Naval Base Kitsap here to stay

PORT ORCHARD — “Our missions, the importance of what we do (means) we’re going to be here for decades,” Naval Base Kitsap Commanding Officer Edward Schrader said at the April 13 Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce Luncheon hosted at McCormick Woods Golf Course.

Schrader assumed command of Naval Base Kitsap in September 2016. A 1992 U.S. Naval Academy graduate, Schrader earned his bachelor of science degree in physics before earning his master’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Colorado.

Schrader told the luncheon audience that it’s his job to educate people on what goes on Naval Base Kitsap to ensure the cohesive relationship between the base and the Kitsap community.

“It’s kind of eye-opening when you look at the numbers for Kitsap County, and they roughly come out to 100,000 workers,” Schrader said.

“I see that, and I touch about one-third of them every day in contract, government, civilians and active duty military. It’s pretty significant.”

And while the base has been around for decades, Navy planners are making plans for the future that closely involve Naval Base Kitsap.

A new Gerald Ford-class of aircraft carrier now being tested will bring workers to the base — and they’ll have homes in Kitsap County.

Unmanned Undersea Vehicles are also being built to make missions safer for submarine crews.

Currently, Naval Base Kitsap has an $11 billion replacement value. That’s the value of all the buildings, piers, roads and infrastructure, Schrader said.

“The country has invested a lot of money into keeping this place going,” Schrader said.

“It doesn’t really matter the changes between President Obama and President Trump, it doesn’t affect me. This shows that we’re still here, and we’ll be here for decades.”

After serving on the USS Kentucky and as commanding officer on the USS Nevada, Schrader has come to call Kitsap home.

“My wife has told me, ‘We’re not leaving,’” he said.

Naval Base Kitsap encompasses nearly 12,000 acres across the West Coast. It is the third-largest Navy base in the U.S. and includes Bremerton, Bangor, Manchester, and Keyport.

“My job is to keep the lights on and the water flowing in the right place,” he said. “I’m not a mayor, but I’m kind of like one.”

Naval Base Kitsap has a lot of the same facilities as a city like Port Orchard does. It has schools, chapels, bowling alleys and movie theaters. There are galley facilities to serve food to all base patrons and housing for those who want to stay close to all of the above or get stationed without a car.

“Right now, I have about 25 percent of the people, active duty, that work on Naval Base Kitsap actually living in on-base housing,” Schrader said.

“That means 75 percent of them are your neighbors.”

And that is the main reason Schrader likes to get out in the community to let civilians know what they do on base and why they’re so important to the Kitsap community, told the chamber luncheon audience.

Since 2004, he said, Naval Base Kitsap has grown immensely. While the fence lines have remained the same, the productivity and usage of each base has increased. It’s taken on new missions and had new ships regularly coming in, he added.

To prove his point, Schrader showed how statistics have increased from 2004 when the nation increased its security after 9/11.

For example, instead of hosting one aircraft carrier in 2004, Naval Base Kitsap now houses two. And instead of six ballistic missile submarines, Naval Base Kitsap has eight (of the 14 in the U.S. Navy).

The Marine Corps security battalion that guards strategic weapons in Bangor grew from 400 to nearly 1,200 people.

“Keep in mind our fence lines haven’t changed, it’s been the same for decades,” Schrader said. “We’ve grown immensely.”

Along with those increases, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard handles all West Coast aircraft carrier maintenance.

“We’re really important in the Pacific Northwest,” Schrader said.

One of the main reasons the Pacific Northwest naval base is so large is because of the amount of maritime traffic. Seventy percent of the Earth is covered in water, and 90 percent of the Earth’s commerce travels by sea. But why in the Pacific?

Fifteen years ago, the Navy did what they called the Pacific Pivot, repositioning 60 percent of its forces on the West Coast.

“Guam and Hawaii, our trading partners, the west coast of Canada and Mexico, all of its business,” Schrader said.

“It’s where the activity is, thus we put 60 percent of our forces on this side.”