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Flight surgeon eulogized as a man who loved his nation

By Steve Ranson Nevada News Group

Cmdr. Zathan Baker eulogized his close friend as a man who embodied life, liberty and country in a memorial service Monday morning conducted at Naval Air Station’s Fallon’s Hangar 7, home of the Longhorns Search and Rescue.

As the senior flight surgeon at the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center (NAWDC), Cmdr. Christopher Joas — or Papa Doc — first developed a love for flying beginning in the 1990s when he served on an F-14 Tomcat as a radar interceptor officer.

After medical school and tours in Iraq and stateside, Baker, NAS Fallon’s operations officer, said Joas qualified to become a search and rescue crewman before coming to Fallon in addition to performing his medical duties with NAWDC. Before arriving in Fallon in 2017, he was stationed at the Naval Hospital Twentynine Palms’ clinic at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center near Bridgeport, Calif.

Joas, who had been at NAWDC for three years, and a friend, former Fallon businesswoman Peggy McGuire, died when their single-engine airplane crashed in a wooded area near the South Lake Tahoe Airport earlier this month.

Joas died at the scene on July 7, and McGuire died later that week in the Intensive Care Unit at Reno’s Renown Regional Medical Center.

Baker, who wore his orange flight to show appreciation and support of Papa Doc’s time with the Longhorns’ SAR team, said Joas had a love for flying, medicine and his four sons.

When the Navy began phasing out the Tomcats, Baker said Joas turned his attention to medicine and graduated from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences where he obtained his degree.

As a member of the Longhorns, Baker said Joas was on two life-saving missions in addition to other flights with the SAR team. Baker said most calls came between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. During those early hours, Baker said his wife Melissa would accompany him with coffee and diet coke. Yet, Baker noted how tight-knit his friend was with his sons.

“He loved his boys more than anything in life,” Baker said.

That joy in being with his sons or other people showed with Joas. No matter how stressful life was, Baker said Joas always found a way to invest in people and make others laugh and smile. Baker said Joas lived life to the fullest in whatever he undertook.

During the one-hour ceremony, Rear Adm. Richard T. Brophy, NAWDC’s commander, gave the opening remarks. The service also included the playing of the Navy hymn and “Taps,” a flag-folding ceremony, presentation of the Meritorious Service Medal, a three-volley salute and a flyover of the missing man formation. Father Antonio Quijano of St. Patrick’s Church gave both the innovation and benediction.

Brophy said Joas had a compassion for humanity and helping others. Not only did Joas focus his attention on NAWDC and NAS Fallon, but Brophy also said the flight surgeon took a strong interest in the Churchill County community. Joas represented the air station on the county’s coronavirus task force.

“He asked to get into — in his own words — the fight. He wanted to run toward the fire not away,” Brophy said.

Under Joas’ leadership, Brophy said NAS Fallon did not record a COVID-19 case.

Like Baker, Brophy also touched on Joas’ love for his sons and how a recent vacation energized and animated his love for them.

Brophy said fellow sailors are deeply saddened by the passing of Papa Doc and his contributions to others.