Admiral Lewis leaves Fallon
Rear Adm. Andrew “Woody” Lewis leaned back in a chair at his conference table, searching for the right words to say about is command time in Fallon.
Less than a year after taking command of the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center, Lewis is leaving Fallon today to become the new commander of Carrier Strike Group 12, effective in 22 days.
“It’s shorter than I thought, but I knew I would be here less than two years,” Lewis said of his NSAWC tour.
While Lewis’ successor has been announced, a formal assumption of command ceremony will be conducted at a later time when the new NSAWC commander receives confirmation to be promoted to rear admiral.
With a sincere tone in his voice, Lewis said Fallon has been a gratifying place to be in command because of the community support and genuine interest in the Navy’s mission.
“The community here is very patriotic, very respectful, very appreciative of the military overall and supportive of the base with the training we do,” he pointed out. “It is really helpful.”
Yet, on the other hand, he said the mutual respect works both ways. He said the NSAWC commander becomes more involved in the community because of Churchill County’s small size and isolation from a major population center.
A testament to that came earlier this month when Lewis, partnered with a high school student, competed in the annual Dancing with the Stars fundraiser.
“This place is the model for doing things,” he added.
“I got a call from boss and a few flag officers, and they gave me a hard time,” Lewis said with a big smile. “I enjoyed the experience. The kids are real serious about it, and they’re good with their commitment and dedication that goes into the dance.”
Lewis said he and his wife, Mary, enjoyed seeing events sponsored by the Churchill Arts Council or taking friends to the Churchill Vineyards for wine tasting.
“There’s a lot more in Fallon than meets the eye,” he said, adding that he attended the Sept. 11 remembrance ceremony at the park behind City Hall and the city’s tree lighting and open house in December.
Although Lewis and Mary will head east to Naval Station Norfolk, the admiral will return to Fallon several times this year when the carrier air wing trains in August and again in October. He said the Carrier Strike Group will ship out sometime after the new year for what Lewis said would be an eight- to nine-month deployment. At the end of the deployment, Lewis said the aircraft carrier USS Roosevelt will be assigned to the West Coast.
Ironically, his chief of staff will be Capt. Rhinehart Wilke IV, NAS Fallon’s former commander who left in late June 2013.
As the strike group commander, Lewis said he is responsible for the entire operation from the carrier air wing to the support ships in the group to include three destroyers and one cruiser.
Before Lewis arrived in Fallon, it was normal for a one-star flag officer to have strike group command before assuming command at NSAWC. Now, Lewis said the Navy is using the one-star command at Fallon as a bridge to the strike group. While Lewis prepares for another important assignment, he said commanding NSAWC is the ultimate job for an aviator.
“I fly on the average of a couple times a week in any variance of the F/A-18 and F-16. I flew in a helicopter the other week, and we flew over Lake Lahontan and up to Tahoe toward Truckee,” he said.
On their return flight to Fallon, the helicopter crew practiced landings at Renown Medical Center in Fallon.
Whether he flies during his time with the strike group will depend on the air wing commander, Lewis said.
With the good times at Fallon, though, came tragedy in late February when a U.S. Marine Corps aviator crashed his F/A-18 Hornet east of Austin in the Monitor Range.
“This was a very tragic event as Capt. Reid Nannen left behind four children, the youngest he hadn’t seen because he was training,” Lewis said. “In Austin, the locals went out to comb the crash area, and the mortuary in town was really good when the remains were brought back. The mayor (Ken Tedford Jr.) said he was here. This is indicative of the people around here.”
Because of the city’s support and concern, Lewis said the service became more of a celebration of Nannen’s life.
“It is a dangerous business,” Lewis said of military aviation. “This gave us an opportunity to pause and show our respect.”
Lewis also said he was impressed how the city and residents were very supportive when Rob Jones, a Marine veteran, double amputee and Paralympian continued his journey to San Diego on a trip that started on the East Coast. Jones’ bike journey was raising money for three organizations that helped him.
The trip impressed Lewis because Jones’ 18-year-old brother assisted with the cross-country ride and a Virginia group donated $10,000 to the cause.
“We look at the World War II Americans as the greatest generation, but I content and make an argument about a whole generation of young people,” Lewis said of the current group of veterans who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lewis said these are veterans doing selfless duty to help others.
“It’s patriotism and principles on which this country was funded on … freedom and support for organizations that ensure that freedom,” Lewis said.
In his short time here, Lewis said he is proud of the Navy mission in central Nevada as the military has a big role in the national defense and aviation training is able to co-use the land with other agencies, ranchers and miners.
“To use air space respectfully can be done,” he said. “This is the perfect way.”
As Lewis ended his interview, he had only one regret regarding his stay in Fallon.
“This (command) can’t last forever,” he said. “That is the nature of the business.”