Wednesday’s change of command at the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center was a bittersweet day for Rear Adm. Mark “Cyrus” Vance.
Not only did the highly decorated pilot and commander of the Navy’s most prestigious aviation school relinquish command to Rear Adm. Andy “Woody” Lewis, but he also retired from the military after 33 years. Vance, a native of Billings, Mont., who assumed command of NSAWC in October 2011, will relocate to northwest Montana with his wife Darien.
“Wow, 33 years. When you say that it sounds like a long time,” said Vance, a 1980 University of Idaho graduate whose aviation call sign is Cyrus. “But when you get up every morning and put on the uniform, you go to a job you absolutely love.”
Coming to Fallon near the end of his career to become NSAWC commander was what Vance has continuously called a dream come true. He and his young family first came to central Nevada more than 17 years ago when the naval aviator was then assigned to the Strike Warfare Center, months before Fallon acquired the Navy Fighter Weapons School.
“This has been one of the most rewarding and most fun tours,” Vance said.
In a break from tradition, Vance, along with NSAWC’s aviators, dressed in flight suits to emphasize their mission.
“Everyone in a flight suit is a warfighter first,” Vance said.
At one point during his remarks, Vance and his guests applauded the naval aviators who train at Fallon.
In addition to praising the pilots who train and teach at NSAWC, Vance also acknowledged the support the Navy receives from the city of Fallon and Churchill County. He said Fallon’s support for the military, especially since Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists hijacked passenger jets and flew them into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, is unparalleled from anywhere he has served.
Adm. William E. Gortney, commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, praised both the city and Vance during his prepared remarks. He said Fallon is a “shining example” of a community’s support for the base, and Gortney said he was honored to speak at his friend’s change of command and retirement.
“It was an opportunity to break from the hectic schedules and in this case to celebrate the accomplishments of NSAWC under the command of Admiral Vance,” he said.
Gortney said NSAWC is the U.S. Navy’s premier training facility and during Vance’s tenure, he was able to enhance the training and strengthen the team within NSAWC and between NSAWC and other commands.
“Today, after 12 years, the success of naval aviation validates the intent of this invaluable command,” he said. “Team play is essential … Cyrus trains the way he fights and fights the way he trains.”
Gortney said he loves it when Vance speaks his mind and “tells it like it is.”
Lewis, a native of the San Francisco Bay Area, showed his enthusiasm when he delivered his remarks.
“I am a pretty happy guy to take command of this place,” he said. “Cyrus has this command running in the right direction.”
Lewis said it will still be a challenge for NSAWC to train Navy aviators for future conflicts and to prepare for the worse.
Lewis is a 1985 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. He was designated a naval aviator in April 1987.
Lewis’ command tours include Carrier Air Wing Three deploying on the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106 aboard Naval Air Station Oceana, and VFA-15 deploying on the aircraft carriers USS Enterprise (CVN 65) and USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71).
Lewis has flown more than 100 combat missions in Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Southern Watch, Deny Flight, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. He has accumulated more than 5,200 flight hours and 1,100 arrested landings. He was the recipient of the Air Pac Pilot of the Year in 1996.
Gortney called Lewis the most qualified leader for the NSAWC position.
Those who attended the ceremony said Vance will be missed.
Capt. Keith Taylor has worked for Vance on two different occasions.
“That’s why I came back to Fallon,” Taylor said. “I wanted to work for him. He’s a warfighter first, and then he focuses on mission.”
Fallon Mayor Ken Tedford Jr. said the time he and Vance worked together was very productive, very open.
“I realize how busy he has been at NSAWC, but we developed a good relationship,” Tedford said.
The four-term mayor said if the base had a problem or issue, he was immediately on the phone to the admiral offering assistance.