Naval Base commander drops anchor in Port Orchard

Captain Mark Olson prepares for an appearance before the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce - Charlie Bermant
Captain Mark Olson prepares for an appearance before the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce
— image credit: Charlie Bermant

In an effort to connect with local communities, Naval Base Kitsap Commander Capt. Mark Olson is bringing his collaborative message to eight business groups and civic organizations.

“The majority of the people we employ at the base live here and work here,” Olson said during a Sept. 10 address to the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce. “We should be developing partnerships with each local community, instead of competing with them for services.”

Olson said that few local residents are unaware of the local naval presence but may not comprehend its scope.

It is, he said, the third-largest employer in the state with approximately 31,000 people.

Olson said there are several on-base services that are only accessible to military personnel, but most armed services members and civilian employees do a majority of their shopping at local merchants.

The entity known as Naval Base Kitsap is relatively new, established in 2004 with the combination of SUBASE Bangor and Naval Station Bremerton.

It could add to its scope in the future with the incorporation of the Bremerton Naval Hospital, which is administered separately.

“I expect this situation could change,” Olson said. “People wonder why there is a separate security staff and administration when we are in such close proximity. We could incorporate the hospital in the next few years.”

Even without the hospital, the Naval Base Kitsap has a fragmented character, with 43 different properties within the county.

This makes it difficult to maintain continuity and control, Olson said.

It also has several unique characteristics. It is one of the last remaining military installations to provide and maintain its own housing component, as most bases contract with civilian realtors to house its personnel. It is one of four nuclear shipyards in the country, the only submarine base in the northwest, and the only storehouse of nuclear weapons in the region.

Additionally, it controls a huge fuel depot located in Manchester.

“When they talk about the president releasing fuel reserves in an emergency, it will come from this local facility,” Olson said.

It is also the site of several experimental programs, like a security process that uses dolphins and sea lions to keep intruders away from the secure Navy facilities.

Olson said that today’s Navy follows a green path, with a sense of ecology that exceeds that of private enterprise.

“Many communities only recycle items that fall into the 1 and 2 categories because it makes economic sense,” he said. “We recycle everything, because we don’t need to make any money off of the process.”

The Navy also takes care to replenish the waterways, by re-seeding local clam and oyster beds.

“The Navy wasn’t always known for being green,” Olson said. “If you had mentioned that term just a few years ago you would think it had to do with some kind of frog. But today we are energy efficient and aware. And we recycle everything.”

Olson said that the Naval base enhances local commerce in a consistent way, as it is not as affected by the bad economy.

“We are much more stable than other businesses as we don’t feel the recession,” Olson said.

While the county can depend on the Navy for the foreseeable future, Olson said it is still wise to seek out other opportunities.

“If a community has eight corporations and one goes away it’s not as severe a blow,” he said.

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