NAS FALLON — After serving as commanding officer of Naval Air Station Fallon for almost three years, Capt. Leif Steinbaugh doesn’t have far to travel for his next assignment.
In a time-honored tradition Friday morning at the oldest hangar on base, Capt. David Halloran relieved Steinbaugh as commanding officer. In his next assignment, Steinbaugh, who became the air station’s skipper in July 2013, is now the director of training at the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center (NAWDC). The NAWDC complex is also located NAS Fallon, a short walk from the base’s administration offices. Prior to becoming the base’s commander, Steinbaugh served as NAWDC’s Airborne Electronics Attack Weapons School Department head.
A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Steinbaugh said it is very rare in an officer’s career to stay at one location on back-to-back tours. This will make Steinbaugh’s third consecutive tour, though, at the sprawling air station. He said his wife, Yoko, was happy the family would not be uprooted and would be staying in Fallon.
Steinbaugh praised the community for its backing of the Navy’s role in Northern Nevada. He said the city of Fallon, Churchill County and Northern Nevada are extremely supportive of NAS Fallon and its tenant commands.
“When I took over NAS Fallon in June 2013, I had one goal — that was a simple goal — and that was to make NAS Fallon a better place to work and live,” Steinbaugh said.
In order to do that, he relied on the sailors and civilians who work at the base to make that goal a reality. As an aviator who literally served as the “mayor” of NAS Fallon, Steinbaugh said he gained a deep appreciation of the hard work shown by the men and women and what it takes to keep the operations running smoothly for a “town” that includes more than 3,000 people.
Steinbaugh cited several instances where the base community worked together during some stressful times which included a sailor’s suicide in 2013 and a jet accident on one of the runways.
“I’ve gone around for the last two weeks thanking people,” Steinbaugh said. “I think this is the best base to be a C.O. (commanding officer) at.”
The outgoing commander told Halloran he would also receive the same level of dedication from the base personnel as he did.
Rear Adm. Mark Rich, commander, Navy Region Southwest in San Diego, sprinkled some light-hearted comments within his speech. He kidded Steinbaugh and fellow commanding officers who were assigned to bases “far away” from the San Diego area. Every time the commanders traveled to San Diego for meetngs, Rich said they all wore the khaki flight suits, showing they were part of a “Desert Coalition.”
Rich, though, is no stranger to NAS Fallon or NAWDC.
“I spent a lot of time in the high desert over the course of two-three-four weeks at the ‘Biggest Little Air Station in the World,’” he said. “This is a place where every naval aviator is familiar with.”
Fallon is one place, Rich said, the Navy is well prepared to carry out its mission.
Rich commended Steinbaugh for a job well done during his tenure as NAS Fallon’s commander. He said NAS Fallon presents some unique challenges but added Steinbaugh recognized the importance of being prepared. The admiral said Steinbaugh guided the air station through it two primary missions: Support naval readiness and its tenants and sustain viability of the base and ranges for the long term.
Rich said Steinbaugh and his team have a good relationship with the community and also took care of the visiting units that trained at Fallon. During his command, approximately 4,250 visiting aircraft flew into Fallon, and more than 26,000 personnel trained at the installation and stayed in the base’s quarters.
“In Nevada, that makes it the largest hotel outside of Las Vegas,” Rich quipped.
Rich praised Steinbaugh for taking care of the sailors. He said NAS Fallon has a 91 percent retention rate for sailors, which the admiral said is well above the national average, and Steinbaugh began to oversee the renovation of many housing units.
Rich also presented the Legion of Merit award to Steinbaugh for his accomplishments as NAS Fallon’s commander.
Halloran, a graduate of the University of Arizona, recently completed his last assignment aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington as an air boss, who was responsible for all aspects of operations involving aircraft.
When he was an ensign 24 years ago, Halloran came to Fallon prior to flight school. He noted both Fallon and the base have changed since that time.
“I enjoyed my time in Fallon,” he said.
Yet, over the years when Halloran heard he would be coming to Fallon for training, he could not wait. According to Halloran, Fallon is where pilots receive their “Ph.Ds” in employing weapons systems.
So far, Halloran has met with local government officials and looks forward to expanding his horizons by visiting with Gov. Brian Sandoval and Nevada’s congressional delegation.
Halloran said the base must not lose focus on the balance it enjoys with Churchill County and the city. He said the focus is to take care of sailors and foster a positive relationship with the county, city and the state.
“I am proud and sincerely honored to be the commander of NAS Fallon,” he said.