With 33 years of Navy service behind him, Rear Adm. Mark “Cyrus” Vance figured it was time to return home to Big Sky country, to his native Montana where he was born and raised.
Vance, who assumed command of the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center in October 2011 said he and his wife, Darien, are looking forward to a new change in life, but the longtime naval aviator said his family will miss the people from both the local military and civilian communities.
“Fallon is a unique place, small-town America,” Vance said in a recent interview with the Lahontan Valley News. “There are great patriots who live here, and they approve of what we do. Fallon has the same values as the military. We have a great relationship with law enforcement, the sheriff and police. ”
Vance, who grew up in Montana and attended the University of Idaho, said he appreciates the western way of life, a way of life that has made his last Navy tour memorable.
“They’re Westerners, and that’s something special,” Vance said of the community. “I have never served in an area as supportive as the people here. People in the West are very accepting, and I have never seen the support like Fallon’s.
As Vance cleans out his office, and he and Darien pack their personal items from May Ranch, the admiral’s ranch-style home on base, the personable career Navy officer will turn over the reins of NSAWC to Rear Adm. (select) Andy “Woody” Lewis at a change of command on Wednesday at 10 a.m,, thus ending his dream-come-true.
“This is the best two-star command in the Navy for anyone who has been in aviation,” Vance said. “It has been pretty much everything I had hoped for.”
Previous commanders including Vance always refer to Fallon as that “hidden jewel” in naval aviation. He said many people who visit here do not realize the capabilities NSAWC offers to naval aviation. Even with the economic challenges facing the military, Vance said the Department of Defense realizes Fallon’s importance.
“We continue to operate through the economic challenge,” Vance explained. “We have the money and resources we need for training and instructors and to prepare an air wing for deployment. Nothing is curtailed by the budget, and that is an indication of the importance naval aviation puts on NSAWC.
The Vances first came to Fallon more than 17 years ago when the naval aviator was then assigned to the Strike Warfare Center, the precursor to the Fighter Weapons School school that moved from the former Naval Air Station Miramar north of San Diego to Fallon in 1996. When Vance returned to Fallon, he was surprised with the expansion.
“This place morphed and grew since I was here last,” he recalled.
Yet, for Vance, he said the people never change, only the caliber of tactical training for aviators and how NSAWC can refine its training to the fleet. As for his second tour at Fallon, Vance said he has enjoyed it.
“People want to come here, and I enjoy working with them. I haven’t been disappointed,” he said.
With NSAWC’s mission to provide additional training for air wings that come to Fallon before leaving on deployments, most of them going to 5th Fleet’s area of responsibility in the Middle East, Vance said one of his major goals was to create a positive atmosphere where people enjoyed working at the facility.
“I wanted to create an environment to succeed, for them to do their jobs better and to be successful for their commanders,” he added.
That positive environment also comes from NSAWC’s importance in the war on terror and preparing aviators for combat in the Middle East and into Afghanistan. Although NSAWC supports many operations, Vance said he has open communication with the commander of 5th Fleet, Vice Adm. John Miller, Vance’s predecessor at NSAWC. Before Miller left Fallon, the commander of 5th Fleet was another NSAWC alumnus, Vice Admiral Mark Fox, who has been recommended to take a post at CENTCOM (Central Command) in Tampa, Fla.
“The effort of support is always helpful, especially with someone who knows the interworking of NSAWC,” Vance said. “When they ask for something, like a change in theater, you get a solution to modify a mission.”
It is those changes and modifications that keep the Navy’s schoolhouse’s instruction current and progressive. Vance said naval aviation reconstitutes itself almost every 10 years across the fleet. For example, Vance said new tactics need to be worked out at NSAWC or how the Navy can stay ahead of the enemy with its technology.
“We continue to tweak training and keep up to date,” Vance pointed out. “Everyday is a new battle to fight.”
Vance said he has no regrets making the Navy a career. Since he was a young boy growing up in Billings, Mont., he always wanted to fly.
“When I was a young kid, my uncle had a little Cessna 150 and we flew in it. I became addicted to that,” Vance remembered, adding he wanted to pursue a military career in aviation. “I looked at the services, but I did not want the opportunity to land on 11,000 feet of concrete. That’s when I thought about the Navy.”
With a change of wardrobe and daily routine nearing, Vance prepares for a new chapter in his book of life. Vance said he wants to catch up on hunting and fishing and find a job.
“That’s high on my priority list,” he said with a big grin. “I need to do something or I will drive my wife crazy.”
The Vances also figured with two daughters and a son living in various parts of the country attending college, they wanted to establish their home in northwest Montana.
Vance, though, said it best.
“We wanted to live where we wanted to,” he explained. “For 33 years we lived where the Navy told us. Now we’ll be able to live where we want to.”
Then Vance, with his wry sense of humor, turned his thought on his three adult children and the opportunities for family reunions: “That’s why we have airlines ….”
Notes: According to his official Navy biography, Vance’s awards include the Legion of Merit (6), Bronze Star, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal (2), Air Medal (3) with Combat “V”, Strike/Flight Medal (3), Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal (2) with Combat “V”, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (2) and various other campaign and service awards.
Vance is the recipient of the Tail Hooker of the Year Award for 2004.
He has accumulated more than 4,000 accident-free hours in various Navy jets, including more than 3,500 hours in the F-14 Tomcat.