The glitz of one of South America’s largest, yet most vibrant cities — the heartbeat of Colombia — is beckoning the outgoing executive officer of Naval Air Station Fallon to a new position that very few in the military receive.
Cmdr. Gene Woodruff and his wife, Lynette, will be bound for Bogota after they finish 10 months of specialized training in Washington, D.C. before heading south to the challenges associated with South America’s fifth largest country.
Gene Woodruff said he learned about the possibilities of serving as an overseas attaché from a retired Army colonel who had completed several tours in Africa.
“The military member and spouse is a team that pulls off the assignment together,” he said, adding they are looking forward to the outreach with the host country Colombia.
They will be working with the embassy team office, mostly out of Bogota, an exciting city of almost 7 million people. While there, Gene Woodruff will work with his counterparts in the Colombian Navy and alongside with other nations’ naval attaches such as Great Britain, Japan, Australia, South Korea and France. “We’ll enjoy not taking the traditional track in the military,” said Gene Woodruff, whose new assignment may have been instead aboard a ship or another installation. “We’re willing and open to everything. It will be a unique experience you can’t trade.”
Lynette Woodruff said she is equally excited about the new assignment.
“It’s awesome to live in another country and experience the culture and learn a new perspective,” she said.
Since the Woodruffs learned of their new assignment months ago, they have been practicing the Spanish language. The Woodruffs spent five years in Japan, so learning another language has been easier.
“Serving in Japan definitely helps open the doors,” Gene Woodruff said of learning a new culture.
Lynette Woodruff, though, remembers how hard it was to learn a new language in Japan but feels Spanish is easier.
This will be the Navy commander’s first trip to South America although he has spent deployments to Turkey, Taiwan, South Korea and Australia.
Serving in Bogota will be a two-to-three year assignment. Gene Woodruff said receiving this type of position is very competitive.
“We had to interview before a seven-person panel … and I had to be tested for language skills proficiency for learning a language,” he said. “Then we had a background check.”
Lynnette Woodruff said their son will spend the first part of the tour in Bogota, while their daughter remains in Nevada. She said their son plans to enroll in the University of Bogota, which is very receptive of foreign students.
“He took Spanish in high school and is further along than we are,” she said. “Possibly, he will be able to get some internships either at the embassy or at the university.”
Lynette Woodruff said she will meet with other countries’ attaché spouses and attend events beneficial to all the represented countries.
“That will be interesting to get the different perspectives,” she said. “Incredible opportunities lie ahead.”
Both Gene and Lynette Woodruff are New York state natives, growing up in the western part in the Finger Lakes region; however, the desert’s charm has captivated them.
“We call Fallon more home than New York,” Gene Woodruff said.
Gene Woodruff graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1993 and then attended flight school at Pensacola. Over the years, Woodruff is proficient to fly the Prowler, the EA-18G Growler and F/A-18 Hornet. The Woodruffs, who married after his graduation from Annapolis, moved west to Whidbey Island, Washington, but except for two tours to Japan, they have spent the majority of their time in the West.
Gene Woodruff spent a previous tour at the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center (Now Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center) from 2002-2003 as the combat operations in Afghanistan and then Iraq intensified.
“My boss Admiral (David) Nichols and others helped do the planning for the air campaign,” Woodruff explained. “We then went to Shaw Air Force Base (South Carolina) and then to Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) for the execution.”
Since Gene Woodruff became executive officer at NAS Fallon in 2012, he has made an impact at the base, said Capt. Leif Steinbaugh, commanding officer.
“We have definitely complemented each other,” Steinbaugh said, noting that both pilots previously worked together at NAWDC before their current assignments. “It (the familiarization) helped with sequestration or human issues as well.”
Steinbaugh said it was nice to have a second-in-command who could step in and assist whenever needed.
Both Gene and Lynette Woodruff said they will miss their friends in Fallon and Nevada, which they consider their home. Although their lives are planned for the next three to four years, they hope to return to the Silver State.
“We really love Nevada, and when we came back in 2012, it was really exciting. There is something unique about this area,” she said.