Reflections on command
In three short years as commanding officer of Naval Air Station Fallon, Capt. Leif Steinbaugh has seen many changes, which, he said, has left the base in good shape.
Capt. David Halloran took over command of NAS Fallon on Friday as Steinbaugh assumed a new position, director of training for the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center (NAWDC), his fourth tour at the base.
“It’s a great opportunity to finish out my career (at NAS Fallon),” Steinbaugh said, adding he will have 30 years in the Navy upon retirement.
Steinbaugh, though, doesn’t envision becoming a rear admiral (lower half) because he said those promotions usually come from the larger fleet bases; nevertheless, Steinbaugh, a 1990 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, said he is happy to remain in Fallon and so is his family.
“I was a military brat,” he explained. “My dad was in the Marine Corps, and we moved every two to three years.”
That would explain his feeling several weeks ago when he had a feeling of “moving on” to a new assignment. Steinbaugh said his wife, Yoko, has a “great group of friends” and knows the area well. Steinbaugh feels the same way.
“I like it here. It’s a great community, great support from the Navy,” he said. “The flying here at the base can’t be replicated anywhere else, and the mission is important and vital.”
Robert “Bob” Southland of the Navy League in Carson City said Steinbaugh, his staff and the Navy League, which also has chapters in Reno, Elko and Fallon have a good working relationship. Southland said Navy League receives good support when recognizing the Sailors of the Year.
Ken Wallis of the Reno chapter of the Navy League,said Steinbaugh works well with the leagues.
“This is one of the best relationships we have had,” Wallis said.
His new role will have many challenges during the next three years. He said NAWDC will have a role with the training of the new F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter either in a support or direct role, and as director of training, Steinbaugh, who has extensively flown the EA-18G Growler, would like to fly more. When he served as base commander, Steinbaugh flew as a crewmember with the Longhorns Search and Rescue helicopter team.
“NAWDC has my primary aircraft, the Growler,” Steinbaugh said. “I should be able to fly a little more.”
Before he took command, Steinbaugh said he took for granted how the command oversaw base operations. That feeling, though, changed after his change of command in 2013. During his stint as commanding officer, Steinbaugh said he gained a deeper respect for the sailors and civilians who put in so much time to make the air station run smoothly.
During his tenure as commanding officer, for example, Steinbaugh and his staff guided the base through sequestration, which refers to automatic spending cuts that occur through the withdrawal of funding for certain (but not all) government programs. Mandated by a 2011 deficit reduction law, sequestration required the cutting of $85 million applied equally to defense and non-defense spending, and it affected both the active armed forces, the Reserves and National Guard.
In 2013, the Navy reduced the number of carrier wings coming to Fallon for training, and the threat of massive furloughs loomed over the air station. At the time by using Churchill County and Department of Defense figures, the economic loss to the employees and possibly Churchill County could have amounted to about $792,000.
Worse case scenarios, though, didn’t materialize. Although the military services suffered cuts, Steinbaugh said NAS Fallon fared better than many installations because of its mission.
“We navigated through sequestration without getting hit too badly,” he said. That is a big accomplishment.”
During his command, NAS Fallon beefed up its safety training for both the base and NAWDC.
“My philosophy is train like you fight,” he said.
Through Citadel Shield exercises guided by the Navy to local scenarios, Steinbaugh said he wanted to assess the air station’s plans and how well personnel implemented them.
“We have a strong, integrated training team,” he pointed out. “They do fantastic work to get outside agencies involved such as the city, county, state, federal and others.
Since 2013, NAS Fallon has conducted active-shooter and earthquake-response drills, and participated with the community in responding to a freak accident that pushed a school bus into a train carrying ammonium nitrate.
“We wouldn’t be where we are without his support,” said training officer Chris Pierce. “I hate to see him go.”
Pierce said Steinbaugh continued with the strong training program initiated by his predecessors and that the quality of training was a reflection of him and his former executive officer, Cmdr. Gene Woodruff.
Steinbaugh’s concern of quality of life became a top priority as NAS Fallon is redeveloping its housing area. He said about half of the homes will be demolished, and the others will be renovated. He said the housing area will have wider roads and a community center.
Another are of command emphasis dealt with the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program.
“I don’t think it’s ever been stronger,” He said. “We have a great coordinator in Jeannette Casillas. The program is where it should be. People come here and feel safe.”