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Interview: Capt. James D. Webb

Capt. James D. Webb, a native of Atlanta, Ga., reported to NAS Oceana after serving as the deputy chief of the Joint Training Division at U.S. Joint Forces Command’s Joint Warfighting Center. He assumed command of NAS Oceana on Aug. 12, 2010 after serving as executive officer.

An F/A-18 pilot, Webb’s most recent squadron tour was as executive officer and commanding officer of the “Sunliners” of VFA-81 from December 2001 to September 2004, during which time the squadron deployed twice and received the coveted “Battle E” for their support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

Webb received his commission through the NROTC program and earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Auburn University. After receiving his Wings of Gold in November 1988 and FRS training with the “Gladiators” of VFA-106 in early 1989, he began his operational career with the “Sidewinders” of VFA-86. While at VFA-86, he deployed for three cruises onboard USS America (CV 66), participating in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

After returning to VFA-106 in August 1992, this time for three years as an instructor pilot, Webb was accepted into the Navy Test Pilot School in Patuxent River, Md., where he was selected as the Distinguished Graduate of Class 109. His operational test assignment took him to Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake, Alberta, where he served as an exchange Test Pilot to the Aviation Engineering Test Establishment, flying CF-18s and CT-33s.

Webb returned to the United States in August 1998, completing his department head tour and another deployment with the “Bulls” of VFA-37. After leaving the “Bulls” and serving eighteen months as the operations officer for Commander, Strike Fighter Wing, Atlantic, he reported to VFA-81.

Following his squadron command tour, Webb attended the Naval War College, where he completed his Master’s Degree in National Security and Strategic Studies before reporting to Joint Forces Command to complete his joint tour.

His personal decorations include the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal (two awards), Air Medal (two with combat “V” and four strike flight awards), Navy Commendation Medal (six awards, four with combat “V”), Navy Achievement Medal, and various unit and campaign awards. He has flown 29 different aircraft, accumulating more than 4,700 flight hours, including more than 3,800 flight hours and 660 arrested landings in the F/A-18. He recently discussed the history of Oceana NAS, the relationship between the naval air station and the surrounding community and its importance to naval aviation.

Air Power at Sea: A Century of U.S. Naval Aviation: How far back in history does Oceana go and how important is it to the Navy and to the nation?

Capt. James D. Webb: Oceana Naval Air Station was commissioned as an auxiliary field in 1943. It became designated as a Master Jet Base in 1953. From that time, both the scope of operations and the over-arching number of operations has grown to what they are today. Oceana itself, from a flying perspective, incorporates both this field, Apollo Soucek Field, as well as Auxiliary Landing Field Fentress, where our field carrier landing practices are performed.

The current configuration of aircraft of mainly F/A-18s, as well as C-9s – soon to be C-40s – encompasses 19 squadrons, over 300 aircraft, and up to about 50,000 operations per year. Oceana itself is the East Coast Master Jet Base. It’s the only Master Jet Base on the East Coast.

So from the time the Navy started to fly jets, Oceana was the Master Jet Base?
That’s correct. We have 16 operational squadrons, and one adversary squadron that flies as the adversary for all the fighter weapons training. We have a Reserve squadron, which flies the C-9; they will transition to the C-40, which is the Navy 737, in the fall.

We also have the largest fleet replacement squadron in the Navy with VFA-106. They train new F/A-18 aviators on the East Coast in both the F/A-18 Charlie and Delta, as well as the Super Hornets.

There were other Master Jet Bases on the East Coast, but NAS Oceana is the only one remaining. What does Oceana mean to the community, and what does the community mean to Oceana?
Well, first of all, there is an economic impact. Oceana and the personnel that work here provide an economic impact of approximately $1.4 billion to the surrounding community. We also partner with the city on multiple community levels. We have people here that are married to teachers and other workers out in the city – coaches for little leagues, scout leaders, business owners, church leaders, and other kinds of recreational activities. So military impact takes both a financial and personal form.

The other side of the coin is that Virginia Beach provides a vast array of community possibilities, recreational activities – from the beach to water parks and every other kind of activity, gyms, pools, YMCAs, you name it. So, the partnership itself and the relationship that we have between the leadership here at Oceana and the leadership of the city of Virginia Beach has probably not been any better than it is now.

I would imagine that after more than 60 years, the roots are pretty deep.
They are. And it’s always a fine balance between operations here at the base and providing a decent atmosphere for the community. So, when it comes to operating a lot of aircraft from a very congested area, we do a pretty good job of striking that balance.

Where does the Hampton Roads Navy League fall into that equation?
Well, the Navy League is an incredibly valuable liaison between the military and the community. So the work that they do in providing venues and events that can be attended by the city, the civilians, and the military has a gigantic impact on continued rapport, continued interaction between the leaders here. We generally are limited in what we can do in interacting with the city, and the city is limited in some cases in what they can do with the military. And so, what the Navy League provides is that – that interaction point – the liaison that keeps everybody talking and able to see strategically into the future: where we are and where we want to be from a partnership perspective.

What does the Centennial of Naval Aviation mean to the station and what sort of events will be going on during the year?
The Centennial of Naval Aviation is going to be highlighted by the air show that we do from Sept. 23 to 25.

We have another event that … here, … the Battle of Midway Celebration, as part of the Centennial. Now, the Battle of Midway Celebration is done in some fashion every year on the anniversary in June. But this year, [it took] on a little bit more significance because of the Centennial. And then we roll right into the preparations for the air show, the air show being the predominant celebration of the Centennial that we’ll do here. We’ll have a host of legacy aircraft from over the years of naval aviation, all here for both static displays and for flying. And so, we’ll have a chance for the public to see how far we’ve come along [over] the years of naval aviation and where we’re going.

This interview first appeared in Air Power at Sea: A Century of Naval Aviation 1911-2011.