Skipper emphasizes collaboration in climate of uncertainty

Force protection exercise next week should have no impact on community

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Skipper emphasizes collaboration in climate of uncertaintyWhile the Navy is put through the paces of preparing for any number of bleak budget scenarios as sequestration and other impending cuts loom on the horizon, Capt. Dennis Lazar noted that even China Lake leadership faces the same uncertainty as the rank and file as rumors swirl and numbers to hang your hat on remain elusive.

“To me it all comes back to this: in an era of dwindling resources, collaboration between our two entities is more important than ever. We’ve got to help each other out,” said Lazar, commanding officer of Naval Air Weapons Station.

“The analogy I used just today is that we — the base and the community — are like just one desert island. We are dependent on each other, and there should be very little daylight between our agendas. When there is a difference, we need to address it so that we can either explain why it’s necessary or sync back up. Either way, collaboration and communication are very important to me.”

Lazar said that while preservation of the mission and maintaining an appropriate level of security remain his focus, being a good steward of limited resources is a part of that strategy. For example, China Lake officials try to leverage economies of scale by sharing with the city the cost of facilities wherever possible.

“A perfect example of this is the wastewater treatment plant,” said Lazar. Although the plant serves the entire base and community, it is located on base property. “So we provide the land, conduct the surveys and do everything we can to support the city’s efforts in building it.”

The same rule applies to keeping the golf course and Naval Museum of Arma-ment and Technology open to the community. “We love keeping these available to the general public, and their support helps ensure that we stay cost neutral so that we can keep them open.”

Lazar said that he is, in fact, looking for other ways to keep the community connected to the base.

He noted that decades ago, when the people who worked on base also lived behind the fenceline, there was a strong sense of unity and ownership between the technical workforce and the installation.

Before the days of increased front-gate security that came with the post-9-11 world, community members drove on base to take their kids to school, use the swimming pool, go golfing and even attend base-sponsored air shows.

“We want to bring back some of those community events.” One possibility is a showcase of classic car and aircraft display, but he is exploring others as well.

“We have our secure facilities, but there are a lot of ways that we take pride in being able to tell people who we are and what we do,” said Lazar. In that vein, the station recently installed well-lit signs at the four main gates. “I’m excited about this, first of all, because you can see them a mile away — they are that bright! But second, it helps us deter those travelers who stumble on base without knowing it, thinking they are on their way to Death Valley.”

One immediate impact of federal-level cuts — and not necessarily a negative one — is that the command has canceled the Navy-wide force-protection exercises. “The local component, Citadel Shield, will go on as planned, but this will cost us no extra money — and the best part is that the community will not be impacted in any way.”

Last year the base bused students into the community, evacuated all but noncritical personnel and barricaded the gates so that people could not get on or off base. “We still have a drill that will happen during the day on Feb. 25 and 26, but we won’t go on lockdown,” he said.

“I think my main message is this — just bear with us as we go through our budget drills and challenges. We are trying to keep any changes low impact, but we are also staying very open and up-front about what’s going on.

“The main challenge is that we don’t know much. We are in control of very little. Those decisions are made at the Secretary of Defense level. But as soon as word comes out — whether it’s regarding sequestration or a continuing resolution or anything else — we are going to do what is best for China Lake. In that we will follow NAVAIR, which is the heart of the mission,” said Lazar.

“But as resources from afar continue to dwindle, we are taking into consideration all of the local interests as we seek solutions for our little island.”

Story First Published: 2013-02-20