After spending a third of his Navy career in Nevada, Capt. Rinehart Wilke IV is heading to the East Coast to become chief of staff for Carrier Strike Group 12 aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt.
In the long-standing Navy tradition of a change of command, Wilke relinquished his duties on Thursday as Naval Air Station Fallon’s commander to Capt. Leif E. Steinbaugh, who is no stranger to Fallon. For the past three years, Steinbaugh has been the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center’s Airborne Electronics Attack Weapons School Department head.
Wilke’s tour as base commander was his third to Fallon. During his first two tours at Fallon, Wilke was assigned to the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center as both a student and then as an instructor. He assumed command in June 2010 from Capt. Michael Glaser.
Rear Adm. Dixon R. Smith, commander of Navy Region Southwest, commended Wilke for his command and also called NAS Fallon the best aviation facility in the Navy, which drew loud applause.
“For the past three years, ‘Rhino’ (Wilke’s call sign) has led Naval Air Station Fallon in supporting the fleet, fighter and family,” Dixon said. “The list of this base’s accomplishments under Rhino’s leadership are far too many to recount today.”
Dixon said under Wilke’s tenure at Fallon, the base’s sailors and civilian employees have focused on the mission as resources decreased, and energy management programs saved the government money.
“This included supervising the re-solicitation of the base operation support contract, reducing the cost by nearly $7 million annually,” Dixon pointed out. “An exceptional resource manager, his focus on stewarding important cultural and environmental resources resulted in NAS Fallon being awarded the Chief of Naval Operations Cultural Resource Management Award in 2010 and 2012, and the CNO Natural Resource Conservation Award for 2012.”
One of the areas in which Wilke improved in three years was a stronger commitment between the base and civilian community. Dixon said an installation’s success is built on the strength of its relationship with the community’s government, business or nonprofit business leaders.
“The ability to establish, develop and maintain relationships enables success for all involved,” Dixon added. “Rhino has promoted a positive Navy image through exceptional community interaction as the face of the Navy in Northern Nevada, Dixon said. “He is fully engaged, interacting in the Fallon community through participation in the Fallon Rotary Club, Fallon Daily Bread and all four Northern Nevada Navy League councils in Reno, Carson City, Elko and Fallon.”
During his remarks, Wilke also thanked the Fallon community for its support and recognized business and government leaders for their strong interest in the base’s success. He said the citizens of the community, including Mayor Ken Tedford Jr. and the county commissioners, brought him into the community, and he responded.
“This allowed me to get the sailors into the community,” Wilke said.
Additionally, Wilke said the Chamber of Commerce and the base also worked together to bridge the ties between the local businesses and NAS Fallon.
He said the community has also been supportive of his family, and he cited the support his daughter Taylor received from her softball coaches, three of whom were recognized.
Steinbaugh, who becomes the 31st base commander since 1944, said he looks forward to maintaining the close ties between NAS Fallon and NSAWC and also with the community.
“Rhino, the base is in great shape,” Steinbaugh said, adding he has been able to see how the air station has grown under Wilke’s leadership.
Tedford also said Wilke’s ties with the community will not be forgotten soon.
“Our relationship with the base has been close,” Tedford said. “I enjoyed working with Mike Glaser (previous commander) and Capt. Wilke. The relationship between the base and community has grown. When we have an open house, they (Wilke, retired Rear Adm. Mark Vance) have come, wanting to be involved in our community.”
Cmdr. Gene Woodruff, the base’s executive officer, said an installation such as NAS Fallon benefits from having a commander here for a three-year tour, especially when both the military and civilian communities benefit from the close ties.
“The Navy sees the importance of its installations and air station commanders,” Woodruff said. “It takes about three years to guide NAS Fallon, and Capt. Wilke made his mark.”
Woodruff said the base is a strong part of the local community, and that was a direct result of Wilke and his staff.
“Capt. Wilke understood how his decisions had a big impact,” Woodruff said. “He made positive changes at the base.”
Another area in which Wilke focused was training. According to Christopher Pierce, the base’s training officer, Wilke believed in “real” training. In May 2011, the base, along with many community assets, conducted a real-world scenario in which a refueling jet crashed near the high school. Six weeks later, though, a big rig crashed into an Amtrak passenger train north of Fallon, killing seven people including the truck’s driver.
“Everyone talks about how ‘Operation Arco’ was such a huge success, but to tell the truth, if it weren’t for Rhino authorizing me to elicit the help of the community, land helicopters ‘literally’ a football field away from high school drama students, who were playing injured/deceased, and transporting victims via air to hospitals, it would have never been that much of a success,” Pierce said.
“It was that ‘out of the box thinking’ that prepared us for the Amtrak incident. ‘The heck with simulating,’ he would say, ‘Let’s do it for real ….’”