For Rear Adm. Daniel “Undra” Cheever, Nevada holds many fond memories.
Cheever is the newest commander of the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center at the sprawling Naval Air Station Fallon.
As the 14th commander of NAWDC, Cheever oversees naval aviation training and tactics development for carrier air wings, squadrons and weapons tactics instructors that train at this ultramodern center for flight training, academic instructional classes and direct operational and intelligence support.
Cheever, a native of Downers Grove, Illinois, spent two previous tours in Fallon before assuming command of the Navy’s elite training school in 2017. In September, Cheever and the Navy ushered in a new chapter for NAWDC’s mission to training the next generation of aircrew after a ribbon cutting for a new $28 million Air Wing Training Building adjacent to the current building.
That wasn’t the only change facing the Cheever family. Instead of residing at the historic May Ranch south of the main runway, the old flag housing, they moved into new flag housing northwest of the main gate.
“We moved into the new house in base housing. Beautiful …, ” he said.
Cheever said Fallon is a popular place for pilots and support personnel, and the new $100 million project includes the construction of 139 new homes and renovation of 80 existing houses.
“This will make life nice for the folks who move out here,” he said, adding he likes the community’s involvement and care, especially with the city’s annual 9/11 ceremony.
Cheever, who graduated from Western Illinois University in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in business, didn’t join the Navy until 1988 because he worked at a Fortune 500 company and studied at the University of Hawaii. His first tour to Fallon, however, didn’t occur until the mid-1990s when he was an instructor for the Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN), later joining the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center (NSAWC) which then became NAWDC in 2015.
“I came up from Miramar,” Cheever said, recalling his first assignment in the high desert.
Because of the 1994 Base and Realignment and Closure action, the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School at Naval Air Station Miramar north of San Diego merged into NSAWC at Fallon and other units moved to NAS Lemoore. Miramar later transitioned into a Marine Corps Air Station.
Cheever said the intent for the Fallon move 22 years ago was to create an organization that trained across all mission areas within Naval Aviation. Within the four walls of NAWDC, Cheever said, were also targeteers, an intelligence center and fleet meteorologist who would train and deploy with a carrier strike group.
Being part of the new configuration and mission of NAWDC, though, will not be Cheever’s top memory of Fallon. The Cheever family grew by there.
“We had triplets, all within 4 minutes of each other,” he smiled, “in rapid succession. Nevada has been good to us.”
After the expanded Cheever family left Fallon in 1998, he had tours at the Pentagon as aide to camp to U.S. Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the 15th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and sea tours with Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-147 on the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis, Strike Fighter Tactics instructor with VFA-146 and his first tour was with VFA-195 on the aircraft carrier USS Independence in Japan.
A decade after Cheever shipped out from Fallon, he returned in 2008 as TOPGUN/STRIKE department head, a position he held for three years until he served with CVW-8 on the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush.
“I worked with TOPGUN/STRIKE and its training,” Cheever said. “I worked for Rear Adm. (Mark) Emerson, Admiral (Mark) Fox and Admiral (John) Miller. The time was spent preparing for major combat fights and overseas contingency operations.”
In 2019, Cheever said the year marks the 50th anniversary of TOPGUN, and the teaching concepts remain the same as they were in 1969. The year is also the 35th anniversary for STRIKE. This year was the 30th anniversary for Carrier Airborne Early Warning Weapons School (CAEWWS) and the 20th for Rotary Wing Weapons School (SEAWOLF). As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have wound down from their peaks, Cheever said the NAWDC mission and focus of training has changed to meet the needs. In 2001 NAWDC created the Joint Close Air Support School to create Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC). NAWDC introduced the Airborne Electronic Attack Weapons School in 2011 (HAVOC) and the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile Cell in 2012.
When he left CVW-8, Cheever’s next duty assignment was as chief of staff for Commander, Naval Air Forces. After two years, he returned to Fallon to accelerate NAWDC toward high-end training, especially the combination of fourth and fifth generation aircraft (F-35C) in live, virtual (simulators) and constructive (computer generated) training.
“It shows the capability of the Navy,” Cheever said, referring to his time as the CAG with the Carrier Air Wing 8. “CVW-8 off the George H.W. Bush, CVN-77 was the only combat power option for weeks and the only offensive option for over a month… to protect Americans in the green zone in Baghdad, Iraq. We had an amazing team … we all trained here… It showed the incredible flexibility of the Aircraft Carrier and her Airwing, fighting in the Arabian Sea protecting voting in Afghanistan and flying into Iraq from the Arabian Gulf as our Nations only combat option the next …”
Today’s mission has transitioned, Cheever said, from terrorist cells to a higher end potential threat (major combat operations). Now, a new $28 million Air Wing Training Building that should be operational by the end of the year will determine each air wing’s strengths and weaknesses using state-of-the-art technology and modern audiovisual capabilities. This is a visible signal of Naval Aviations’ commitment to the National Defense Strategy, especially lethality and CNO’s Navy the Nation Needs (Bigger, Better, Networked, Talented, Agile, Ready).
The building was designed with modern audiovisual capabilities and an information technology network. According to NAWDC, the additional outfitting cost for audio-visual, electronic security system and work stations is about. $12 million. It is expected the building will be operational by the end of the year.
The new 55,000 square foot facility, according to Capt. Leif Steinbaugh, NAWDC’s director of training, will train carrier air wings “in an integrated environment from mission planning, briefing, execution to debrief at security levels needed to ensure they are ready for the modern military threat.”
Cheever, like his predecessors, said the high desert and the good weather make Fallon an ideal location for aircrew.
“It’s the best place to train for naval aviation,” he said. “The topography with the mountain ranges provides the training necessary for electronic warfare. The Fallon Range Training Complex is amazing. It’s the crown jewel of aviation training.”
With the additional buildings at NAWDC and the proposed expansion and modernization of several ranges, Cheever said he’s excited for the future and for the live, virtual and constructive environment for the Joint Strike Fighter (F-35), and all fourth generation platforms. It all falls into the Secretary of Defense’s strategy. Essentially, he said the story of NAWDC is to support the fleet and keep the warfighters at the top of their game. He said DoD continually looks at the future for naval aviation such as a balance between manned and unmanned systems and this is where we train all of Naval Aviation.
“I can’t imagine a better place to live and train,” Cheever said of NAWDC’s mission and Fallon.