Liason brings powers to the table
FALLON – Gary Ryan is a Bureau of Land Management employee whose salary is paid in full by the Navy.
That would have been akin to the Soviet Union paying the salary of the U.S. ambassador to Moscow during the Cold War.
Much as the Cold War has evaporated, polar relations between the Navy and the BLM have warmed up in recent years. Much of the credit is given to Ryan.
He has the curious job of BLM military liaison with his office at the Naval Air Station Fallon. Ryan is one of only three military liaisons in the bureau nationwide and the only one assigned to a specific military base.
Ryan downplays his role.
“I don’t take a stake in the decision. I don’t make policy,” Ryan said. “Getting the right people into a room to talk about a subject is what I try to do the most. I get the right people to talk.”
Ryan has direct access to the Navy top brass in Fallon and the BLM managers in Carson City. He can talk Navy talk with the sailors and land management with the rangers.
Ryan’s presence at the naval base paid off for Terri Knutson, BLM’s project manager, for an environmental impact statement that details the Navy’s entire training mission in Churchill County. The Navy must get the EIS approved to gain permission to install three electronic warfare sites east of Fallon.
The final version of the EIS was released a week ago for public comment.
“It’s made much of my job a lot easier having Gary there,” Knutson said from her Carson City office. “Any time there are any questions or policy decisions that need to be made, he has direct access to the commanding officer and admiral. They’re great guys but they’re very busy and a lot of the time they are not around. Gary’s there. He knows where they are and can track them down.”
Ryan believes his presence on the naval base allowed Knutson to finish the EIS in just over a year.
“I think things would have taken longer and it would have been a less cooperative environment,” he said. “Terri doesn’t have time to run back and forth to talk to people.”
The Navy sees equal value in having a BLM person on its payroll.
“We are getting to the right people in BLM now,” NAS spokeswoman Anne McMillin said. “He’s taken BLM people to observe training side by side with Navy lieutenants. It is very helpful to the Navy for BLM officials to see what the Navy is going to do.”
Ryan arrived at NAS Fallon in January 1997 after eight years as associate district manger for BLM’s Las Vegas district. Bureau officials tapped Ryan’s 20 years work with BLM and four years service in the Navy to start up a new post as military liaison.
“I had knowledge of both sides of the coin,” Ryan said. “I think that’s what landed me this job. I didn’t seek this job.”
Ryan, 52, was a Navy flight officer and spent six months in Vietnam during the war. He said his Navy credentials wear well with high ranking officers.
Ryan’s job didn’t come with much of a description other than the title. He determined his own job responsibilities and those change as the Navy and BLM reach agreements.
“That’s been fuzzy since I got there,” Ryan said. “Nobody sat me down and said this is your mission. I’ve taken it upon myself to help the Navy understand as much as possible about the bureau and vice versa.”
Ryan eased both sides into discussions that in October led Congress to approve the withdrawal of 127,000 acres of public land near Fallon for Navy use.
“When I got there, they weren’t even talking,” Ryan said.
But Ryan doesn’t see himself as a miracle worker. Navy and BLM officials may not have understood the other agency’s methods before Ryan’s arrival, but he credits both sides with wanting to improve relations as he came on board.
“I think when I got here all the parties were ready to talk,” he said. “Both sides were tired of disagreeing. A lot of other people have made my job easy. Both sides have been very willing to learn about each other.”
The Navy, in fact, asked for a BLM military liaison. The small size of NAS Fallon’s land holdings require much flight training to take place over public land. But the Navy had problems communicating its needs to the bureau.
“We were just banging our heads against the wall,” McMillin said. “It has been greatly beneficial to the Navy to have somebody who knows how the BLM operates because it’s very different than how the Navy operates. The Navy is top down and BLM is bottom up. He’s been able to iron out wrinkles as they come up.”
Ryan helped Knutson feel comfortable managing the process behind the environmental impact statement.
“When I went into it, I begged please take me off the project,” Knutson said. “I didn’t know anything about the Navy. I had no idea what they were doing in Fallon. He was instrumental in making sure everybody understood what everybody was talking about.”
Ryan initially was assigned to Fallon for two years but his has become an indefinite assignment. He thinks if the two agencies get along well enough they won’t need a liaison any more.
“I envision if this is successful, I will work myself out of a job,” Ryan said, knowing that’s not quite true. “Every time I think what’s next, something always comes along.”