NAWS captain focuses on partnership to weather 2013

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

NAWS captain focuses on partnership to weather 2013It is impossible to contemplate the health and future of the Naval Air Weapons Station without also evaluating its essential relationships with the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division — the main tenant of China Lake — and the Ridgecrest community that resides alongside the Navy’s vast installation, said Capt. Dennis Lazar, the station’s commanding officer.

With that in mind, he said that in a climate of diminishing support to DOD, he will be focusing on building and strengthening partnerships with all the interests in this isolated community in order to preserve the facilities and services available onboard the station.

“Since my main function is to support the role of my tenant commands, it has been very rewarding to see the Weapons Division achieve success in the exciting work that they do here,” said Lazar.

“But you look at the innovation and creativity that has defined the work at China Lake, the dedication to getting the job done despite increasing challenges, I think we can tap into that ingenuity to find ways to take care of ourselves in the face of dwindling — even vanishing — resources.”

When Lazar assumed command of NAWS a little more than a year ago, he brought with him a passion for his job with the Navy, as well as an enthusiasm for the community he became an active part of. Since Rear Adm. Paul Sohl assumed command of NAWCWD several months ago, Lazar said, the two have been working in lockstep to support the Navy’s mission.

“That team spirit between us has been a huge benefit. We are in sync, synergized. And I absolutely love that. We’ve spent the last few months clearing out obstacles and anything else that inhibits the mission here,” said Lazar. “Despite having two completely separate commands, I think we have a clear unity of purpose.”

Lazar has also extended that invitation of partnership outside the fenceline.

“If you look at the history of China Lake, there has always been an important connection between the Navy presence and the community that supports us,” he said. The relationship between base and community has evolved over the years. Moving civilians off the base several decades ago solidified the symbiosis between the Navy workers and the community that supports them. But the increased security in a post-9-11 world, restricting community access to the base, has taken a toll on making some of the services on the station cost-neutral.

“I would really like to see us get back to where we were before,” said Lazar, referring to the days when air shows, concerts and other events were staged on base and open to the community.

“Security will obviously continue to be a priority for us. But I think we don’t want to lose that pioneering spirit that made China Lake a community — that sense that we were out here alone but unafraid, willing to work together to make our own fun. I want to preserve that part of our culture.”

Lazar said that improving community access could have mutual benefits to base and city interests. “The golf course is a great example of this. We have a ton of residents who would love to use our course. Giving people that access is in our best interest as well, since broadening our base improves our chances of keeping it open for everyone.”

He said he is trying to streamline the process of getting a community badge. Residents need only find a base employee to vouch for them, then submit to a background check.

“I think there is absolutely a way to welcome the hardworking residents on board without sacrificing force protection. But I am sensitive to finding processes and procedures that are effective without just creating a bureaucracy that works against us,” said Lazar.

“Facilitating access is the right thing to do for the community, but again, this also helps us if it allows us to keep our venues open.”

Other popular destinations for visitors include the Naval Museum of Armament and Technology, the petroglyphs and the Paradise Café. “I am always surprised at how many people don’t realize that these are open to community badge holders.”

Lazar said that he has been very impressed by the collaborative spirit of the community. He pointed to the B Mountain Christmas Star effort as a prime example of that local will to accomplish goals.

The infrastructure for the holiday symbol had aged to the point where turning it on created a fire hazard. With no Navy money to fix it, and limited community access, Lazar said, no clear solution presented itself. “Then I remember reading editorials about what this star meant to people, and I sat down with my master chief and said, ‘We’re going to figure this out, if it means you and I stringing lights up on that hill.’”

In the end, Lazar credits a local Boy Scout, a community-service club and the generous donation of two local contractors with putting up a safer, and brighter, star. “I can’t take credit for any of that. But I think it is a good example of how we need to be accommodating to the community so they don’t lose access,” he said.

“For years we were the ‘Secret City.’ We certainly don’t invite unwanted attention, but I think we don’t have to be as secretive as we once were. I have often encountered this perception in the community that residents are not welcome here. I want to do everything I can to change that.

“If you look at our mission as serving national defense, that is something that truly belongs to all of us. Do we need to cater to the needs of our servicemen and women? Absolutely. But there is room for community participation at China Lake. We not only allow it, we invite it.”

Story First Published: 2013-01-23