A change of command Monday morning at the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center included fond memories, reflections and tears as Rear Adm. Daniel L. Cheever relieved Rear Adm. Gregory N. Harris in one of the Navy’s most honored ceremonies.
Harris, who assumed command of NAWDC almost 16 months ago, will now lead Carrier Strike Group 11 in in the Arabian Sea aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz. This will be his second tour aboard the Nimitz, having served as commander of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 11. The Pennsylvania native graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1987 and became a naval aviator in May 1993. During his remarks during the ceremony, Harris reflected on his time in Fallon, which he called the ideal duty station.
“Mayor, it’s an amazing place,” he said, turning his head toward Ken Tedford, who was among the dignitaries attending the ceremony. “The people treat you like family.”
He thanked others in the audience — both civilian and military — for their friendship and support not only to him but also to his wife, Stacey. His attention then returned to his tenure at NAWDC, the Navy’s jewel in the desert. With his voice choking and eyes welling up with tears, he thanked his wife for her support and mentioned his adult children who are living in various locations around the United States. Harris, though, reinforced his love for Fallon when he thanked Tedford again and said he and Stacey value small-town living.
“We love the May Ranch … a phenomenal, awesome house,” Harris said, referring to the admiral’s quarters, a small ranch located at the south end of the air station. “This is the place to be. We love NAWDC and the mission. This is incredibly cool to lead in a place like this.”
Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, the change of command’s guest speaker, serves as commander, Naval Air Force, Pacific, a positon he assumed in January 2015. As the “air boss,” he has worked closely with both Harris and Cheever but in different capacities. In his remarks, Shoemaker acknowledged Harris’ command and said NAWDC has performed well under the rear admiral’s supervision and from community support.
“Admiral Harris was the right man for leadership,” Shoemaker said, adding NAWDC is a breeding ground for leaders in naval aviation. “This is the premier warfighting facility in our Navy where we train carrier air wings and our trainers.”
Shoemaker said the Navy has implemented additional warfighting centers, and NAWDC serves as the model for each. He and Harris both said modernization is needed for the Fallon Training Range Complex, which is calling for more land south and east of Fallon. The proposal would renew existing land and expand through additional land withdrawal and land acquisition, airspace modifications and public land withdrawal renewal.
Shoemaker also presented the Legion of Medal to Harris for his tour and for improving the NAWDC’s mission.
This marks the third tour in Fallon for Cheever, native of Downers Grove, Ill., and a 1986 graduate of Western Illinois University who received a degree in business. After working for a Fortune 500 company, he joined the Navy in 1988 and was designated a naval aviator two years later.
Prior to becoming the 14th commander of NAWDC (previously known as the Naval Strike Air Warfare Center - NSAWC) since 1996, Cheever served as Shoemaker’s chief of staff for more than two years. His background includes sea tours with CVW-8 on the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush, Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-147 on the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis, Strike Fighter Tactics instructor with VFA-145 and junior officer with VFA-195 on the aircraft carrier USS Independence.
Cheever’s previous tours in Fallon occurred from 2008-2011 as department head at TOPGUN and Strike and instructor with the Navy Fighter Weapons School in the mid-1990s.
“NAWDC touches all naval aviation,” Cheever said before looking over to Harris.
“To support you in combat, NAWDC is here as your No. 1 customer,” he added, drawing smiles from both Harris and Shoemaker.
Cheever also mentioned how excited his wife and he are to return to Northern Nevada.
“A special thanks goes to Fallon,” he said. “It’s great to be back. We love it here. Julee and I feel like we’re home, (our) third time here.”
Cheever recognized members of his family who have served in the military from an uncle who enlisted in the Marine Corps during World War II to his grandfather who joined the United States Air Force. As he began to wind down his comments, Cheever praised the commitment of contractors, civilians and military personnel who work at NAWDC. He said 9/11 shaped the military, and one of the missions of NAWDC is training pilots to be ready for both contingency and combat operations.
“We will continue to be the best force in the world to win,” he said, noting carrier air wings learn from their strengths and weaknesses while in training at the sprawling air station east of Fallon.