In a rare occurrence — even for the U.S. Navy — the Fallon community will usher in two new commanders two separate, yet distinct changes of command this week.
Since the infamous day of Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists plunged commercial jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Fallon’s fight on the war on terror became pivotal for the United States because of the increased role of the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center.
Likewise, the importance of Naval Air Station Fallon grew as it provided additional support for NSAWC and the visiting carrier air wings that traveled to Fallon for intense training.
During the past 12 years, stellar commanders representing the naval aviation’s best came to Fallon, many times referring to their assignments as the best aviation job in the U.S. Navy. Unfortunately, with the best and brightest naval leaders, the Churchill County and Fall communities must also say goodbye when the time comes for a commander to rotate out of his position.
Two changes of command this week will see the departures of Rear Adm. Mark Vance, who is retiring after 33 years of distinguished service to his country, and Capt. Rinehart Wilke IV, who has been assigned chief of staff for Carrier Strike Group 12 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, another plum assignment for the career officer.
Both men came to Fallon during tumultuous times. The war in Iraq was beginning to wind down, while operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan intensified. Carrier air wings traveled to Fallon frequently for aviators and their crews to receive the best tactical training the country offers.
Under Vance’s leadership and keeping with the steps previously put into place by former commanders Vice Admirals Mark Fox and John Miller, NSAWC provided invaluable instruction to its visiting air wings and modified its curriculum based on feedback from 5th Fleet in the Middle East.
Vance, who grew up in Montana and plans to return to Big Sky country after the change of command, created a positive environment for those assigned to NSAWC and for those coming to Fallon for training.
Likewise, Wilke’s legacy was providing great customer service to visiting sailors and ensuring their stay at Fallon was a positive one. Additionally, Wilke improved the multi-agency training between the base and civilian first-responders, and the planning and training paid off when NAS Fallon and civilian agencies teamed up to save lives when a truck collided with an Amtrak passenger train two years ago.
Fallon could not ask for two better ambassadors to promote this area and its people. In interviews with this newspaper, both men could not say enough about the community support of the base and its programs.
On numerous occasions, commanders refer to their jobs as that “hidden jewel” among leadership assignments.
On behalf of the grateful residents of Churchill County, the LVN would like to extend to both officers and their families best wishes for a job well done and for being involved members of our community. Fallon will miss you both.
Editorials written by the LVN Editorial Board appear on Wednesdays.