As commander of Naval Air Station Fallon, Capt. David Halloran presided over the second largest community in Churchill County.
Within the sprawling air station southeast of Fallon, Halloran has been the “mayor” for the air station’s tenant commands, military and civilian employees, visiting carrier air wings, housing, growth and modernization. As the University of Arizona graduated reflected, the past three years have been busy ones for him, his staff and others who ensure the readiness of both NAS Fallon and the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center (NAWDC).
Halloran recently gave his final “State of the Base” address at the monthly Churchill Economic Development Authority’s breakfast before stepping down as commander in a change of command ceremony. Capt. Evan Morrison is the new commander, succeeding Halloran, who also retired after spending 27 years in the Navy.
Halloran said he and his family will remain in Fallon so his son and daughter can finish their education, and he will know in April if he will fly for either Delta Airlines or FedEx.
“Our family has become very comfortable and welcomed here. Were Nevadans,” said Halloran, who was described by one of his co-workers as an avid golfer.
Halloran said as a child, his family moved from city to city. He was born in Buffalo, New York and attended a number of schools before graduating from high school in Phoenix and attending the University of Arizona in Tucson.
“I wanted to stabilize my life, so I joined the Navy,” he said to laughter from the attendees.
After almost three decades of military service and numerous moves from one permanent station to another, Halloran said it was time to establish some roots and let his son and daughter graduate from high school in Fallon.
Since he arrived three years ago Halloran has been the face of the Navy since the military released plans to expand the Fallon Training Range Complex and to modernize its systems. The FRTC has ranges southwest and southeast of Fallon and due east toward Austin and Eureka, a distance of almost 177 miles. The initial plan to increase the training area was officially announced at the first scoping meeting in late September 2016. Since that time, Halloran and his staff have visited numerous communities affected by the changes, and he has given dozens of speeches outlining the Navy’s future expansion.
The Navy proposes to renew existing public land withdrawal of 202,859 acres expiring in November 2021. Seven public meetings in November and December informed the public on the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The EIS includes ranges B-16 southwest of Fallon; B-17, the Dixie Valley Training Area, north and south of U.S. Highway 50; and B-20, northeast of Fallon and north of B-17. No plans are proposed for B-19.
Halloran said the additional land withdrawal is needed so the pilots and Navy SEALs can train properly.
“Pilots have basically not been trained properly over the last 20 years,” he said. “The ranges haven’t been modernized in over 30 years.”
Halloran noted the sophistication of weapons and weapons systems has significantly increased as has the capability of the United States’ potential adversaries. He said the final EIS will eventually be forwarded to the Secretary of the Navy and then to Congress.
When the FRTC modernization plan was unveiled, Halloran said NAWDC and the SEALs looked at the plan and gave input to what their needs would be for the future.
“Here’s how we need to train when we go on deployments,” Halloran said of NAWCD’s input.
From the initial scoping period, Halloran said the Navy compiled 1,400 pages of information — which he said was longer than the novel “War and Peace” — and pushed out a draft EIS. After another 60-day comment period that ended on Feb. 14, the Navy will review comments and present another draft.
“This is not a done deal,” Halloran said, adding the Navy has worked extensively with coordinating agencies including those in surrounding counties and Churchill County. “They (relationships) have been built or fostered and improved not only for the benefit of Churchill County and the base but the surrounding areas.”
Halloran said the threat from adversaries has increased during the past 20 years. He said North Korea has the capability to launch missiles toward the United States, and China’s military budget has increased 30-fold since 1999. Russia and the U.S., he said, may be heading toward another Cold War.
“The economy is rebuilding and improving,” Halloran said, adding the former Soviet Union military and leaders know how they trained during the Cold War.
Furthermore, Halloran said China has added two aircraft carriers to its fleet and has built a training program that mirrors Top Gun
NAS Fallon is Churchill County’s largest employer and generates more than $500 million into the local economy and also into Washoe and Lyon counties. In describing the domino effect, he said the people working on base have a need for service businesses in the county, which in turn leads to more hiring. One of the biggest impacts to preserving the air station from encroachment comes from the REPI or the Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration program that, according to the Department of Defense, “protects military missions by helping remove or avoid land-use conflicts near installations and addressing regulatory restrictions that inhibit military activities.”
Halloran said the program allows the military and the local community to work together to reduce encroachment on the installations’ boundaries.
“A lot of the bases I’ve been to don’t have a good working relationship like we have here in Fallon,” Halloran said.
To illustrate his point, he said developers have been allowed to build houses up to the fence lines of NAS Oceania, Virginia, and NAS North Island, California, for years, which has been causing additional friction between the residents and the respective bases. Since 2007 in Churchill County, he said $13 million has been paid to local land owners to keep their property as agricultural. This includes the purchase 60 easements totaling 7,129 acres.
Halloran said a good example of the REPI has been the expansion of the Frey Ranch with their wine and distillery operations and how they have increased the production of crops on their land.
“NAS Fallon is in a better position than other bases,” he said.
On the training ranges, he said REPI funding has also been used to maintain habitat in the non-target areas.
Halloran said the base will add six F-35C Lightning II fighter jets by 2023. This will result in having more military and civilian workers, and he said NAWDC will increase its maintenance contract by about 100 additional people. Based on the air station’s current civilian employment numbers at 2,000, he said the additional workers represent a 10 percent increase.
Halloran addressed the housing shortage in August, and praised the addition of new base housing as a step in the right direction. NAS Fallon had a ribbon cutting for a new family housing community of 60 homes and a 5,500-square-foot community clubhouse west of the base’s main gate, and the completion of additional 79 houses will be done in several years. In addition to new housing, 80 major renovations for 80 current houses in the neighborhood next door called Mountain View may also be completed near the same time as the new homes. The entire project is costing about $100 million according to Clark Realty Capital.
Before the Navy began replacing and refurbishing homes, Halloran said the base had more than 300 houses, but the initial proposal to tear down existing homes and replace them with new construction called for 219 houses. After approaching the Navy with his concerns, Halloran said 83 houses will be built and ready for occupancy in three to four years.
In the meantime, local real estate agents said the inventory of available housing is shrinking because of people who work at the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center west of Fernley. Not able to afford the housing in Reno and Sparks, they are buying in Fernley and now Fallon.
With the completion of the new houses and more on the way, Halloran said military families will be able to live on base rather than in the city of Fallon or in Fernley.
Not only will the base grow in military and civilian employees, but construction has seen a boom. He said construction projects are ranging from hangar alterations for the F35c training mission to a new U.S. Naval and Marine Corps Reserve Center, which had its lease raised by thousands of dollars at the former Stead Air Force Base north of Reno.
Construction is occurring on a wastewater treatment plant in the southern part of the air station. Other projects have included airfield lighting pavement work and taxiways.