Executive officer Shell aboard at NAS Fallon
As with Naval Air Station Fallon’s newly assigned command master chief, the base’s new executive officer grew up in the West and considers his position a plum assignment in advancing his career.
Born in Billings, Mont., Cmdr. James P. Shell spent most of his formative years in Sheridan and Buffalo, Wyo., before graduating from high school in Ogden, Utah.
Shell didn’t travel far to attend college. He attended Weber State University in Ogden, graduating in 1996, and entered the Navy’s Officer Candidate School, where he was commissioned in June 1997. From there Shell spent two years in flight training at Pensacola, Fla., before receiving orders to report to Washington state.
“I was a (EA-6B) Prowler guy at Whidbey,” Shell said of his time there in the late 1990s.
Beginning with the new millennium, Shell’s career soared. He deployed to Turkey with VAQ 134, which monitored the no-fly zone against the Iraqi air force as part of Operation Northern Watch, while the mission in Saudi Arabia focused on the southern watch and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Once the United States engaged Iraq beginning in March 2003, Shell then went to Saudi Arabia to become involved with additional operations.
Shell then became an instructor with VAQ-129 by training new pilots in the Prowler from July 2003 to October 2005. For his shore tour he was assigned to VAQ-129 as an instructor training new pilots and instructing electronic countermeasures to officers training in the Prowler from July 2003 to October 2005. Shell said he served back-to-back deployments with a carrier air wing aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise in 2006 and 2007 and the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in 2008-2009, both in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Shell’s first assignment to the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center in Fallon (then known as the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center) came in March 2011, a tour that lasted 28 months. Shell first served as the Joint Projects Branch head and then executive officer of Strike.
“That’s part of the reason why I was sent here (as executive officer),” Shell said, citing his familiarization with the air station and also the operations of NAWDC.
Before becoming the Fallon’s XO in late 2005, Shell served as the Carrier Air Wing 2’s operations office at NAS Lemoore. Although much of Shell’s time is spent with administrative duties, he still dons his flight suit and rides on an F/A-18 as a weapons system officer or flies on a Search and Rescue helicopter as a crewmember.
Capt. Leif Steinbaugh, commander of NAS Fallon, and Shell both served together when they were assigned to NAWDC and prior to Steinbaugh assuming command.
“He expressed an interest in coming back,” said Steinbaugh, adding that he is pleased to be reunited with Shell. “I am glad to have him in this community.”
Shell also said he is looking forward to his assignment at NAS Fallon.
“We’ll be doing a lot of work with the F-35 when we update the base,” Shell said.
Additional training for F-35 crews was performed in August and September at NAS Fallon.
NAWDC is working with F-35C crews to refine their tactics, techniques and procedures with the Fallon Range Training Complex.
Since Shell previously served for two years at NAWDC, he said one of his goals is to make the transition simpler for units coming to Fallon for training.
“We’ll take the lessons learned from the last 16 to 18 years and make the visits easier for visiting units,” he said.
Shell said personnel from the base, NAWDC and visiting units work hard for training.
As with his predecessors, Shell said it is important to maintain the good relationship between the community and the air station and to be supportive of the many activities that take place on the installation.
When Shell is not on base, he and his wife of nine years, who comes from eastern Washington, enjoy the mountains, especially the Sierra range. The Shells fell in love with the area — especially Lake Tahoe — the first time he was assigned to Fallon.
An avid skier, Shell first learned how to ski 36 years ago at Red Lodge, Mont., and while at Weber State, Shell said he arranged his classes around the slopes.