Pax River: Home of Aviation Excellence
For More Than 75 Years, NAS Patuxent River Has Brought the Navy, Newcomers, Progress and Pride to Southern Maryland
Story by Crystal Brandt
Reprinted from Fall 2018
All in the family
Erin and Mike Hanson of California fit both examples. Erin was born and raised in Callaway and comes from a family with deep roots in support of NAS Pax River. Her grandfather, Woodrow Wilson Calvert, worked as a civilian in the public works division from 1942 to 1974 where he helped in the construction of many of the original structures on base.
“My family has a long history here,” she says. Erin’s mother began her civilian career on base in 1979 and supported the logistics division until 2013; her father joined the Navy in 1971 and completed tours on the USS Enterprise and USS Constellation aircraft carriers. He went on to work with a defense contractor in support of the Test Pilot School before becoming a civilian employee. Erin began her career with a small-business support contractor 10 years ago as a project analyst and now serves as civilian project lead for NAWCAD 5.0X in the AIRWorks Division.
While family affiliations with the base persist, the lay of the land seems to be in a constant state of change. Erin says her parents recall when Route 235 was a two-lane dirt road.“In the last 15 years I’ve personally seen a huge expansion in new schools and businesses within the community, many of which are likely the result of all of the new business being brought to the area by the demand of the programs on base,” she says.
“Without Pax being here, I don’t think I would have been provided the opportunities that I’ve had to expand my skill set and grow in my career,” Erin says. “I also would not have met my husband, who moved here for work in 2009 as a UAV instructor/operator for the Maryland Army National Guard.” Her husband, Mike, is active duty in the Guard and supports Pax for an unmanned aerial vehicle platform at Webster Field.
Sense of pride
Like Erin, Michelle Bekel was born and raised in St. Mary’s and has lived here her entire life. In college, she studied sociology. Upon graduation, she landed a job as a defense contractor. She now serves as a foreign military sales business financial manager for the EA-18G Growler aircraft, supporting Australia.
Bekel has watched the area change and grow with NAS Pax River. She remembers when Route 235 was single lane each way and the base was relatively small. “As the employment on the base increased, so did my resentment for the traffic and infringement,” she says. Military folks were considered “not from the county” and the divide between locals and perceived foreigners was broad and commonplace. Over time, however, she, along with many others, realized that “what I once felt was intrusion was very beneficial to the county. I saw how the influx of a variety of people brought great profit to our local businesses and community.”
Bekel also appreciates the personal impacts the base has had on her life.
“Obviously, the largest impact is that it’s my livelihood. But second to that, it has given me a sense of pride. I’m not only supporting my own country but a foreign one as well. Being responsible for a small part in a large organization for our country’s defense and that of our closest allies is a pretty humbling but incredible feeling. I’m definitely more well-rounded and respectful,” she says.
Linda Nelson of Leonardtown is an example of a newcomer who has lived here long enough to now consider herself a local. Originally from Southern California, Nelson moved to Pax River with her ex-husband, a military officer, in the 1980s. When her marriage ended, she decided to stay in Southern Maryland with her children.
“The local community was very supportive of us, and I felt it was a good place to raise children,” she says. “I was right!”
Nelson worked on the base and retired after 28 years.
“I worked on BRAC in the mid-90s and was fortunate to learn about all the capabilities and unique facilities we have here at Patuxent River. We stood up the Aircraft Division during that time and became a world-unique site for aircraft [research, development, test and evaluation]. How exciting is that? The cutting-edge aircraft RDT&E always makes me proud of our teams. Working with so many bright, inventive people made the work enjoyable,” she says.
Nelson also has observed the changes in the county with appreciation.
“I love how the people of St. Mary’s have maintained their ‘small-town’ feeling, despite the influx of big-box stores and thousands of new residents,” she says.
Erin Hanson shares the sentiment.
“The networking and connections are truly invaluable, and it creates a sense of community. For a place that’s exploded in terms of population size, the community still feels very close as so many people interact with each other throughout their time serving on Pax,” she says.
A sense of pride and respect is a common theme among residents, old and new.
“The expertise of so many people, working together to support the warfighter, always kept the work interesting and challenging,” Nelson says.
Partners with the community
A layer of the base’s presence that might not be so obvious is its support of the community, Nelson says.
“It’s another aspect that always made me proud to be a Pax employee, especially the partnerships with local schools, science fairs and special events. We all benefit from those partnerships, today and in the future. Pax needs people with all types of skills to meet the mission,” she says, adding that “working at Pax River is an exceptionally cool experience!”
She is not the only one who thinks so. Nelson met an Indy car driver’s pit crew chief once and told him about her team’s work at Pax River. “He said, ‘That’s like a dream job for engineers.’ Yes, it certainly is!”
Tom Anderson of California is one of those engineers living the dream.
He and his wife, Jennifer, relocated to Southern Maryland in 1987 for Tom’s job as a Department of Defense aerospace engineer. Jennifer, a musician, is the founder of Music Time Studio, and her work there has brought a music program to children in the community. She teaches early childhood music and piano and flute lessons. Jennifer echoes Nelson’s sentiments. She agrees that the area is a great place to raise children.
“Many of the families of my students are in the area because of NAS Pax,” Jennifer says. “On the down side, many families move out of the area after a few years. I jokingly tell those families they need to find a replacement student for my studio before they can move!” •
Two Tours at Pax River
During his more than 20 years in the U.S. Navy, William “Stu” Nagel had the opportunity to serve two tours at NAS Patuxent River.
The Great Mills High School graduate and Piney Point native started his journey with the Navy in April 1983. After completion of basic training at Recruit Training Command in Orlando, Fla., he attended and graduated from Personnelman Class “A” School in Meridian, Miss., in September of that same year.
During his career he was assigned to the USS South Carolina; Personnel Support Detachment at Patuxent River; Fighter Squadron One Zero Two at Naval Air Station Oceana, Va. (where he participated in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom); Naval Air Systems Command/Naval Aviation Maintenance Office at NAS Pax River; USS Scout at Naval Station in Ingleside Texas; and a final tour at Personnel Support Detachment in Corpus Christi, Texas. He retired in September 2003.
After working in the civilian sector for a few years, Nagel returned to continue his service to the Navy in July 2005 as a contractor at Training Air Wing Four as a project manager.
The decorated Navy veteran has received numerous awards and accolades as a government service employee. In June 2008, he was sworn into service as a Department of Defense Career Civil Service employee and eventually was detailed to take over a critical position at CTW4 as the first GS Student Control Officer.
Most recently he was selected as the Chief of Naval Air Training Civilian of the Quarter for his personal and professional contributions to the naval aviation training enterprise.
Nagel lives in Texas, is married and has four children.
–Lt. j.g. Elizabeth Feaster, CNATRA Public Affairs Officer