BARKING SANDS – Capt. Bruce Hay, commander of the Pacific Missile Range Facility, is emphatic when he says, “We care more about the land than we do about the base.”
Its 2.1 million miles of open space – the world’s largest instrumented, multi-dimensional testing and training missile range. The year-round tropical climate is ideal for testing and training.
For Hay, who has served as a Naval flight officer in places like Afghanistan and Iraq on dangerous missions, the climate and scenery on Kauai is beyond compare.
“It’s the longest beach in Hawaii,” Hay said.
Post 9/11 restrictions imposed he said created a label he was not fond of: Fortress PMRF.
“It was a shame,” Hay commented.
With the intention to change up and demystify the base since he took over in July 2013, Hay invites Kauai residents to take advantage of the facility’s annual beach and restaurant access pass.
“When it’s whale season, you can almost walk on the backs of whales from the beach here all the way to the island of Niihau,” Hay recalled about last winter.
And then there are the turtles at Turtle Cove on the base.
“You don’t usually think about a military guy protecting the turtles,” Hay said.
After all, he does have his hands full at the helm: tracking submarines, surface ships, aircraft and space vehicles.
But again, he is emphatic about the need to caretake the land and everything living on it.
“There are three reasons to protect the turtles: moral, legal and operational,” Hay said.
The decorated captain gets almost giddy with the notion there is a shearwater box by the front gate of the base.
All of this from a man who among his diverse duties manages a $175 million annual budget and interfaces with NASA about such matters as the upcoming launch in January 2015 of a commercial micro-satellite into space from the facility — a potentially history-making event.
“I value the privilege to come out here,” Hay said of the beach behind his home on the base. “In January, angels sing every day.”
He jokes that when his assignment is up in the summer of 2016, there will be 20 fingers in the concrete — him and his wife’s — dragging them out of here.
At the end of the day, whether it is on Kauai or elsewhere around the world, Hay is proud. The young pilot from upstate New York who did his flight training in Pensacola, Florida who was a mission commander of a crew that dodged hundreds of Tomahawk missiles on an Iraqi Freedom Flight has seen his purpose fulfilled – 24 years after being commissioned by his grandfather, a radio man during World War II.
“I did something that mattered,” Hay concluded.
This is an ongoing weekly feature in The Garden Island. It focuses on everyday people who reflect the spirit that makes Kauai the place it is today. If you know of somebody you’d like to see featured, email features and education reporter, Lisa Ann Capozzi, at email@example.com