When Capt. Rinehart Wilke IV relinquishes command of Naval Air Station Fallon this week and prepares for his new assignment on the East Coast, he still will have the Silver State in his blood.
Capt. Leif E. Steinbaugh will become the new skipper of the sprawling high desert naval air station Thursday afternoon.
Wilke, who is wrapping up his third naval tour in Fallon, spent nine years in Nevada. He married his wife, Melody, at Stateline during his second tour, and his two youngest children, Taylor and Riley, were born in the state.
During Wilke’s first two tours at Fallon, he was assigned to the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center as both a student (his first assignment in 1996) and as an instructor. As base commander, Wilke said his No. 1 priority was customer service, not only for the sailors assigned in Fallon but for the various carrier air wings that came to the installation for training.
Within a year of Wilke’s arrival, he had hired a training officer to execute training scenarios. A major drill occurred in early May 2011, when NAS Fallon and local agencies converged at Churchill County High School for a drill involving a downed in-flight refueling aircraft. Agencies responded to train in treating people.
The vision became reality six weeks later, when first responders from the base and Northern Nevada were called out after an 18-wheeler plowed into an Amtrak passenger train. The crash happened June 24, 2011, 35 miles north of Fallon.
“Amtrak required us to shut down NAS Fallon’s airfield,” Wilke said. “We sent our firefighters, helicopters and a couple of security vehicles to the scene.”
Federal firefighters working with Fallon/Churchill eventually extinguished a fire that began after the collision, while Navy helicopters transported injured passengers and Amtrak crew members to hospitals. Wilke said the first responders performed brilliantly, although seven people were killed.