KEFLAVIK, Iceland (NNS) -- Naval Air Station Keflavik (NASKEF) disestablished Sept. 8 during a ceremony officially ending its 45 years of operations in support of the defense of Iceland.
More than 100 Sailors attended the event, representing a majority of the forces that remain of a population that once exceeded 5,000 military and civilian personnel and family members. Special guests included U.S. Ambassador to Iceland Carol Van Voorst and special envoy for Iceland's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Thorsteinn Ingolfsson.
Commander, Navy Region Europe, Rear Adm. Noel Preston said the base played an important role in his region's military strategy.
"In the height of the Cold War, this was the place to be to protect against Soviet submarines. And we were successful and the NASKEF team had a great deal to do with that," Preston said. "Now the world has changed and we are facing a war on terrorism. We are changing how we plan and prepare for this war. But what will not change is our friendship and partnership with Iceland."
The United States has had a military presence in Iceland since 1941, and a formal defense agreement with that nation since 1951. The Navy assumed the responsibility of running the air station from the U.S. Air Force in 1961. The base acted as a platform for several operational capabilities throughout World War II, the Cold War and in the modern arena. The hangar housed rotational P-3 Orion aircraft and crews in support of anti-submarine warfare until 2004. The Army National Guard units and Interim Marine Security Forces stormed the lava fields surrounding the base during training exercises such as Northern Viking. The flight line served as a launching point for U. S. Air Force F-15 fighters.
The ceremony also marked the final moments of a transition that began in March. In preparation for the turnover, the NASKEF and tenant command team cleaned and cleared 550 facilities, and shipped 6.6 million pounds of household goods, 850 privately owned vehicles and 600 government vehicles.
"I'm in total awe of the people aboard NASKEF," said Capt. Mark S. Laughton, the air station's final commanding officer. "Everyone from the Sailors to the Airmen to the U.S. civilians to our host nationals who have worked this effort, have done an incredible job. And the cooperation has been simply outstanding. There are 23 tenant commands onboard the air station so it was not just a NASKEF effort. It involved everyone here and many higher headquarters elements to develop the plan and execute it."
Everywhere from housing units, to playgrounds, to schools -- all that remains now is the memories of the vibrant community the base once supported.
A reception following the ceremony provided time for Sailors and Icelanders to spend a few last light-hearted moments together. For many, the hardest part is saying goodbye to host nation counterparts that have helped build the base's strong legacy.
"I will really miss this place," said Master-at-Arms 1st Class (FMF) John Richardson, who led the Honor Guard during the ceremony. "I've been here two years and I've enjoyed being here where there is great camaraderie, beautiful landscapes to photograph, and where the people are really wonderful."
The transition is to be completed by Sept. 30.
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