may be pertinent,” Nortier said, emphasizing that “A person’s voice won’t go unheard.”
Both officers noted the need to continue working closely with the local leaders to manage the issue by maintaining open dialog.
Nancy Conard, Coupeville’s mayor, agreed with that sentiment. “It’s very helpful in understanding issues,” she said.
District 1 Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, said she was appreciative of that and the base’s willingness to address issues that impact the local community.
State Representative Norma Smith also brought a message of appreciation to the meeting, and wanted to make sure that base officials heard from other voices in the local community. “My constituents want you to know that they appreciate what you do,” she said. “They understand the world in which we live and the dangers inherent in that world. We want our young aviators to have the training they need.”