NAF Throws Big 70th Anniversary Party for Sailors and Staff

Sailors go to relax with their families for a while at the 70th anniversary picnic.
Sailors relax with their families at NAF’s 70th Anniversary picnic Thursday.

SEELEY – When Seaman Meline Noel was transferred to Naval Air Facility, El Centro, she felt she knew she was getting an opportunity for a career move that would improve and help her life after years of academic study.  As of a week and a few days, Noel has discovered that NAF is treating her well, just as it has treated all of its personnel for 70 years.

“Command and everyone under it is someone I would want to shadow and look up to,” Noel said about the base’s command.

Nicknamed “The Pearl of the Desert,” NAF El Centro’s actual 70th anniversary was May 1.  However, the base command wanted to push the celebration back until Memorial Day weekend to allow everyone on base a chance to relax and unwind to kickoff summer.

The party for on-base personnel numbered an amazing 400 in attendance. This included sailors, families, on-base civilians, contractors, and military detachment units who happen to be currently stationed at NAF.

“We thought it was special, plus we wanted a good excuse to party,” said media representative Christopher Haugh.

Currently, NAF El Centro has 250 sailors working on base, 60 assigned personnel, five tenant commands, and 100 families. Overall, there are 700 military folk temporarily on the base.

Barbecue, burgers and hotdogs were served, and fun zones set up for children with bounce houses and activity areas. A video game tournament took place inside of the gym, and the pool was open for everyone to cool off, complete with huge a water slide.

Like Noel, the staff and sailors on base were appreciative of what base command had put together for them.

Meline Noel and Captain William Doster cutting the birthday cake for NAF's 70th birthday.
Seaman Meline Noel and Captain William Doster cut the cake for NAF’s 70th birthday.

“It’s a nice way for us to be a tangible community. It’s good to be a part of that,” said Joe Rief, an aviations officer, as he sat down for lunch with his two sons. “The people need a place to relax and the base people really help us.”

“Since I’ve been here, the base has done a lot to improve our quality of life,” said Amy Ricker, a strike quality assurance representative. “I think that’s awesome for a base.”

NAF was created during World War II as a training facility for the Marine Corps, originally known as Marine Air Corps Station (MACS), El Centro. The small town area and clear desert skies were seen as an ideal location, being secluded from the general public and with fair weather all year long.

Today the base’s mission is still the same. The NAF base, with 2,800 acres of training facilities, trains squadrons 360 days a year thanks to the Imperial Valley’s fair weather. Usually sailors stay for two to three years training in flight combat and naval carrier situations.  Even when they have been transferred out, pilots often return to NAF El Centro at least five times in their military careers.

“You might get hot, but so long as it’s sunny, you can fly,” said Executive Officer Adam Schlisnann.

Squadrons from around the world also train at the base including British, Dutch, Canadian, Belgium, Danish, and German squads. Currently, there is a British squadron on base that is working to perfect desert combat skills.

NAF also offers sailors who are non-deployed or stationed on shore duty, a chance to be with their families, something that would not usually happen in other places.

“We take events like this to reconnect with our past and remind us of who we are,” said Captain William C. Doster, NAF El Centro’s base commander. “Our mission has evolved, but it’s still the same.”

Since NAF was commissioned, the Imperial Valley community has also been there to support the base, and that is something the sailors appreciate.

“This is the only base I’ve ever been to with a community that is this supportive,” said Chris Watson, a MA 1 Security Officer. “I’ve just never seen this level of community commitment, and I’ve been to six bases.”